Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.
“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1
Am I living for a reward mentality? Am I supposed to be living this “Chrisitan life” because I’m aiming towards receiving a reward one day when I get to heaven? Is that what this and all my righteousness, all my good “deeds” are about? Or is it something more?
Jesus, here You are warning me. Be careful. Be careful about what? Be careful that when I’m doing the things that delight You, that I”m doing them for Your delight and not the delight of men instead. Does it matter if anyone else knows what I’ve done, what “good” thing has transpired? Does anyone else need to know it was from me? Ultimately, was it really from me? Because when I really get down to Your word, it’s actually You who are doing every good work in me. If it’s a good thing and it comes out of me, it’s because I surrendered to You so that You could have Your way in me. So whose good work is it anyway that I’m taking credit for?
What? If I take credit for it before men, I won’t have a reward in heaven? Why? Aren’t there endless rewards? Are Your rewards limited? What reward am I looking for anyway? And what reward do You desire to give to someone like me who doesn’t even deserve a reward based on my own merits?
Well, the Greek word is about a reward for work or payment for hire. Misthos definitely has to do with action, effort, and behavior. And I suppose there is always some sort of reward for our actions, for our behavior, for our efforts; there is always some type of consequence, whether good or bad, reward or punishment. So if I receive my “full” reward now, then the just reward will go to those who have waited on You and there will be nothing but lack for those who wouldn’t wait. So some recieve their “reward” now and will recieve suffering later because they’ve used their reward. But others receive suffering now, and receive the reward in the Kingdom. Didn’t Paul say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)?
We’re all working toward something. We’re all expending our efforts on something. The problem is that some of us are expending our everything on something that will leave us nothing in the long run. But some of us are waiting on You, Lord, and You are what we are expending everything on and that is the only thing worth working towards. Why? Because You are coming quickly, and You tell us, “I am coming quickly, and My reward with Me, to render to each as his work is.” (Revelation 22:12) I think that there is something significant for me to understand there, that Your reward is with You. It’s with You. It’s not separate from You. It’s with You.
At one point, You told Your disciples, Jesus, that they always had the poor with them, but You were not always with them. That was before Your resurrection. But afterwards, You told them the work You wanted them to be about, teaching others to observe all things whatsoever You had commanded them, and You went on to tell them that now, because of Your resurrection, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) Hm. The reward is with You. You are with me. That means that when I am with You, the reward is with me. At least I think it does. Therefore, the reward is always found in You.
Is that what my walk is all about? Is it all about You and being with You and fulfilling Your desires?
2 John 1:8 tells us to watch ourselves, “so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” It continues to talk about people walking ahead and not abiding in Your teachings and not having God. I suppose they have their reward and they didn’t consider You that reward worth clinging to. But I consider You my reward and everything else emptiness. So give me the desire to do the work that You require and that You delight in, because I want to be there doing Your Father’s work with You. I want to be right in the midst of the rough of it with You because that’s where my reward is, wherever You are.
See, I’ve already had this glorious taste of the reward when I tasted You. And as I remain in You and join You in Your work, I know that the full meal is coming to fruition when I will know You as I am known. You will fill my cup and it will overflow with You. Your promise to me is true. You have already begun the work that will lead me to the final installment of Your peace and presence.
So after all this, I ‘m going to get personal. What is my reward? Do I complain when things don’t go my way, when things that I believe are Your plan for me appear thwarted? What is my treasure really? Is it what I do or how I serve You? So what if I can’t? What if I was put in prison like Paul or so many present day martyrs in other countries? Has that defeated me? Has that defeated Your plans? What if my family seems to be falling apart? What if noone understands what You’ve layed on my heart? What if everything goes wrong and falls apart around me? What is my reward? Where is my reward?
Sometimes, I forget that my focus is on You, Lord. I get all caught up in what’s going on around me and the people around me. I don’t even try, but it just happens. I guess it’s kind of like Madonna’s song, I’m a “material girl” just by nature. But I’m not a material girl by the power of Your spirit in me. I need to focus on You instead. When You say that the “mountains may depart and hills be removed, buy My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” (Isaiah 54:10) I need to trust that and that alone. See, You are the One who has compassion, true compassion on me.
I may feel afflicted, storm-tossed, and discomforted, but maybe it’s just a test of my faithfulness. Maybe this is just a test of where my treasure is, of Who and where my reward really is.
The choirmaster in Psalm 46, one of the Sons of Korah, I think, learned this lesson through hard things. It appears that You were his treasure and his reward. He put it to song. He said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” He must have stopped looking at the people and events around him. He must have been surrounded with trouble but found Your presence even stronger in the midst of it. He must have allowed himself to receive the reward of Your presence and strength and refuge in the midst of whatever was going on. I doubt he started there. I think it took the earth giving way sometimes, and the mountains being moved into the sea around him, and the waters around him roaring and foaming, and the mountains still trembling and the waters swelling. But that’s when he realized that if it weren’t for You being with him, he would have perished. That’s when he realized that if it weren’t for Your being a place of refuge, he would cease to exist.
