A Story of Reckoning: Food for Thought
I read a story online about a child who gave his mother a bill, and on that bill he had written out all of the things he’d done to help her with housework and take care of his little sister; he said his mom should pay him 50 dollars. His mom paid him the 50 dollars and then prepared a bill for him. She included all sorts of things like his birth, the time she’d spent with him when he was sick, teaching him to walk, and praying for him. Everything was listed at zero dollars. Seeing this, the boy felt really ashamed and put the 50 dollars back into his mom’s pocket.
This anecdote made me smile, and I thought, “Anyway, the kid in the story was still young. Why shouldn’t we forgive children’s naivety?” But then I really gave it some thought: Isn’t the thinking of that ignorant child a reflection of the psychology of most people now? In such a materialistic society so many things have their prices clearly marked, so we naturally expect compensation for our efforts. Sometimes, something that we really should be contributing becomes a heartless transaction.
Giving Things Up, Expending Myself, Working Hard for God: What Is It For?
I couldn’t help but think of my own experience. Not too long before, I was very busy with the work of the church. I was running around and constantly busy, getting up early and working late into the night, and even though it was difficult and tiring, I really enjoyed what I was doing. One day I left the house at 5:00 a.m. to get to the house of a brother who lived 15 kilometers away before 6:00 a.m., and then I went out with some brothers and sisters to share the gospel. Even though it was no longer the dead of winter there was still a chill in the air, particularly around dawn. The cold swallowed up the earth after a long night; the trees alongside the road were frozen and seemed lifeless. In spite of my heavy coat and windbreaker, the wind on my motorcycle still made its way up my sleeves and straight to my chest — I felt like I had fallen into a hole in the ice, and both of my legs had turned numb from the cold as well. I stopped quite a few times, stamping my feet to warm them up. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If it weren’t for the work of the church, who would go out so early in this kind of weather? God has to be seeing everything that I’m doing, right?” I also thought about how, over these few years of having faith, I had given up my family and career to spread the gospel and bear witness to God through the wind and the rain. I had endured others’ defamation and mockery, and I’d been arrested and persecuted by the government. I had given so much for God, so I figured in the end I had to be blessed, and surely my reward would be considerable. I thought that when the Lord comes, He would certainly bestow a crown of glory upon me. Thinking of this I felt extremely pleased and I felt strength well up within me. I no longer felt that it was so cold. When I read the story of the boy who gave his mother a bill I couldn’t help but feel a sense of self-reproach. I thought, “What difference is there between my thinking and what the kid did in the story? I’m demanding blessings and a crown from God for my superficial suffering and efforts — isn’t that just doing deals with God?”
A passage of God’s words that Brother Li had read in a gathering then occurred to me. “Many of those who follow God are only concerned with how to gain blessings or avoid disaster. … Such people have one very simple aim in following God: to gain blessing, and they are too lazy to attend to anything that doesn’t involve this aim. For them, believing in God to gain blessings is the most legitimate of goals and the very value of their faith. They are unaffected by anything that cannot achieve this objective. Such is the case with most of those who believe in God today. Their aim and motivation seem legitimate, because at the same time as believing in God, they also expend for God, dedicate themselves to God, and perform their duty. They give up their youth, forsake family and career, and even spend years busying about away from home. For the sake of their ultimate goal, they change their interests, alter their outlook on life, and even change the direction they seek, yet they cannot change the aim of their belief in God. They run about for the management of their own ideals; no matter how far the road is, and no matter how many hardships and obstacles there are along the way, they stick to their guns and remain fearless of death. What power makes them continue to dedicate themselves in this way? Is it their conscience? Is it their great and noble character? Is it their determination to do battle with the forces of evil to the very end? Is it their faith in which they bear witness to God without seeking recompense? Is it their loyalty for which they are willing to give up everything to achieve the will of God? Or is it their spirit of devotion in which they’ve always forgone personal extravagant demands? For people who have never known the work of God’s management to give so much is, quite simply, a wondrous miracle! … Apart from the benefits that are so closely associated with them, could there be any other reason for these people who never understand God to give so much to Him? In this, we discover a previously unidentified problem: Man’s relationship with God is merely one of naked self-interest. It is the relationship between the receiver and giver of blessings. To put it plainly, it is like the relationship between employee and employer. The employee works only to receive the rewards bestowed by the employer. In a relationship like this, there is no affection, only a deal; there is no loving and being loved, only charity and mercy; there is no understanding, only resignation and deception; there is no intimacy, only a gulf that cannot be bridged” (“Man Can Only Be Saved Amidst the Management of God”).
