Focusing Beyond the Goal

RaceI’ve heard said it in sermons all my life: kindness is its own reward.

Jesus Himself said, we’re told (it’s not recorded in the gospels), that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

We give out of the overflow of our hearts in gratitude to God for His lavish grace and kindness. We are, as Abraham, blessed to be a blessing. It’s a privilege, and not an obligation, to give. A “get to” and not a “have to.” Blessing others is a part of what we are here for, what we were created for. (Eph. 2:10) It’s in our “new creature” DNA.

So we shouldn’t need the promise of reward to motivate us, right? In fact, one would think that such a promise would “cheapen” the acts of kindness we do.

But here’s the wrinkle:
often, throughout the New Testament, when Jesus or the writers of the epistles mention giving, helping, and treating others with kindness, they also mention a reward.

Isn’t that strange?

Here are some examples (these are not quotes, but summaries):

  • Deuteronomy 24:19 – When you harvest your crops, leave some for the needy and the immigrant, and God will bless the work of your hands.
  • Proverbs 19:17 – When you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord and He will reward you.
  • Matthew 6:1-4 – When you give alms to the poor secretly, your Father, who sees in secret will repay you.
  • Luke 6:38 – Give and it will be given to you.

The concept of doing good for others, and giving to help others, is often wrapped up in the concept of planting and reaping, in the New Testament.

Giving and doing good to others, are seen as “planting” in preparation for a harvest. For example:

  • Galatians 6:9 – Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we don’t give up.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6 – He who plants in abundance (gives generously) will reap in abundance.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 – If you give generously, God will provide and increase your resources, producing a greater harvest of generosity.

The concept is not all that different from the main idea of “karma” in eastern religions. Or the old expression, “What goes around comes around.” We reap what we sow.

Proverbs 12:14 says “the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.”

Beyond this, we are to do good knowing we will not be repayed by those who receive our kindness:

  • Matthew 5:38-42 – Give in every circumstance, and more than is asked of you
  • Matthew 43-48 – Treat even your enemies with love – even if you receive persecution in return

But still, that question remains:
Why does God keep dangling that “reward carrot” in front of us?

As so often is the case, I think there is an important clue in Jesus’ example.

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Jesus had all kinds of motivation to offer Himself as a sacrifice on the cross: to obey and please the Father; to save mankind (us!); and, this verse tells us, for the joy that lay beyond.

Jesus was focused on the results that were beyond the events of the cross, not the cross itself.

My son, Eli, pointed something out to me in this year’s Olympic racing events. In the qualifying heats, as the contestants approached the finish line, they would begin to slow down. Have you noticed that? But in the medal race, the contestants run as though the finish line is on beyond the actual line, so that they are still running at full tilt when they cross the finish line.

In Little League baseball, participants are instructed, upon hitting the ball, to run “through” first base – as though the base is on past its actual spot.

In martial arts, students learn that, in order to break the board or the brick, they have to focus “through” it.

Focusing beyond the goal makes it possible to  push through the task will full intensity, and see it through without discouragement.

Jesus endured the cross to bring us redemption, and when discouragement was nearly overwhelming, he looked to “the joy set before Him.” The goal beyond the goal.

Hopefully none of us does good for others simply because we think we’re piling up “kingdom points.”

But, when times get discouraging, as they inevitably will, it’s encouraging that we can look beyond the goal to that special reward from God – whatever it is. Because, anything God has in store for us will outshine anything we can imagine.

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.”  (Hebrews 6:10)

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