“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, thou mine inheritance, now and always: thou and thou only, first in my heart, high king of heaven, my treasure thou art.” —Be Thou My Vision.
I once heard a well-meaning, Christ loving brother comment that he didn’t prefer the song “Mansions over the Hilltop” because he didn’t want God to assume that he was only following him for reward. He assumed that seeking God apart from promised gain was more virtuous and far less self-centered. I understand his concern. The cultural trends of current Christianity, particularly the message of the Prosperity Gospel, have created a theology of extortion in which we perform moral obligations for material compensation. To a certain degree his objections are justifiable. Yet, while pursuing God apart from reward may seem more commendable, it is wholly unchristian.
The basis of Christian faith is established on the promise of reward. For example, the Hebrew writer couches the definition of faith in compensatory language:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Notice the obligatory tone: if we desire to draw near to God, then we must believe he will reward us. The faith that draws us closer to God is one that recognizes that doing so will bring blessing. Jesus’ parables are full of this type of language. The parable of the talents, the man discovering a treasure in a field, and the pearl of great price all speak of the reward of seeking God. The language often used to describe our future gain is “inheritance.” In 2 Peter 1:3-4 the Spirit writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
This inheritance is tied to the great promises God has given his people (2 Peter 1:3-4). These were first given to Abraham and his descendants, and we now access them by faith (Rom. 4:13-14). Central to these promises is the inheritance of the world with “glory, honor, and immortality” (Rom. 2:7). Christians then are called to be insatiable seekers of immortal glory—a view considered unbiblical by some.
Of course, it may be that the reward seeking others object to are the very ones I personally renounce: the type of mercenary spirituality which shakes God like a bad vending machine until the extra cookies come out. If that is the case then I stand arm in arm, hand in hand. Yet, it seems that some are against any theology which pursues God for reward, even if it is soundly scriptural.
It might help to think of the Christian system then as a means of pursuing God as reward and not for reward. John Piper has written extensively on this topic in his book “Desiring God.” In it, he establishes what I believe is one of the most central (and sadly, most neglected) Christian beliefs: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” That is, our pursuit of God for pleasure and reward magnifies his glory because we confess to the world his inestimable worth. We refuse sin and wait for the true consummation of joy in God, rejecting and revealing the emptiness of sin, while at the same time professing the value of God. We then see God, not as the means of attaining reward, but the reward itself. He is our shield and “exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1, NKJV). This is a beautiful thought and one that has thrilled my soul for some time now.
From this perspective, God’s glory is inextricably tied to our pursuit of reward in Him. It should come as no surprise then to discover God demanding that we take pleasure in knowing him. The psalmist for example commands that we take delight in the Lord (Psa.37:4) and taste his goodness (Psa. 34:8). A failure to pursue God for reward isn’t viewed as a virtue, but as a transgression. Far too many Christians find solace in the staleness of their religious habits rather than a passionate pursuit of pleasure in God. C.S. Lewis understood this as he wrote in “Weight of Glory”:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We need far more disciples who seek the Lord as reward in our churches. We need men and women whose hearts are full of zealous longing for God; who pursue him for ultimate pleasure and joy, not satisfied for anything less. We need more treasure seekers, not less. And we must—I say this with the deepest love—but we must stop creating our own Christian virtues apart from scripture. The truly Christian thing is to possess a faith that draws near to God expecting something—or more accurately, expecting someone—who will absolutely, without reservation, satisfy their every desire (Psa. 16:11).
A prayer by A.W. Tozer
“O God, I have both tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus name. Amen.”