The Reward of Service

Humanity loves reward.  The thought of impending delight is motivating. Our hearts and bodies are invigorated to press on longer and push in deeper to gain the awaiting prize. This begins at a young age with children obeying to achieve their promised positive reinforcement and continues with employees working toward their promised incentives and bonuses.

But what if the reward to work were more work? “Hey!” you’d say, “That’s not fair!  The reward of my work should be payment... or at least rest!” The Levites were promised a reward for their work. In Numbers 18:20 the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.”

This is a powerful picture of how satisfying God is. He is better than a portion of land. He Himself is their reward. But in Joshua 13:14, we read further, “To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him.”

This is where the reward seems to go awry. The Levites work day and night for the Lord. Then what do they get? They receive the “reward” of serving God by sacrificing burnt offerings. Their reward for their work is more work. What makes their work a reward?

A few truths about how God deals with His servants:

1) More work is a demonstration of God’s love. God shows His love to the Levites by honoring them with more work. Out of God’s love for the Levites, He knows that honoring them with the privilege of serving God is the greatest blessing He can give them. God knows that even though our deceitful hearts can tell us that rest or pleasure or compensation is most satisfying, He actually gives what is best for us—the privilege of service.  

Before you dismiss me as “unbalanced”, I am not condoning working without rest, nor am I encouraging work to the exclusion of enjoying God’s good gifts of recreation. Yet, I am pointing out the importance of abiding so closely with Christ that we follow His leading without resisting the reward of work. Whether He gives us opportunity to work or to rest, we are ever dependent on His grace to use wisdom to apply His Word. 

This point of receiving more work as a demonstration of God’s love is driven home to me in my literal home. I have a tendency to strive for efficiency during my day so that I can finish my work in hopes of a little “me time” at the end of the day—maybe 15 minutes to sit down and catch up on texts or 15 minutes of reading before I fall asleep at night. But often God will bring one of the young adults who calls me “mom” to my side who wants to share a burden or a joy. I must admit, the first 30 seconds are usually a silent battle against selfishness in my mind while I try to cover my thoughts with a smile. But as I get into the conversation and have the privilege of ministering God’s grace to my child (and to my own heart), I am actually more renewed than I would have been if left to the “reward” of myself.

Last week, one of my Ugandan “daughters” commented at the end of our late night talk, “Mom, your eyes are red. You look tired.” Before I could make a sarcastic comment about the obvious, she continued, “Let me pray for you.” And she grabbed my hand and covered me in a precious blessing of grace. She closed in prayer and hugged me goodnight. As she left my bedroom, I was far more refreshed than when she first entered my bedroom that night. God knew that I needed more service as a reward of service. He knew that the service would be my reward. 

2) With proven responsibility comes further responsibility. When the Levites are faithful, their faithfulness earns the reward of receiving greater responsibility. And as counter-intuitive as this seems, the greater responsibility is truly a reward. 

The Hurley family opened our home to strangers within the first month of our marriage. I still remember Paul, the Hertz truck driver coming over all day on Saturday for counseling and lunch. He was the first of many short and long-term guests who came as strangers and left as friends.

When we still lived in California, I remember complaining to Shannon, “When our guest room is always full of long-term guests, we don’t have a guest room for our real guests.” He asked me why we would have a guest room in the first place if it wasn’t intended to be permanently occupied. I appreciated the stewardship of our space, but still wished for a place to offer guests besides our own family’s bedrooms.

Then the first year we lived in Uganda we began to offer our home to students. With each successive year, came more residents. After three years, we moved to a new village and as we packed up, we loaded our young single neighbors who had become like family. We couldn’t leave them behind. But with our house the only building on our new property, that meant our house was bursting with people, leaving only our master bedroom to accommodate our family of seven. Since then, we’ve built more buildings, but the extended Hurley family keeps growing.

Because we hunt down abandoned teens? No. 

Because we enjoy subjecting ourselves to difficult or uncomfortable experiences? No. 

Because we feel that God leads us to invite certain people that God brings into our lives into our home as the best means of discipleship. We believe that God Himself directs young people into our lives and home, and the more we follow His calling, the more He brings. Which leads to the third truth God knows.

3) Obedience to serve brings unexpected blessings. We never made a plan for leadership development at SOS. We never set forth a strategy for raising up like-minded national leaders with integrity. But God has used some of the young people who grew up in our home to rise up in our organization and local church as respected managers, teachers, administrators, and elders. Who would have designed such a plan? We couldn’t have! We simply obeyed His command to love strangers, and God worked in our “children’s“ hearts to catch the vision and be our greatest advocates and leaders. Isn’t God good!

So when your reward for service is more service, resist the temptation to complain. Remember that 

1) More work is a demonstration of God’s love. 

2) With proven responsibility comes further responsibility. 

3) Obedience to serve brings unexpected blessings.

We don’t need to know what God is doing when He asks us to obey. We simply need to accept His next orders, trusting that they come from His love for us and for the good of His Kingdom.

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