Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trusting God’s Reward System

I was stunned at age sixteen to be told by doctors that I would never have children. Of course it was devastating to have my dreams of having children demolished in one flash, but my most crushing struggle was questioning why God would let that happen when I had committed my life to missions. Even though I wrestled with that question on and off for many years, I persisted in my calling, married, and headed off into missions.

My continued insistence on his healing was rooted in a wrong understanding of his love and my expectations of his reward for my commitment. When I recall the depressing effect of my unrelenting questions and demands, I realize that I didn’t really have a workable understanding of God’s reward system.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve observed believers and even ministers of the Gospel in a wrestling match between living on the edge of poverty and pressing in for a modicum of comfort or provision. Other ministers are known to feverishly grasp the promises of God for blessing and insist on extravagance to prove God’s riches and their own faith. When Christ’s servants are not clear or comfortable with God’s reward system they can weave and waver in their call to sacrificial service and relationship with the Master, just like I did.

Some servants ground their reward-thinking in Scriptures that speak of God’s promised spiritual blessings and focus on eternal rewards. Others search out passages of promised material blessings and scramble after the here-and-now blessings. Neither view is completely correct! Neither one reflects the fullness of God’s character and ways. A view that skews towards only spiritual blessings darkens God’s compassion and care for his servants’ present needs. A view that ignores future blessings casts long shadows over the greatness of God who plans eternity and stores up unique treasures in Heaven for those who serve Him. Either way God’s reward system is a magnanimous expression of his mercy, grace, and goodness.

While we need to find a view that embraces the fullness of God’s reward system, there are inherent dangers in insisting on here-and-now rewards. First, I could miss out on enduring treasure of far greater worth. If I insist on house or spouse or praise or raise, he may give me second best rather than other intended blessings! After years of insisting on healing, I finally yielded to God’s ways and settled into deep contentment with his love. I was able to recognize the treasures God had lovingly given – the gift of an adopted son, the amazing joy and grace that go with adoption, many spiritual children all over Africa, and an increased capacity to trust God’s ways.

Second, if I focus on temporal blessings I am much more prone to be shortsighted in how I live. Temporal rewards are delightful for a season but do I want to sweat and slave for present comfort or am I called to live for the future? When I was seriously questioning God, I went through periods of longing for a child that diluted my passion for evangelism, discipleship, and godliness. I became more like a donkey being led by the carrot in front of its nose. With my eyes crossed on the promise of immediate blessing I missed seeing the other delights of the journey and lost sight of what was far ahead.

Third, if I insist on immediate gratification for my service I might miss out on the most important treasure – the friendship and intimacy with God. There is something very special about pressing into the will of God regardless of hardship, discomfort, and living without. In my times of deepest longing, God pressed closer. My personal breakthrough came during an encounter with God that was so real that I knew He was all I ever needed. I saw the longings that had separated me from him were like a hearth of ashes compared to the fellowship of bearing the yoke beside Jesus. In the intimacy of that moment I willingly yielded to his ways.

Does God promise temporal blessings? He sure does. I could write a book about the sweet delights I’ve received at his hand. But in the end, I’d rather be surprised by his choice of immediate blessings than to insist on my way at the cost of disappointment at baubles that melt away like cotton candy. Today I am definitely more comfortable with the mysteries of God’s reward system and content to let him surprise me with the treasures he plans for me.

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