The Greatest Reward :: Succeeding in Trials


 At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “The Greatest Reward.”

Everyone wants to be successful in life, and for most of us, success may mean personal achievement, ambition, or perhaps financial wealth. Although there’s nothing wrong with those things in general, isn’t there an even greater picture of success? It’s meaningful to succeed in our short life here, but God promises us much more in our eternal life to come. What does it look like to work towards the greatest reward?

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

Here is the audio of the message I shared:

Here are notes from the message by John Burke:

Ever felt like Life is Unfair?  Sure you have—I have too. The truth is, we’ve all felt that life’s unfair. I know people who have had grave injustices done to them just because of the color of their skin.  I know wealthy kids who grew up neglected, others sexually molested. I know parents who had everything going for them, but lost a child and it devastated them.  I know people who were unfairly treated at work – fired for unjust reasons. I know people who were teased, mocked, or persecuted their whole lives due to disabilities.  All of us have our own version of the trials and tribulations of life.  Life IS unfair. If you’ve ever felt like Life is unfair, listen carefully to Jesus’ words today.  This will be the best news you’ve ever heard. Seriously—this is SO encouraging because it has the ability to reorient every trial, every unfair, or unjust act to our advantage.

You know, the World’s definition of success just makes no sense at all for most people.  Most of the world’s inhabitants will never get a good education, much less go to college. Most will not own a car, much less a home. Most will work to eat the next meal. Most will never be anywhere close to rich or important or famous as our culture defines success.  Most people struggle with all kinds of injustices as headwinds to any success like that. Most people have all kinds of trials and tribulations and most think they’re uniquely victims—honestly, that’s most people.  So how in the World do they ever succeed? Well, they can. Maybe not according to this World’s Economy, but there’s a New Economy coming—God’s Kingdom Economy of Heaven. It’s a real life, a real world, just like this one except more real.  All this life is and more, experienced in new dimensions of Time, Space, and Loving Relationship. We’ve been talking about living for the Greatest Rewards, it’s what turns this upside-down world, right-side up!  It’s what makes sense of all the trials and tribulations.

That’s why Jesus made this ridiculous statement to the notoriously unsuccessful—to those who get treated the worst in this World: [Jesus] said:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…. Matthew 6:3-12 We’re talking about Rewards in Heaven—Jesus talked a lot about them.  And he says, if you’re poor, oppressed, persecuted, insulted, treated unjustly—all these are opportunities for you to succeed in the Life to Come!  Rejoice, be glad, it’s your chance for Great Reward. Jesus turns the World’s Unfair ways Upside down.

Think about it–All of us are different—we all have different backgrounds, different gifts, different races, ethnicities, family systems, different starting points, different trials and challenges and opportunities—but we can ALL succeed in God’s New Economy. And in fact, Jesus is saying, the blessed—the one’s with the greatest leg up are not the wealthy, powerful, or famous in this World—but those we thought were least, the unfortunate, the oppressed, the downtrodden who were faithful to God through all the trials and tribulations, they will be the Greatest forever in the New World to come.  For all of us, it’s an equal playing field in the eyes of God—it’s not how much or how little compared to each other, how known or unknown compared to each other—it’s how faithful you were to God through the unique challenges and opportunities in the life he’s given you to live.

I think about how Right that feels when I think about my friends Kate and David.  Most people don’t even notice them, but as I’ve gotten to know them the past 10 years, they’re people just like me and you, they’re both smart, talented, industrious, funny, and trying to be faithful to God with what they’ve been given.  Listen:

Kate & David Story from GatewayFilm on Vimeo.

I am so inspired by them. How Kate and David have overcome all kinds of struggles through faith, and I have one of David’s paintings in my office.  They are a great inspiration to me as a reminder, we all have different paths, different gifts, different trials and tribulations to overcome—but it’s HOW we go through it that God will reward for eternity.  That’s His promise. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3  

We all have a different race to run—it’s a path God guides us down as we keep our eyes on Jesus—He gets us into the race and guides us through it.  And he’s the pacesetter—it’s a marathon, you have to persevere, and Jesus endured being mocked, rejected, shunned, betrayed by friends, hated by those he tried to help, then tortured and nailed to cross.  How did he do it?  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross. He was faithful to God as a model for us–as he said in the garden of Gethsemene the night before the crucifixion—“I don’t want to go through this…but not my will, but your will be done God.” Whatever we have to go through, we can use to our benefit by following Jesus—keeping your eyes on him to lead you through it with a “not my will, but yours” attitude.

It’s incredibly good news because we all have those times when life seems unfair, or a spouse or coworker is hurting us, or we’ve been seriously wronged, persecuted, put down, or maybe just struggle with our own demons—and you wonder “Why God?”  Why? That’s where I’ve gotten stuck before—constantly asking “Why?”  I discovered, We don’t often get an answer to that question, but we do get promises—if we turn our “Why God?” questions into a “How God?” question. “How can I be faithful to You through this?” “How can I do Your will through this?” He promises it counts and it will be rewarded eternally. That’s why Jesus says rejoice, be glad, because Great is Your Reward.