Every one of God’s thought-provoking words went straight to the heart for me. I felt ashamed of thinking I could demand grace and blessings from God because I had suffered a bit, because of my little sacrifices and efforts. I had thought of myself as someone who truly expends himself for God, who really loves God and is devoted to Him. Only then did I realize that over those years of giving up my family and work, giving my years of youth and enduring suffering and hardships, it hadn’t been because I had integrity or because I loved God or obeyed God so much, but it was wanting to demand blessings and bestowments from God; it was in exchange for the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. I saw suffering and expending myself as a bargaining chip to conduct transactions with God; I rushed to record every little thing I did in my logbook of good deeds, always scheming to get blessings and rewards from God. Wasn’t that a transactional relationship with God? Wasn’t that using and cheating Him? My proselytizing work had too many adulterants, too many unreasonable requirements — I really was a despicable, petty person only out for my own gain; I really was so selfish and completely lacking the conscience and reason of proper humanity.
I then realized that once we as humans are corrupted by Satan, we go by the satanic law of survival that “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.” By nature, we’re all incredibly selfish and despicable, only caring about personal gain. No matter what we do, we require recompense for our efforts; we’re constantly considering and planning for our own interests. Even in our faith, what we dedicate and expend for God contains our personal motives and adulterations; we just want to use that in exchange for future rewards and blessings. It’s not happily dedicating ourselves. With that kind of effort and expending ourselves that way, we’re not repaying God’s love, but just coldly conducting transactions — that’s so hurtful for God! How could suffering and expending ourselves for God that way gain His approval?
God’s Love Cannot Be Quantified — How Could We Repay an Iota of It?
Later, I read another passage of God’s words: “God created mankind; regardless of whether they have been corrupted or whether they follow Him, God treats human beings as His loved ones — or as human beings would say, the people dearest to Him — and not His playthings. Although God says He is the Creator and that man is His creation, which may sound like there is a bit of a difference in rank, the reality is that everything God has done for mankind far exceeds a relationship of this nature. God loves mankind, cares for mankind, and shows concern for mankind, as well as constantly and unceasingly provides for mankind. He never feels in His heart that this is additional work or something that deserves a lot of credit. Nor does He feel that saving humanity, supplying them, and granting them everything, is making a huge contribution to mankind. He simply provides for mankind quietly and silently, in His own way and through His own essence and what He has and is. No matter how much provision and how much help mankind receives from Him, God never thinks about nor tries to take credit. This is determined by the essence of God, and is also precisely a true expression of God’s disposition. … Even though mankind often praises God or bears witness to Him, none of this behavior is demanded by God. This is because God never intends for any of the good things He does for mankind to be exchanged for gratitude or for it to be paid back (“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself I”).