This Son of Korah learned to focus his heart on You despite the storms around him. And isn’t that what You warned me? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Where do I keep all my stores of treasure? What is most valuable to me? Is the reward what I get or what I get to do, or is my reward really You? Then, even if the world should fall apart around me, if You are my treasure, if You are my Great Reward, what changes, because surely You never change.
Maybe I need to take Isaiah’s words in chapter 11 more to heart. Maybe I need to delight in the fear of the Lord and stop judging by what I see with my eyes, or deciding by what I hear with my ears. Maybe I need to remember the words to Abram, “I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) Maybe I need to remember and not just remember, but really take it to heart and live like I believe it with all my heart and all my mind and all my life.
When Boaz was noticing how much Ruth had taken You to heart, Lord, he said these words to her, “The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust.” (Ruth 2:12). What was he talking about her recompense being for trusting in You and living in that trust? It sounds to me like the full reward was of You Lord. I mean, maybe he meant that a full reward would be given from You, but I can’t help but think that You Yourself are the full reward that You give to those who seek You and display that seeking in trustful actions.
Where is my reward? Isaiah tells me, “Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Though Israel has sinned and has reaped that price, their comforter is coming and His reward is with Him. There’s a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Sound familiar? The glory of the Lord is revealed. Could Jesus be the reward? Could God’s redemption and forgiveness and grace and everything He gives us in Him be the reward? What glorious work is before Him? Is creation the climactic work of His hands or is a redeemed people with new hearts, a redeemed people after His own heart, a renewed people abiding in Him in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit His climactic work that stands as a testimony before Him?
Isaiah was really given to think about this reward. “Behold, the Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, ‘Say you to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, His reward with Him, and His work before Him.'” (Isaiah 62:11) Like Israel, God, You are continuing to make a people. Your work is still going on. You are still making a holy people, redeeming Your own, seeking us out, not leaving us forsaken. You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with Yourself. You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with the sacrifice and love of Your one and only Son, Your beloved Son.
The reward is my relationship restored in and with the God of my creation. Everything that I lost by my choice to relate my being to my self and to the delight of others is restored when my delight in You is restored. And the amazing thing is that You did all that work to get me back to delighting in You again. You sought me so intimately that I experienced my need for You again, that I experienced my delight in You again. You awoke in me what was lost and returned to me the reward I had forsaken. It is You. It was You. But my focus was averted to other worthless things that had no power to reward because they are not the Reward itself. There is One Reward above all rewards. And I will only find it in my Father in heaven.
Circumstances can’t give me that reward. All the blessings showered upon me from above can’t give me that reward. No man can give me that reward. No amount of good things I do will give me that reward. No beautiful thoughts I have or any many shares can give me that reward. I have no reward of my own to give back to You or to others if it is of myself or of other men. If I want to have a reward to share with others, it must not only be of You, if must be You. Simply stated, You, the Reward, must be my alms.
In Luke 11:40-41 You told the religious people, “You fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; and behold, all things are clean unto you.” Obviously it wasn’t the good stuff they had that made them clean. They were like beautiful cups that were filthy on the inside. They were empty of the real reward. And You can’t give what you don’t have. But if You have the Alm of Alms within, then beautiful stuff flows from within, the good stuff that God is made of, the good stuff that makes us clean and holy like Him and capable of God goodness and God love and God compassion and God giving. See, I’m not blessed because I hear and do the good things I hear. Jesus tells me in Luke 11:28 that I’m blessed, that I live in this blessed state because I hear Your voice, and keep it. I guard it like my treasure because it is my treasure. I value above everything Your reward. Your reward is my life.
What You were telling that woman that wanted to “bless the paps which You had sucked,” is that unless I truly have a relationship in You, my relationship with You is empty. The Word of God is a person. This Person is my Reward. Either I am in Him, and all of my being is placed in ultimate trust and dependency and preservation in Him, or my trust is elsewhere. You are not just a good person, good idea, good thing. You are the only Good One and the only One who can make me good. Are You not only my most valuable treasure, my greatest reward, but are You my only treasure and my only reward? Why? “Because where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Lord, I just pray that You would be what brings every beat of my heart to life and that my heart would continually run after You and with You. I guess my prayer is that just as Your reward is with You, that my Reward would be with me and I would be with my Reward always, moment by moment. May my alms come from You and may they be brought forth for Your glory, regardless of what others think or do.