English Standard Version (ESV)
We love rewards. It's part of our nature -- kids love to be rewarded for their good behavior. Adults like to be rewarded for hard work. We like to be rewarded for being good friends, for being good people -- often, people go out of their way to ensure they are noticed for good behavior. I always have a heightened sense of admiration for celebrities who try and do kind things without dragging along a news camera crew.
But what if we don't always get the reward we think we deserve? Imagine you're Ananias -- you're a disciple, faithful and dedicated to the church. As a reward, your next mission is being sent by God to visit the most violent persecutor of the church. You're sent to a man who might be ready to throw you in jail. The reward for your faithfulness might be death.
It's hard to understand this using a mindframe that is shaped by the idea that material rewards should follow our faithfulness. Being sent into hard situations to deal with difficult people probably didn't feel like a reward. Ananias wondered just what God was up to. Didn't Ananias deserve a better fate?
God, instead, uses our lives on this earth to shape us, to mold us, to prepare us for the life that is still to come. Our reward for faithfully following Jesus is an eternity with God in heaven. Our reward for faithfulness here on earth is a closer walk with him. That doesn't always translate into material rewards - sometimes life seems like it gets harder as Christ draws us into selfless and sacrificial living. Christ is trying to empty us of ourselves so that we may be filled by the grace and love of God -- but this isn't easy. The reward of eternal life isn't shaped or determined by how much we do or how well we do it -- it's determined by Christ's gift on the cross.
God is trying to get us away from the mindset that everything depends on us, and he's trying to teach us that our life is not only about what happens here on earth. There is so much more than we can see, and it's all a gift of the Holy Spirit. So let us broaden our vision and accept what comes, be it easy or hard, and recognize that faithfulness leads us deeper and closer to God, and the rewards of eternal life will be far beyond what the mind can grasp.