Let’s look at some of the unseen things Jesus promises will be rewarded eternally.  In the book of Revelation, John, one of Jesus’ 12 Apostles sees the risen Jesus—this brilliant man of Light, brighter than the sun, but not blinding, captivating—his eyes mesmerizing like loving flames of fire. [I saw] someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Revelation 1:13-16  Jesus tells John to write these words to 7 churches—which are representative of Christ-followers throughout history.  Listen to the things Jesus sees and will reward:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary…To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev. 2:2-3,7  When you do good to honor God and no one notices, when you work hard to honor God and no immediate reward comes, when you persevere anyway—maybe wondering, “is this worth it?” It IS worth it. God honors perseverance for His name’s sake—and he will reward it eternally. Isn’t that encouraging? Sometimes Just hanging on and enduring and persevering counts—it matters—it pays rewards for eternity. Whatever you’re going through, Go through it with God, and Great is Your Reward!

Now one of the confusing things is the rewards. Jesus talks about if you’re victorious you’ll eat from the tree of life. But why would I want to eat from the tree of life? The Tree of Life is what humanity was banned from eating when we decided our will not yours be done in the Garden of Eden—but we will eat from it in Heaven. He’s also going to talk about getting Crowns—which, forgive me Lord, never really appealed to me—let’s  be honest, most of us think–a lifetime of suffering, hardship, persecution and being faithful to God through it all, and for all that I get an Apple and a Tiara? That’s how I used to think, not very motivating. But these misperceptions of Heaven’s Rewards is why so many Christians give up, give in, instead of persevering.

Remember, Jesus said the New World is Life—life like this–yet more real, more tangible, better rewards.  Instead of trying to figure out the 1:1 correspondence—like endurance = an apple, so is it worth it to endure—I don’t think Jesus gave us enough information to calculate Heavenly Risk Reward ratios, except by analogy. So the Tree of Life is a taste of God’s Life – can you imagine tasting as much Joy and Excitement of Life as is possible? I’ve had moments of Joy—love, victory, celebration, excitement but imagine that x1000. Or Crowns—crowns in Jesus day were Olympic medals.  On the one hand, our Olympic medal is just a small chunk of Gold on a ribbon, but what’s it worth to those who trained and labored and ran and won? It’s Fame, Fortune, Honor, Glory all symbolized by a little medal—the analogy in God’s Economy of something better than all an Olympic medals, honorary titles, CEO or Presidential glory—it’s authority and honor.  You may never be honored in this life, but when you’re faithful to God’s will in the trials of life, you will be honored by God himself!

Just think about what’s going on in our country right now—all the racial hatred, political divisions, it’s spiraling downward, yet Jesus calls us to a Higher Love. After saying Blessed are the poor, oppressed, persecuted, he goes on—and I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Matthew 5:43-46   Tasha Morrison who was on our staff grew up experiencing racial hatred. But instead of letting it turn her bitter, she started teaching Jesus principles of reconciliation teach us all to live the words of Jesus and Be the Bridge. She was just recognized by Ebony magazine for her work. My friend James was doing well for years at his company, when he was unexpectedly put onto another team with a boss who would say, “James, I don’t know what it is but I just don’t like you”.  It turned the team against him, and he said, “I would have to take every break and lunch break to pray.  It was a horrible, tumultuous experience.  I seriously hated going to that job every day and no matter how much I prayed, I felt God kept telling me to stay.  In retrospect, I am eternally grateful for that experience for many reasons. It taught me many lessons about being able to find truth in the midst of turbulent situations.  I learned how to seek God in the midst of storms, and He used that storm to change me instead of changing the storm. I’m grateful!” We all go through different trials and tribulations, but  Whatever you have to go through, Go through it with God, and Great is Your Reward!

To the Christians in Smyrna Jesus says: I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander…Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Rev 2:9-10 If you feel oppressed, impoverished, like you can’t seem to win because of those who slander you, attack you, and keep pulling you down…He sees—He knows—so stay Faithful to God. He promises to reward it. You will succeed as you stay faithful to his commands and promises—His promise: you are rich in the coming Economy

And he adds, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer.” If you’re suffering, hurting, feeling alone and no one sees…God sees—you’re not alone. Stay faithful to God even through the suffering, no matter how bad it gets, don’t turn against Him mistaking God for a broken evil world. Keep your eyes on Jesus—who also suffered—lean into him, stay faithful and He promises to Reward you with True Life and lasting rewards.

