By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
Obedience is often challenging—whether God is calling us to love an abrasive neighbor, give sacrificially to the poor, or spend our Saturdays serving others. There will be times we want to quit. We may even begin to feel as if our efforts are futile.
Jesus told us this journey of faith would be hard. He said people would misunderstand us, slander us, and turn away from us. Those we try to reach out to most might respond to our kindness with verbal attacks. If we focus on today, on results, these hardships will likely leave us discouraged. Jesus understood this from personal experience, and yet, He endured “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB). You and I are to follow His example, shifting our focus off of our challenges and frustrations and centering it on the things of eternity.
One day, God will banish all pain and adversity from our lives for good and we’ll stand engulfed in His presence. This alone is cause for joy. But our God is a God of abundance, of justice, who notices every kind and sacrificial act. Scripture promises that God will reward every act done in faith—even the “unseen,” and our reward will be oh so good. And yet, while He doesn’t hold us accountable for results, He cares a great deal about our motivation. These truths should inspire us to seek God’s will in every moment, centering our gaze on the immeasurable blessings ahead.
1. God will reward our obedience.
About five years ago, God called our family to open our home, consecutively, to two teens in the foster care system. After a lifetime of trauma, neglect, and abandonment, both had developed a hard and often abrasive exterior. As a result, they responded to our acts of kindness with contempt, returning our good deeds with attack. Through it all, we did our best to persevere, hopeful that our actions would have impact. We prayed these youth would see Christ in us and would be drawn to the freedom He offers.
That wasn’t what occurred. Both teens left our care with the same anger, resentment, wounds, and self-destructive behaviors they came in with. While only God can see the work that occurs in the heart, from a human perspective, we’d failed. Our efforts and perseverance seemed to prove futile. But they weren’t. Our acts of love, especially those that felt hardest to display, helped strengthen our character. I’m certain they earned us heavenly rewards as well.
We’re told, in Matthew 25:40, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’” In other words, Jesus closely identifies with how we treat the hurting, impoverished and marginalized. When we serve them, we’re actually serving Christ, and He’s promised our reward is coming. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” (NIV). Therefore, “Whatever [we]do, [we must] work at it with all [our hearts], as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since [we] know that [we] will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving,” (Colossians 3:23-24, personalization adaption mine).
2. Our rewards will be good.
Imagine your favorite vacation destination, party, or gift. Pause to reflect on a moment when you felt exceptionally happy and fulfilled. Scripture says all the best experiences on earth pale in comparison to all that lies ahead. Using an analogy that many of us will understand, Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11, NIV)
In context, He was referring to God’s provisions and answers to our prayers, but the general principle applies. God is good. He’s a God of abundance who loves to bless His beloved. Throughout the New Testament, God invites us to trust in His goodness, knowing with certainty that such beauty and joy await us.
3. God rewards obedience, not results.
The night before His death, Jesus gathered His disciples together to tell them tragic news. He was going to leave them and they would experience persecution. While some people would receive their gospel message, others would hate them for it. “I chose you to come out of the world,” He said, “so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? A slave is not greater than the master. Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to Me,” –which, many didn’t.— “they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of Me, for they have rejected the One who sent me” (John 15:19b-21, NLT).
In other words, many times, our greatest, most heartfelt efforts won’t lead to the results we hope for. In fact, they might stir others to anger. Having experienced this personally, on numerous occasions, the first century apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).
God sees our hearts, our perseverance, and our love for Him and others. He doesn’t hold us responsible for how others behave or how our ministries and churches grow. But He does expect us to live and love well, and like a proud Father, loves to reward our obedience.
4. Our motivation matters.
If you’re a parent, you understand the difference between cheerful and obligatory service. The first tends to bring pride and joy; the other, often characterized by eye rolls and sighs, can create frustration. God wants our obedience, yes; but more than that, He wants our heart. Speaking to the Pharisees, a group known for outward, perfunctory displays of righteousness, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Matthew 15:7-9, NIV).
Decades later, Paul expressed similar concerns when addressing Christ-followers in Corinth. Throughout 1 Corinthians, we see indications that those in the church were seeking to elevate themselves rather than Christ. They wanted the most “prestigious” positions and “honorable,” humanly speaking, spiritual gifts.
In chapter 3 we read,
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each person must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire” (vv. 10-15).
Expanding on this, David Guzik from the Enduring Word wrote, “God knows how to reward properly. On earth, many ministers either receive too much or too little reward.” 19th century theologian Charles Hodge expressed a similar conclusion, stating, “The faithful, laborious minister or missionary who labours in obscurity and without apparent fruit, will meet a reward far beyond that of those who, with less self-denial and effort, are made the instruments of great results.”
When our religious acts arise from selfish motivation, our greatest efforts amount to little more than smoke. But God will reward us whenever we serve or give out of love for Christ, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7b, NIV). Knowing this should motivate us to continually check our hearts, asking for the strength and desire to “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—” for “this is [our] true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV.)
When life and ministry feel challenging, when others attack us for our faith, and our most fervent efforts seem to have little effect, may we find comfort and encouragement in this: God will reward every prayer, dollar donated, and act of service given from a pure and praise-filled heart. The eternal treasures He preserves for us are far better than anything we could acquire on earth, and they will never rust or fade.
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Freestocks
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
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