Not too long ago my wife and I were attending a small group Bible study that focused on teaching the essentials of theology. We touched on the subject of God giving rewards to those who place their faith in him, and this verse was given:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. –Hebrews 11:6
My wife and I were both curious how the teacher was interpreting this verse, but my wife had the courage to speak up and ask “what does it look like for God to reward you?” The teacher paused and reflected for a second, and then said, “It looks like many different things for different people, but I’ll give you an example.” He went on to tell a story about a woman (who was in our small group) who had a shoulder injury and was healed during one of the teachers sermons. “You see, because she had the faith in God to step up and believe—she was healed. If you believe in God and trust in him, he will reward you. He gives you the thing that you desire.” I’ve heard many pastors speak about wealth and personal issues with the following premise: “If you just believed more, and if you just gave more, God would answer your prayers. God would reward you.” Is this what God really rewards? Does our faith simply yield healing or wealth or restored relationships? Take a look at this popular verse:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. –Psalm 37:4
It is commonly understood to mean “delight yourself in God, and he will give you what you want.” However, what this verse is communicating is actually crystal clear: delight yourself in God and he will give you what you delight. Himself.
If you delight in God, God is the desire of your heart. Therefore he promises to give you himself.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:14
If you think you are placing your faith in God in order to get something from him (healing, wealth, a spouse, etc.), you are using God as a means to an end. He is not actually the desire of your heart. You are not actually placing your faith in him. Faith is a conscious act of resting in something. It is putting your trust in a defined position. When you place your faith in God, you are essentially communicating, “You are enough for me. You were enough for me yesterday, today, and you will be enough for me tomorrow. My body my fail, my family may desert me, but you are enough.” Faith does NOT say, “God I trust that you will heal my arm. God I trust that you will get me this job. God I trust that you will help me achieve financial stability.” Faith communicates to God that regardless of what happens, that it will be for your (potentially unseen) good. It is the idea that “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16), but I will be satisfied in God. Sometimes that pain is the very thing that strengthens your faith in God. Sometimes that financial situation is the very thing that breaks your need for comfort and material abundance. God is more interested in your relationship with him than your comfort in stuff. He provides comfort in himself. His desire is for you to find rest in him, and him alone. At that point, he gives you the ability to prevail in all circumstances because the treasure of your heart is that which can never be stripped of you. When life, love, money, and your body begin to deteriorate, you, yourself, will not waste away because your soul was not grafted into any of these things. It was grafted into Christ who is eternal and unfailing.
To go back to our Bible study that I mentioned at the beginning, the teacher left out one of the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Yes, God may bless us with health, and wealth, and children, but he may not. The question is this: when God takes these things from you, is your world taken from you also? This is a difficult question for me to contemplate as well, but it reveals what is truly important in my life. Remember Jesus’ temptation in the desert: everything was promised to him by Satan, under the condition that he put his trust in something other than his Father. But Christ revealed what the greatest treasure to behold truly is: God himself. When Paul wrote to the Philippians his famous verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” notice this context:
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:12-13
He isn’t saying that he can accomplish great personal or material feats with Christ’s help. He is saying that regardless of where he is in life–hungry or full, rich or poor, with much or little–God is sufficient. We may never get that job, or spouse, or child, or health. Are we okay with that? For God to grant us everything, and exclude himself, is for God to reject our truest need.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. –Psalm 20:7