The Best Reward Ever

Her goal is invisible
on this long race,
but she keeps on running
because she knows
it is actually there,
just requiring effort
and long perseverance
to finally touch it.

But she knows Dad
is cheering her on,
providing water
and encouragement
as she keeps on running.
She knows that others
will get to the goal
long before he does.

But that is not the point.
What matters most
is making it all the way
to that finish line!
And when she gets there,
Dad will grab her up
hug her close, and
twirl her with joy.

That smile on Dad’s face
is worth more than anything,
more than a trophy
won in a tournament,
more than loud clapping
from the observers.
It is what she wants the most:
the best reward ever!

I’ve never run a marathon, but it is a great symbol of running for making the goal, not for winning. I’ve seen how moms and dads cheer their sons or daughters when they run, just thrilled when they make it to the goal set for them—even just 5 miles. And when someone makes it the whole way to the end, there is huge celebration. The goal is one you cannot see when you are on the way, always around another curve. But you know it is there.

When I think of running toward waiting arms, the months before my wedding come to mind. Glenn and I were on the same campus, at Michigan State University, but lived three miles apart. And our wedding was to take place on the day after final exams week, so that friends from out of state could delay going home and celebrate with us. So it felt like a marathon, finishing assignments and studying for exams, but always communicating with parents and friends about wedding preps. It would have been unthinkable to offend these loved ones we were depending on, and especially terrible for me to offend the groom that was so excited to soon welcome me into his forever embrace. At last the Big Day came, and I will never forget his glowing eyes as he watched me come down the aisle. He did put a beautiful gold ring on my finger, but what mattered most was the truth that now life together in its most complete sense was truly beginning.

Those pictures illustrate for me the emphasis on “reward” that Jesus included in his Sermon on the Mount. He kept saying that those who performed their rituals or righteous acts in order to get applause here on earth had already gotten their reward, ephemeral as it is. What kind of reward was he talking about when he kept underlining that a reward from the Father in heaven us what is essential?

Recently I saw a discussion online that put down Christians who are expecting some kind of reward after death, asserting that this is a kind of useless greed for something that doesn’t even exist. There may be some Christians who are doing good deeds based on that kind of selfishness, but I don’t know them. Many are instead living normal lives, hoping they are doing what is right but pretty much making decisions on their own. Others are arrogant, vaunting themselves and their lifestyle without paying attention to Jesus’ warnings. And there are those running toward the goal of being with him, running into his arms!

Children who truly love their father, and who know what will make him happy, try to do what pleases him. I remember scrubbing in surgery with my dad, the surgeon in Ferkessédougou, when I was a teen, trying to carefully carry out every little instruction he gave me. I wanted him to welcome me back many more times, and to be delighted with my learning curve. Every encouraging word was something I hung onto. At the time, I even wanted to be a doctor in order to please him and my mother! Later I realized that another purpose was out there for me.

But I hope that is an example of what it means to live in such a way that our Father in heaven is delighted with us. Someday we will be with him, and what would be the best reward ever would be his welcoming arms, his smile of approval, and those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mat. 25.23). 

There is even more ahead for the child of God who serves well: they get to participate in service in the New World! I truly appreciated N.T. Wright’s deep dig into the truth of the Kingdom already here on earth through Jesus, and his death and resurrection. His Kingdom is come, and our acts of righteousness are not just about “being good kids” but about participation in preparing the Kingdom’s full completion, the new heaven and new earth. 

‘Every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit … takes its place within a long history of things which implement Jesus’s own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation.’ (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church)

Paul was truly excited about this hope: ”I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23 NIV)

While writing the introduction above, I did not realize how much N.T. Wright’s book had transformed my understanding of those blessings, my future hope, and what it means to be with my Lord and Father forever. He wrote: 
“We have been taught that we are justified by faith, not works, and, somehow, the very idea of being a Christian for what we will get out of it is distasteful. But the image of reward in the New Testament doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship or a marriage in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully. It is more like practicing golf in order that we can go out on the course and hit the ball in the right direction. It is more like learning German or Greek so that we can read some of the great poets and philosophers who wrote in those languages. The 'reward' is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that was done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment.” 

Jesus was explicit about this in his Sermon on the Mount. He repeatedly pointed out that what matters is a person’s devotion to serving his Master with sincerity, in other words, his motivation. If any good acts are done only to get the approval of others, to be honored by them, then that honor is the only reward they will get (Matthew 6:2,5,16). Those acts are done with selfish purposes, for personal aggrandizement, a completely earthly aim. They are not aligned with living out love for God and love for others, the two greatest commandments, that englobe the entire law (Mat. 22:37-40).
On the other hand, what is done for our Father in heaven will come with great reward, with his pleasure in us and with participation in the great things he has planned in the new world. As Jesus said in his parable about the good servants,
 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matt. 25:21 NIV)

This was how Jesus was explaining what the Kingdom of heaven (called “Kingdom of God” in the other gospels) would be like. We will not be sitting around on clouds with nothing to do. Given our God’s creativity, there will be joy to share and ongoing partnership in accomplishing his purposes!

Doing what is right has been made clear in the beatitudes, especially being someone who is merciful and a peacemaker, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Then there are those who so reflect the light of Jesus that they are persecuted because of him. Now in the section starting in Matthew 6, Jesus is addressing the particular works of “righteousness” that the religious leaders of the time touted as key, and performed in ways to bring honor to themselves so that they would stand out as truly good people. So they did all they could to advertise their good deeds, especially helping the needy, praying, and fasting. But Jesus called them to account: 

"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 6:1 NIV)

Jesus then assured his disciples that what is done for God’s purposes, with a heart aligned with his, will be seen by their Father and taken into account. He sees everything, even what is done in secret. And he knows the motivation of each heart. That motivation is what makes a difference. This is our prompt: to know our Father’s heart, to follow his commands with joy, and to participate in Kingdom activities with sincere confident hope, knowing that it is not done for “nothing.”

Let’s be like Moses, who “chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin. For he considered the reproach because of the Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since his attention was on the reward.” (Heb. 11:25,26 CSB)

What was that reward? It was the Promised Land. It took incredible trust in his Lord to persevere through all the challenges involved in herding his people to that goal. And what is our Promised Land? Think about it! Then persevere with hope, knowing that the God who is currently invisible to us is actually present with us, and knows everything that is done in public or in secret. His purposes are good and completely what we truly want, the full establishment of his Kingdom: a place where everything is done in love and perfect peace will reign forever. That goal is around the corner, still not visible to our eyes. But it is there!

Wow: every good deed that we do out of love for God and for people is building toward that world!

Published by Linnea Boese

After spending most of my life in Africa, as the child of missionaries then in missions with my husband, I am now retired and free to use my time to write! I am working on publishing poetry and on writing an autobiography. There have been many adventures, challenges and wonderful blessings along the way -- lots to share!

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