During my first few years of teaching, I experimented with giving rewards.
I'm not talking about giving good grades. Those are not rewards: they are an honest evaluation of student progress. (At least, in theory.) No, I'm talking about enticing students to study with the promise of candy and bonus points and a handful of raffle tickets that could make one lucky student the owner of some exotic prize, like a pumpkin.
Yes, one year I raffled a pumpkin.
I said that I experimented, remember?
Eventually I stopped with the rewards. This was partly because I think education should be its own reward and partly because it turned out to be really, really expensive.
I don't think it ever dawned on the students how ridiculous it was for me to reward them for their work. Yes, many of them did study hard to improve themselves. But they wouldn't have been able to study anything if I hadn't issued them their books, and there would have been no books to issue without the time having been taken for the books to be reviewed, selected, and ordered. My students may have done well on their tests, but that's mostly because I synthesized the information for them prior to class. I studied hard and crafted lessons and lectured and led discussions with one goal in mind: for my students to have the tools that they needed to succeed.
In fact, long before those kids suspected that Shakespeare or dangling participles even existed (long before some of them were born, even), I was already investing hours and hours into acquiring the knowledge and skills that I needed so that one day they would be able to reap the benefits.
The point of this post is not to toot my own horn. Not by a long shot. I certainly made plenty of mistakes as a teacher, and there were an embarrassing number of times that I felt unprepared, caught flat-footed by an unexpectedly keen question.
But there's a spiritual parallel here that's too important to miss.
Long before we knew of Him or even existed ourselves, God was already outlining His plan for our redemption. Jesus, whose death was planned before the foundation of this world, did all of the necessary work so that we could be redeemed. Sure, each of us at some point must come to the realization that we need Him. But such realization is only possible because He already did the work and because the Holy Spirit teaches us how to respond.
We deserve no reward for being allowed to understand what God has seen fit to make known.
And yet He says that He will reward us.
It's the most astonishing thing.
He did all of the work, opened our eyes to truth, taught us to know Him, makes righteousness possible, continually offers us the strength to obey, and then on top of all of that, He says that He will reward us.
What other response is there but to worship?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14, ESV)