For most of my life, whether I was inside or outside of a religious institution, I’ve behaved externally to be rewarded with “blessings.” I still see this in some of my actions today, though I’m starting to be able to accept the real Gift. Previously, I thought that if I was a “good” person, God would be good to me in that he would “bless” me with health, money, and the respect of others. Only in my wildest dreams did I think these things would be above normal. I was content just to have the everyday things–health, a few dollars in my pocket, security, and respect from my peers. These were the things I performed for whether at work or in a congregation. I’ve always known deep down that God should be first but couldn’t quite figure out what that was supposed to mean until recently.
Like myself, many today still perform for God’s blessings. I thought that this was the right path and that in doing things for God, he would do things for me. Under the Old Covenant, God established blessings for those who could uphold the Law–all of it (no one ever did except Jesus), and curses for breaking any of it. However, under the New Covenant, God never promises us physical blessings. Many of the people who were following Jesus were often brutally killed. So why would anyone follow Jesus if it just leads to persecution and death? How many today have really taken up their cross to follow Jesus or are just performing for external blessings?
The problem lies in our priority. We place the possible (not guaranteed) benefits ahead of the most amazing gift God has given us–a direct relationship with HIM! That is, even in our lowest, poorest, sickest state, we are in full communion with God. That is the reward. When we attempt to relate to God on a basis of his physical provisions, we board an emotional roller coaster ride that has us happy when we receive something and depressed when we don’t. When we accept and live in that full relationship with God, there are no valleys, we are always on the mountaintop because God is always with us. This is also what Paul conveyed when he was imprisoned.
The reward and primary focus is a personal relationship with our Creator, regardless of our circumstances. Even if we never come into the secondary objectives of physical health, wealth, or notoriety, we can at all times be in that relationship. Even if we are imprisoned for the rest of our life or even executed, our treasures are stored in Heaven and nothing can get to it there.