Someone asked today why his life was going so miserably when he had invested everything he had into what he saw as doing God’s will. He attended Bible college, he prayed “three times a day”, he gave to charities, he lived soberly and chastely – and yet, he felt no joy and no connection with God, and now he even feels suicidal and wants to throw it all in.
This strikes at the heart of what it means to be “Christian”. Jesus dealt with this same issue with some of his early followers, as have other prophets over the millennia. Why give everything up for God when all you seem to get back is poverty and abuse?
My take on it is this: God is not a bubble-gum machine. You don’t put a spiritual quarter into God and then expect to get a spiritual gumball back. It doesn’t work that way.
The reward in serving God is the joy in serving God. If you have no joy in your service, then you’re not serving God, you’re serving yourself in some misguided way.
When I was a little kid, long before I said “yes” to God’s way, my greatest pleasure (besides anything with sugar in it) was serving my mother. I loved getting her approval and helping her any way I could. My pleasure was not in any reward I would get out of it but in the joy of doing something that I knew pleased my mother. It was that simple. To a four-year-old, it has to be simple.
To God, we’re all four-year-olds (although some of us are still not potty-trained). He offers us the simple pleasure of serving him and being rewarded through the joy in service; it’s up to us whether or not we want to take him up on his offer.
What is serving God? Doing whatever is within our capacity to treat others as we would want to be treated. Depending on our capacity, that could mean preaching the Word, returning unkindness with kindness, holding a door open for someone, giving up a seat on a bus or a place in line to someone who needs it more, spending time with someone who is housebound or in hospital – all very simple things, so simple that even a four-year-old could do them.
God doesn’t want us to crucify ourselves – Jesus paid that price; we don’t have to go there anymore.
But he does expect us to treat others as we would want to be treated. That’s how we serve God every day in every way, every place we go and in everything we do.
All very simple. Do this, and I promise you that the joy you feel with each gesture of service will be more than enough reward.
But, like my mother, who always put a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my mouth, God will still look after us in every way that needs looking after, being the perfect father that he is.
Just don’t expect gumballs. They’re bad for your teeth, anyway (my mother was right).