Discipleship’s Nested Rewards

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a while for me since I have written anything here, due primarily to a busy family life and secondarily to a mind not entirely prepared to write. I met my goal in 2012 of reading over 50 books (52), with over 17,000 pages. The subjects have been varied, from The Hunger Games to Peter the Great to Signature in the Cell. I feel so much more enriched and my mind more active, but my writing experience was more a cerebral “stew” than an organized essay. I found it stressful to write, and so I decided to just read, think, connect, reflect, repeat. In fact, I just finished a book on the history of philosophy, and I am reminded that philosophers do no jump to conclusions. This is what I felt with writing…I didn’t feel I had proper time to reflect and draw a reasoned, objective conclusion. So, I have been reading as my interest led, for personal enjoyment and to layer my home “education”.

But today, after reading a few posts from some blogs I follow, I felt like sharing something I learned last fall. It was from the very fantastic book “The Weight of Glory” by the equally fantastic C.S. Lewis, and it has helped me to put in proper perspective (I think) the place for Christian works. In the first essay in the book, titled “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis talks of the different kinds of rewards in life and how it applies to the Christian life. He says some would call Christians mercenaries because we live for the promise of rewards in heaven, to which Lewis writes:

“There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not a mercenary for desiring it.”

There are rewards that are not naturally connected to the thing earned (money for love), while there is the reward that is connected (marriage for love). But Lewis says there is also a third case of reward that is more complex. The example he gives is that of reading Greek poetry in Greek. To get to the place that one can read the poetry and enjoy it in the original language cannot be reached immediately. It requires work and study, and the reward for this work is at first “disconnected” from the pleasure of understanding the Greek mind inside the Greek poetry. The motivation doesn’t come from the actual reward, which cannot really be known to the student. One studies the language either just to learn it, or because it is required, to get good grades, etc.

“His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.” [emphasis mine]

Here I was struck profoundly that this is the proper role of discipleship and obedience to God. Christianity can appear to be a list of do’s and don’ts. Or, why worry about works when we are saved through faith alone. Works, though, are the proper path for connecting to the God of creation and realizing the benefits of His law. For instance, there is no practical or immediate benefit to me to be patient with people who do not (in heat of the moment) deserve it, other than to sort of “get myself under control”. But consistently practiced, I have seen patience yield great benefits in my home that I could not have foreseen beforehand. These “works” we do as Christians don’t save us. Faith does, but if we do not obey, or “learn the Greek”, as grueling as it can be at times, will we ever get to really know the mind and heart of God? And I do not believe our hearts necessarily have to be “in it”, either, as I have heard and read. I don’t have to have a pure heart to practice patience. In fact, when patience is needed most, I am least likely to practice it all! Yet, if I practice patience anyway, there is the nested reward of knowing God is within it.

“Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward… But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as a tide lifts a grounded ship.”

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