In an effort to get my ten year old daughter to emerge from the warm cocoon of her chevron bedspread, I iron her outfit every morning then toss it on her limp body like a hot potato. The heat that still radiates from the fabric is the only motivation strong enough to convince her to trade her soft, fuzzy PJs for her school clothes. As parents we are good at motivating.
That's probably why when I helped organize a collection drive recently, I suggested making it a contest. The group of kids to collect the most items wins a prize because motivation of reward always gets the children to participate at a more enthusiastic level.
Last week, Mackenzie was certainly enthusiastic as she pushed me aside and raced into the house headed straight for the pantry like a mother bolting toward a toddler about to stick his hand in the fire. She rummaged through our pantry, searching for unopened containers and cans then slamming her finds onto the counter.
"What are you doing?" I scolded, more than asked. "We are close to winning the contest, we just need a few more and the last day is tomorrow!" she breathlessly announced.
I reviewed the pile of items she had heaved upon the counter. I reclaimed the ingredients I needed for that night's supper, explaining my plans for them. Then I retrieved the can of jalapeños, and with no explanation replaced it to its spot in the pantry too.
Mackenzie noticed my reticence and questioned my action. "Why can't I bring the jalapeños?" she demandingly asked. "Because they aren't useful for the food drive," I impatiently answered. Her response burned my heart a little.
"It doesn't matter what I bring, Mom," she retorted. "Every can counts for a point."
The impulsive phrase tumbled out of her mouth and catapulted through the tense air, almost in slow motion until every rash word stung me with a bitter realization. The contest was robbing Mackenzie of experiencing one of the truest joys of life - the joy of giving.
I have watched Mackenzie experience this joy many times before as she served drinks at a Senior Adult Banquet or packed a Christmas shoebox to send across the world. There were no promises of prizes to repay these gifts of generosity. Nevertheless, I can picture the smile on her face at that banquet and the care with which she packed that shoebox, and I know she received a blessing…one I robbed her of by turning an act of giving into a race to get the prize.
Not only had I stolen that joy, but I had also dangerously twisted one of God's most important messages… So the first will be last and the last first. Matthew 20:16
Jesus spoke those words to Peter and the other disciples. The men had given up a great deal to follow Jesus and were eager to learn what they would receive in return. Jesus assured the disciples they would be rewarded, but not as the world expected. Their reward would be much richer than earthly wealth or political power. God had gifted them with a part in His eternal story.
When God gives us the opportunity to be His Hands and Feet, whether by collecting food for hungry families or serving coffee and a hug to a lonely widow, we are receiving one of the greatest rewards possible…a part in God's story. It's a part chosen and gifted by His grace and it brings with it an indescribable joy of being used by a Sovereign God to make an eternal impact. No contest can compete with that, and no prize can replace it (so I'm not going to try to, ever again).
Promise for Today:
For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21