Rewards: Stickers at the Bema

Every night my kids leave a thank you letter on my pillow.

Dear Mommy,

We just wanted to say, “thank you” for all of the wonderful things you did for us today. Thank you for picking up after us and taking the time to scrub our handprints off of the windows and walls. When you did our laundry–that little extra touch of fabric softener really made our day. Most of all, thank you for your scrumptious dinner; did we detect a smidgen of tarragon in the chicken? Really, you’re too much. We can’t even begin to rave about the vegetable medley, especially those peas…EEEEEERRRRRRRRKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, that was just the sound of my fantasy coming to a crashing halt. Our kids are great, but even on the best days I rarely receive rewards or thanks for all of the hard work involved in motherhood. Most of my work goes on behind the scenes, unnoticed, because I try so hard to keep things running smoothly and effortlessly. I wash, fold, and put away the clothes, but the kids simply grab an outfit without stopping to think, “Wow, someone washed, folded, and put away my clothes!” They show up at the table expecting meals, oblivious of the fact that I just expended my energy washing, preparing, and cooking the food. I can’t say that I blame them; I often take for granted all of the things God does for me during the day. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t always say, “Thank you, Father; I am breathing because you gave me life.”

No one likes to go unrewarded for their efforts. Some of the things we do now will not be acknowledged until the Judgment, but that does not render them meaningless. God gave us the hope of Christ’s return as a motivation for us to keep working diligently. He promises that He is a just God who will not forget all that we do for Him:

Hebrews 6:10
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

Why did He tell us this? He wants us to stay diligent and focused on The Hope. One day we will be recognized for all of our labors, but in the meantime, He warns us of the temptation to become lazy.

Hebrews 6:11 and 12
(11) We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.
(12) We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

One morning during breakfast, Grace (5) announced, “Mommy, from now on, I’m going to work reeeeeally hard every day to please Jesus and do what is right.” Her little brother, Luke (3), parroted the same decree. Wow, our kids were being so spiritual! Handel’s Hallelujah! Chorus played so loudly in my head that it almost drowned out the next sentence. “I want to do what it takes to get extra ice cream for dessert.” The imaginary conductor dropped his baton, and the joyful concert in my head fizzled to a couple of stray altos who were obviously slow on the uptake. Excuse me? After I gathered up the shattered pieces of my heart from the floor and dusted off the crushed Cheerios, I realized that our children were motivated by rewards, just like everyone else.

When kids do a great job on paperwork, they love to receive stickers. It is physical proof to them that they worked diligently and earned a reward. No matter how many fancy, shiny, or elaborate stickers I offer, my kids always choose the “smiley face.” I could probably offer them a life size 3D sticker of the universe, and they would still go for The Smile. Rewards are not just material goods; they are attached to feelings of love and approval. When Jesus appears, we want to be “unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). We want to run to him and see his smiling face beaming down on us with adoration.

One day we will all stand before Jesus at the Bema, the Judgment Seat.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15 KJV
(13) Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
(14) If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
(15) If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We will receive rewards, and our not-so-popular works will be “burned.” Maybe we should help him save on the cost of wood for the bonfire and destroy some of those works now.

Since God and Jesus do love us and want the best for us, there must also be consequences for unrighteous behavior. Our children do not exactly get warm and fuzzy feelings about punishment. To deal with it, they invented their own imaginary world, where everything is the opposite of what it should be, much like Bizarro World. In the DC Comics, Bizarro World was a fictional planet ruled by a code that stated, “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!” [1] (Technically, their ignorance of grammar isn’t really the opposite of our world). Sometimes our kids like to pretend that there is a place where you don’t have to go to bed, clean your room, or eat yucky vegetables. You can do whatever you want, and you will never get punished. Kids are just like adults in this area; they hate discipline, but without it, they would flounder. Everyone needs to have parameters; in fact, the lack of them causes anxiety and emotional instability.

In his book, Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children, John Rosemond states, “You cannot effectively communicate your love to a child unless you are also a source of effective authority. Second, you cannot effectively discipline unless you are also a source of genuine love.” [2] The best way to discipline children is the same way in which God deals with us. After all, we’re His kids, so what better way to learn than to see what He does. In Hebrews chapter 12, God explains that He disciplines us “for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (verse 10). When I try to explain this concept to our children, they fail to see the greatness of this plan. Are adults much different? Notice how God has to tell us:

Hebrews 12:11 and 12
(11) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
(12) Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

No one enjoys discipline, but God does it because He loves us and wants us to be our best. Nothing pains me like having to punish my children, but I know that if I don’t do it, they will suffer. God understands that righteousness and peace will benefit us far more than a temporary reprieve from punishment.

When I gave each of our kids a handful of popcorn the other day, they actually started counting to make sure they had an equal amount of kernels. Since God is a just father, He is completely fair with his promise of rewards and punishments. He also is incredibly wise, and don’t think for a minute that He will want to hear His children squawking at the Judgment Seat, “But, that’s not FAIR!” Even if someone does say that, finally–for the first time in history–a parent will be able to truthfully respond, “Hey, Life IS fair!”

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

When Christ returns, every reward will be meaningful, and all punishment will be merited. As much as people complicate Christianity and the Scriptures, at the heart of it all is the unfailing love of our Father, and the open arms of our Lord. If we appear before them as little children, wouldn’t we like to receive the “smiley face stickers” at the Bema? Of course we would, so now let’s go earn them.

Endnotes

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bizarro_World
[2] Rosemond, John. Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children. Kansas City, MO, Andrews and McMeel, 1989.

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