Mystical Mondays: A Reward Worth Waiting for?


For a small reward, a man will hurry away on a long journey; while for eternal life, many will hardly take a single step.
Thomas A Kempis, German monk

While they do nothing but collect dust in storage these days, trophies were the pursuit of my athletic conquest while growing up as a little boy. For the first three years of my sports endeavors, I played for a handful of the worst possible teams in their respective leagues. The teams I played for didn’t finish close enough to get a whiff of a trophy, forcing me to settle for the widely-distributed, hardly-coveted participatory certificate.

When I was in the third grade, our school hosted an Olymp-a-thon to raise some much-needed money. We received a pledge amount for each lap we completed, usually somewhere in the $1 range. Before the “race,” the teacher informed us that the top three finishers in first through fourth grades would receive a trophy. My eyes lit up; this was my chance to bring home some hardware. I ran like my pants were on fire, determined to finally get that elusive trophy and begin to collect what I hoped would ultimately become a slew of them on my dresser to show off to my friends.

After the race was over, I knew I had done my part. I had finished second only behind Mitchell, whose parents took him to run 5K races on the weekends as an eight year old. There was no shame in finishing second to him, especially since it meant I was going to get a trophy. What I didn’t understand was that it was only the top three finishers in all four grades combined! I suddenly began pitching the mother of all temper tantrums, complete with rolling around in the dirt and stomping my feet. Tears filled my eyes and I could scarcely see my teacher coming over to comfort me. This wasn’t fair! I thought. I want a trophy! My teacher gave me a trophy.

I still have that trophy to this day, sitting in one of my boxes in storage collecting dust. And I must admit that it’s the most embarrassing of the lot. Instead of some great story to tell about how our team staged a late comeback to win the game or how we upset the top-ranked team in the city tournament, I have to confess that I “won” this trophy by rolling around on the ground and crying until they gave it to me. The truth is, I didn’t deserve it.

St. Ambrose attempts to answer the age-old question of why good things happen to bad people—and vice versa. His answer sheds light on the truth of God’s method for reward. Sure, God sometimes chooses to reward us on this earth. In fact, those blessings are more than we ever deserve. But the real rewards come later, after we’ve finished this life, running faithfully for God. Far too often in our fast-food society, we want our reward—and we want it now. “Hey, we’ve been faithful for five years. How about something now?” we ask of God. We’re like the Prodigal Son who wants to spend his inheritance now even if it’s a smaller portion than waiting for the fullness of it later.

Jesus put it this way: “Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to someone in need, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I assure you, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4, NLT)

There are plenty of people who have jumped on the narrow way for a short period of time before opting for something more self-gratifying. What St. Ambrose implores us to do is commit to faithfully walk with God all our days and receive our just reward in heaven, avoiding the temptation to get distracted by someone who flaunts their sin—and their “riches” in our faces. The reward for remaining faithful far outweighs any momentary gratification we might receive by embracing temporal rewards on this earth.

Your Thoughts:

Do you think it is fair that people who don’t follow God seem to have many blessings while others who faithfully serve him sometimes seem to get the short end of the stick? Would you rather receive your reward now or in heaven? Why? Would it be more rewarding to receive your reward in heaven? Why or why not?

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