When Work Is It’s Own Reward

It may be my enneagram 1 nature. I don’t know how much is nature and how much is nurture, but I’ve always been motivated through work by reward.

I slogged through novel after novel in college with the reward of a walk, a coffee, or time with friends as the motivation. Now that I am no longer a student, but instead a wife and mother, “If I read x more pages, I will let myself enjoy y” has morphed into “If I get these errands done or finish folding this laundry, I can take a shower or read for a few minutes.”

This line of reasoning has enabled great productivity in my life; however, it has also strengthened the lie that we work only for reward. The problem with working for reward is that if we only rest when the work is done, we will never truly rest. For often the reward for a job well done is another job. Once one thing is checked off the list, five more appear. If we think rest, peace, and reward lie on the other side of finishing our work, we have bought into a fallen view of work.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta works himself down to the bone trying to send a kingdom-saving message to King Lune about an imminent invasion. He spends himself entirely getting to the boundary of the kingdom, thinking he has completed his work and expecting reward. When he finds out that he has more to accomplish to complete his fated task, he grows disheartened.

“Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is be set to do another and harder and better one.”

As I read that line aloud to my youngest son, I realized how much my heart towards work resembles Shasta’s. I work incredibly hard (often on my power and from my own strength) to get to the finish line. But when the finish line extends into a new task, a harder task, or a more challenging trial, my heart faints and whines.

The Apostle Paul was an incredibly driven man. He accomplished great things and endured trials most of us would find unthinkable. His reward for his faithful work in starting new churches was often more work, more confusion, more weight, and more persecution. He did not work to retire to the seaside of Caesarea. He worked as one whose chief reward was more of Christ himself. He drew strength from the Spirit and kept pressing on towards what was next rather than resting on his laurels (Philippians 3:12-16).

Over the past few years, God has slowly been shifting my view towards work. Rather than enduring work to get to the desired reward, whatever that may be, he is teaching me to slow down and enjoy working with him.

It takes work to approach work differently, especially for an achiever who likes to get things done. Asking questions while I am working enables me to enjoy the process on the way to the desired productivity.

Lord, what do you have for me in this? Lord, how can I invite you into going to the bank, folding the laundry, buying the groceries? Lord, how can I experience more of you and your character and nature in this task? Lord, will you please provide not only strength to do this but also satisfaction in you while I obey?

While my pace may be a little slower, my posture is more sustainable when I work alongside the Lord and out of his view of work.

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