“He who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Corinthians 9:10).
WHAT’S IN IT FOR US? That is what most people want to know when the subject of religion comes up. And then we go to two extremes. Either (1) we turn religion into nothing more than a spiritual scheme for our own health, wealth, and happiness, or (2) we reject the worship of God completely with the cynical comment heard in Malachi’s day: “It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?” (Malachi 3:14). The thought does not occur to us that it may be profitable — and even joyful — to serve God whether it “pays” us to do so or not.
The subject of hope is certainly a scriptural subject. Like its companions faith and love, hope involves an attraction to unseen realities that are desirable. The Christian is moved by hope to make adjustments that would not be made otherwise. But notice carefully the texts that speak of hope. The hope that leads to a pure life is the hope of our being like Christ (1 John 3:2,3), not the hope of our lifestyle being more trouble-free. And the hope of the gospel is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Naturally, there must be some benefit to serving God, or we would not do it. But we will be more powerfully motivated when that benefit has to do more with God and less with ourselves. When we are moved by a deep, thrilling desire for His glory, at whatever cost that glory must be gained, then we’ll make real progress in life. We won’t think in terms of personal benefit, but only of rightful service, and what we hope to gain will be the soul-satisfying knowledge that we are rightly related to His glory, He by His grace having made it possible for us to please Him again.
It all comes down to the joy of giving as opposed to the joy of getting. Jesus taught that the former is greater than the latter: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). With respect to God, there are many things to be received by us, and these are not insignificant motivators to the devout life. But none of these come close to the joy of giving glory to God: the sheer joy of taking our rightful place in the symphony of His creation.
“A person will turn away from the world and engage in serious prayer because there is a strong desire for the things of God” (Pseudo-Macarius).