God’s words were deeply moving for me. God plucked us out from a teeming sea of people, allowing us to understand some truths from reading His words, gain discernment over good and evil, ugly and beauty. He’s allowed us to become holy among the people of the world and avoid Satan’s harm, to live under His care and protection, and to take the right path in life of seeking the truth, of fearing God and shunning evil. However, we don’t think of repaying God’s grace, instead having faith in God for the sake of gaining blessings. Once we’ve worked and expended ourselves for God, experiencing a bit of suffering, our selfish and greedy natures are exposed; we often use this as capital to demand God’s grace and ask God to preserve harmony in our homes and our family members’ safety. We’re focused on looking forward to the blessings of the kingdom of heaven and the crown of glory that God will bestow upon us. Who knows how long that bill we present to God is, but ever since God created the world and did everything for us humanity, what has He asked of us? He created us, breathed life into us, as well as prepared the air, sunshine, rain, and food that we need, allowing us to live normally with God’s sustenance and nourishment. After being corrupted by Satan, God taught mankind how to live by issuing the law and the commandments through Moses, as well as how to worship God. He’s led mankind for thousands of years. Later on, people started committing sins very frequently and were no longer upholding the law, constantly being condemned and executed. God Himself took on the flesh and was nailed to the cross, taking all of our sins onto His body which was free of sin, redeeming us from sin. From then on we’ve been able to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus’ salvation; when we confess and repent to God, we’re absolved of our sins and we can enjoy the rich grace and blessings bestowed upon us by God. All along, God has been quietly providing sustenance for us, He guides us with His work and words, and He has paid a great personal price for us. Even so, He has never required us to give Him anything in return, but just hopes that we can truly know Him and obey Him. Seeing this weighty love from God, I had to search my own heart. “How am I qualified to make demands of God, to stretch out my hand, demanding God’s grace just for my own self-interest or just because I suffered a bit in working and expending myself? Isn’t that entirely unreasonable?”
The Reason and the Pursuit I Should Have
God’s words say: “There is no correlation between the duty of man and whether he is blessed or cursed. Duty is what man ought to fulfill; it is his bounden duty and should not depend on recompense, conditions, or reasons. Only then is that doing his duty. … You should not do your duty only to be blessed, and you should not refuse to act for fear of being cursed. Let Me tell you this one thing: If man is able to do his duty, it means he performs what he ought to do. If man is unable to do his duty, it shows the rebelliousness of man” (“The Difference Between the Ministry of the Incarnate God and the Duty of Man”). “Belief in God is so that you may obey God, love God, and perform the duty that should be performed by a creature of God. This is the aim of believing in God” (“All Is Achieved by the Word of God”). Through God’s words, I understood that working and expending ourselves for God isn’t a bargaining chip for us to conduct a transaction with Him, nor is it a way to get bestowments and blessings in return. Instead, it’s the duty that we should fulfill as created beings; it’s our responsibility. No matter what our final outcome may be, it is undeniably right and proper that we must fulfill our duty just as children should clearly be filial to their parents — this is the kind of reason that we should possess. We have to have proper pursuits and goals in our faith; we must seek the truth, put God’s words into practice, and be more than willing to expend ourselves for God. We should genuinely love God and be considerate of His will, carry out His teachings, and become creatures with humanity and reason so that God’s heart may gain some comfort. This is the pursuit that a created being should have, and only living this way does justice to God’s selfless sustenance and bestowments. I thought of the Lord Jesus’ disciple Peter — he expended himself and worked for the Lord, shepherding many churches and giving his entire life to the Lord. During that time he not only suffered greatly, but was also persecuted by the ruling party of the time, and was ultimately crucified upside down for the Lord’s sake. Everything that Peter did for the Lord wasn’t transactional; it wasn’t in exchange for the blessings of the heavenly kingdom or for more good fortune or grace, but was done on the foundation of his love for God. It was to do God’s will and to complete what God had entrusted him with. Peter saw expending himself for the Lord as a thing of great glory; he saw loving and satisfying the Lord as his only pursuit in his faith. This is why he was accepted by the Lord and was ultimately perfected by Him.
After understanding all of this my heart really brightened. I realized that when working for God, sacrificing things and expending myself in my faith, I must first of all have the right direction, the right target, and that I should follow Peter’s example of seeking to love and satisfy God. I should expend myself for God with a willing heart, devotedly do my duty, and complete what God has entrusted me with. Anything else would be self-defeating, and keeping my faith to the very end would still never gain God’s approval. Thank God for His enlightenment and guidance! Amen!