Have you ever wondered if it’s selfish to ask God for things while you’re alive and can still enjoy them? Or what about being eager to follow God’s commands because deep down, you want an earthly reward? Is this OK or is this somehow unspiritual?
As a young Christian with six figures in debt, no car and no house, I struggled with these very issues. After all, Scripture says that we must make sacrifices. And by definition, a sacrifice is something that costs us. Something we ordinarily wouldn’t want to do.
This was the false theology that somehow attached itself to me. A basic belief that if we’re enjoying ourselves in earthly things, then we must be doing something wrong. And if enjoying ourselves is wrong, then why in the world would we ask God for things that contribute to our earthy pleasures?
Based on this belief, I wondered, shouldn’t we instead be asking only for things that are holy and spiritual? Things like saving our country and bringing the lost into the arms of Jesus…Things like how to make us more Christ-like and more willing to walk in His footsteps…
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with praying for these things. And I would never recommend against such. But to pray only for the “spiritual” means you’re lying to yourself. For God makes both spiritual and earthly promises and expects you to believe Him! Or are you too heavenly minded to accept what Scripture tells us?
The fact is that it’s all holy. It’s all spiritual. Indeed, if Scripture commands it, then who are we to say NO THANKS LORD, I’VE GOT A BETTER PLAN! The latter is nothing but rebellion and idolatry. It’s not Biblical, and it’s not even faith.
And that’s the crux of it. God has given us a desire to look after our own self interest. In fact, He’s actually built our self interest into His promises! And He wants you to seize hold of these promises, whether you think they’re spiritual or not.
What’s that? You don’t believe me? Or perhaps you think I’m exaggerating? OK then, take a look at the Scriptures below. Do you see it differently?
Scriptures that Describe Earthly Rewards (And Spiritual Ones Too!)
You Cannot Please God without Faith And Faith Means Believing that God Rewards Those Who Seek Him
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)
A Promise of More Family
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-31
A Promise of More Wisdom
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
A Promise of Food & Drink
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luke 12:29-31
Promises So You’ll Receive Forgiveness and Mercy in This Life
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14
An evil man seeks only rebellion, and a cruel messenger will be sent against him. Proverbs 17:11
A Promise of Long Life & Well Being
Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3 (quoting Exodus 20:12)
Promises To Answer Your Prayers (Earthly or Otherwise)
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1 Peter 3:7
Promises of Provision in This Life and the Next
If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. (Mat 10:42
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38
When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4
Paul praising the Philippians for their generosity to him says: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Promises of God’s Favor (An Abiding Relationship with Him in the Here and Now)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8
Abide in me, and I will abide in you. Just as the branch cannot produce fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. John 15:4
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:11-13
The Difference between Selfish and Self Interest
So let’s get some working definitions for Selfish and Self Interest. In this way, perhaps we can dispel the myth that if it’s enjoyable, it’s somehow not worth praying for.
Selfishness is satisfying your immediate wants and needs at the expense of others. It’s putting you first before everyone else, including Jesus.
On the other hand, Self Interest, is looking after your own long term wants and needs but with Jesus’s promises in mind.
Both selfishness and self interest can appear similar because they involve the same desires and passions. But with self interest, we trust the Lord to reward us as He sees fit. And we strive to honor Him and not do anything that would grieve His Holy Spirit. This means our desires and needs are very real and we look after them. But always in the context of being subject to our great God and savior, Jesus of Nazareth.
You may be surprised that God actually wants you to look for rewards. And maybe even more surprised because we’re encouraged to look for earthly rewards! But don’t be put off by this. You who are good parents know how to encourage your own children. So where do you think you got this from!
To the God who spins out 10 billion galaxies, even the Einsteins and Newtons are just like little kids. Jesus knows that as little children, we too need the encouragement to do the right things. And that in order for us to keep our faith, some of this encouragement must be in the here and now. This is why He has built self interest into His promises!
Our God wants us to bet on the winning horse. He wants us to keep our eyes on the prize, which is the pearl of great price, Jesus Himself! So don’t be afraid of promises that encourage self interest. Jesus says He wants to give you life to the full. And part of the full life is taking Jesus at His word! It is only when we can take Him at His word, and trust in His inherent goodness, that we can become more and more like Him.
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