I know a woman in another country who some of our Internet Campus volunteers around the world have ministered to.  She’s bed ridden, in chronic pain, fights depression and feelings of worthlessness—she gets attacked and struggles—and I would too! She found Gateway online and has watched and interacted and reached out for prayer and spiritual counseling. We’ve prayed for her—you know sometimes God heals, and sometimes he doesn’t.  But there’s still hope—when she’s struggling and in pain, yet she turns to God for comfort, asking God to help her hold onto the Hope of Heaven, when she prays and worships God despite it all—it seems foolish to this World, but it counts in God’s Economy. He sees, he knows, he cares—I’m convinced God hears the prayers of those suffering, as they pray for others—and he honors it. Whatever you have to go through, Go through it with God, and Great is Your Reward!

To Christians in Thyatira Jesus said, [I know] your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first… 26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. Rev. 2:19, 26. God promises great reward to those who persevere in faith, love, and service—those are the people he will put in charge to rule the New World. That will be a relief—when those who govern do so from a posture of love and service instead of the dishonesty, ego, and self-interest.

Just think, when you love others who are difficult to love—no one sees. When you persevere for years in a difficult marriage situation, not just throwing in the towel, but trying to grow in love and faith—asking God for wisdom and power to love better—God sees and that counts. He rewards that patient love, that steadfast service of your children or family or elderly parents or disabled person, or when you love and serve a difficult coworker or friend. IT Counts. Doesn’t that encourage you—it can all count.. It doesn’t mean God’s doing it, it’s a broken world, and people have a free will. It means God will reward your faith, love, and service regardless what others do.

Kathy and I met a very angry, cynical, agnostic woman who started coming to Gateway. We were trying to love her, care for her, she was cold.  Then I learned why–I opened an email one night, and reading it I realized Linda was suicidal.  She had been abused growing up, never felt lovable, married a guy she truly loved, but he cheated on her.  When finally caught, he begged her to forgive him and take him back, and she forgave and took him back—and right as her heart was healing—she found out he was cheating again!  She divorced him. That’s when someone invited her to Gateway. But she was struggling to believe in God, felt hopeless, and was writing me before taking her life.  I prayed, “Lord what can I say?” Hebrews 11 popped into my head.  It’s about all the men and women of faith from the Old Testament times, many who went through horrible things, but were faithful to God—and he says “It Counted—it will be rewarded.”  I thought, “She doesn’t even believe in you—I can’t write that.”  But after wrestling over it, I did.  She wrote back and said, “I don’t know why it means so much, but when you said that God sees, and to Him it counts. That hit me.  I used to ask, “what is my reward for forgiving and trusting again? Only pain!” But perhaps, if there is this God you talk about, perhaps He sees and it counts with Him. That God would be worth checking out!”  She found faith in Jesus and was baptized 3 months later and found new hope for living!

It is so encouraging to think all those unseen acts of love, service, perseverance—will be rewarded!  Are your growing weary in love, weary in service—lean into the One who is Love, who laid down his life in service—he will hold you up and empower you to persevere—and He will reward it in the end.

What about my gay friends and my single hetrosexual friends who struggle, yet are choosing to honor God sexually? When you honor God sexually, there’s no reward in this life (except maybe staying STD free), but God promises great reward, in fact, the greatest intimacy as a Reward in the life to come. I was listening to the book of Isaiah one solitude day, and this jumped out at me. Jesus said a eunuch is someone sexually celibate, some were born that way, some were made that way, some chose to remain celibate out of love and honor to God’s commands. Listen to God’s promise For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs [sexually celibate] who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. Isaiah 56:4-5  What’s better than sons and daughters? You can’t understand how huge this reward is unless you understand—God’s Temple in Heaven is the 1st Wonder of the Universe—the place of greatest beauty, power, ecstasy—where everyone would love to stay forever—the place of Greatest intimacy with God, the greatest lover of your soul.  He says when you struggle to honor me in this life, I will give you a memorial in the most important place in the Universe—and a Name (an honor and intimacy) that endures forever—an intimacy with the One who makes all intimacies look trivial and boring.  Every little thing you do to honor God, he sees, and He rewards.

We can’t even imagine how great the Reward is going to be.  So Jesus gave analogies to help us see.  The analogy that best helps me is this. Think about all the honors, rewards, titles, beauty, fun, excitement of Earth—Imagine if earth is like living on a flat 2D black and white screen. Death is separation from this life—so when you die, it’s like being ripped off the flat screen, and taken into this 3rd dimensional reality of this room all around you—suddenly you experience this Heavenly world of 3 dimensions and colors, from higher dimensions you can see your old flat World for what it is—a lesser version of a Greater Life. Now imagine going back into that 2D world and trying to explain all the possible rewards of life beyond a flat black and white world—when you come alive in 3 Dimensions of color—that’s what the Rewards of Heaven will be like—true life, home! The Greatest Reward!

So here’s what I want you to remember—all the unseen battles you fight, temptations you overcome, struggles and trials you persevere through in faith—Go through it with God, and Great is Your Reward! That Reward will never fail.


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