Recently, as I was preparing for elementary class, something in the RE textbook caught my eye. It turned out to be a strong point in the lesson and the response I got from the kids was uplifting to say the least. Because it has been worded so well already, I quote this directly from the textbook:
Help your students to get away from the deed-reward mentality. Our ultimate goal is for every believer to reach the stage where they want to do what God commands us regardless of rewards. In other words, our actions should be fueled by intrinsic motivations (e.g. to repay the love of Christ) instead of extrinsic (e.g. to receive a reward or to avoid a punishment).
The kids easily understood this concept after I gave them the example of how they may sometimes be obedient to their parents for the sake of gaining some kind of reward, such as an allowance. So when I asked them, “Who has this mentality? Let’s be honest,” one student actually admitted he was aware of this and slowly trying to get away from the mentality. I was really surprised and thankful to hear this coming from a 10-year-old.
As I thought more about this deed-reward mentality, I realized that it doesn’t only affect kids but adults too. Don’t we ever find ourselves keeping a commandment of God for fear of punishment or being looked down upon if we don’t? Or sometimes hoping to receive blessings from God after we have done a good deed or offered to Him? How about promising to do something for God only if He answers our prayer? Whatever it is, these are subconscious thoughts which may sometimes guide our actions. And sadly, they are extrinsic motivations which are indicative of a deed-reward mentality.
The danger of having a deed-reward mentality is that it becomes hard for us to understand the will of God when we are frustrated. Oh, why is this happening to me? Why is God is not listening to my prayers? What have I done wrong? I’m not saying that we should not examine ourselves, but that we should not be narrow-minded enough to start believing that everything is a result of a reward or a punishment from God. The other danger is that we only come to God when we need something (e.g. the nine lepers who did not return). Or conversely, we come to God out of obligation or unwillingness (e.g. Jonah).
Take the Bible story for this RE lesson as an example. Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego know for sure that God would deliver them from the fiery furnace when they answered King Nebuchadnezzar? If we read Daniel 3:16-18 carefully, we will notice that they said they would not serve other gods nor worship the gold image even if God didn’t deliver them. Is it because they didn’t have faith that God would deliver them? No, they believed that God was able to and would deliver them (Dan 3:17). The key is that their determination to keep the commandment of God was not conditional upon His deliverance. What could be more precious to Daniel’s three friends than their very own lives?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego didn’t have a lot of time to try and decipher God’s will in this situation. They didn’t think What did I do to deserve this? Well, if God isn’t going to save us I’m not going in there. Wait, why wouldn’t He save us? The only thing that was clear in their minds was the commandment of God. And their only motivation to keep His commandment was: they loved God more than their own lives.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Rev 12:11)
So let us reflect on ourselves. Have we reached the stage where we want to do what God commands us regardless of what happens to us? If we say that we love God, do we show it by keeping His commandments (1 Jn 5:3; Jn 14:15, 21, 23)? Do we love God more than our own lives? These are undoubtedly challenging questions. However, as long as we understand what God wants of us, then our mentality and servitude will slowly begin to transform. Just as children grow up and learn to repay their parents, so our faith will mature and we will know how to love our God intrinsically—the way He intended.