My reward

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalms 19:7-11

Just recently have I come to embrace the very last sentence of these verses in Psalms. There is great reward in keeping the law of the Lord.

In a particularly dark time of my life when I doubted my faith and had no assurance of my salvation, I went to see a counselor to help me work through the anxieties and fears I had surrounding my faith. On the first day I met her, as I was describing my life, my family, my upbringing, and the circumstances that led me in her door, one of the first things she said to me was, “Wow… God has been with you throughout your life. Look at all that he has protected you from.”

And she was right. For most of my life, God had protected me from so many sins that could have easily swept me up into a cycle of regret and pain. I have always been known as a good girl. Sadly, my flesh easily wanted to twist that reputation into a nasty, self-righteous view of myself, as if I earned the good, Christian girl title all on my own – but regardless of my damaging pride that I held onto, God nevertheless remained faithful to me to keep me away from many outward temptations that have scarred countless people’s lives.

I made it through high school without ever feeling tempted by a lifestyle that could have taken me down a dark road. I was fortunate to have a good group of friends who also didn’t seem to be drawn to those things. Once I got to college, I was in an atmosphere where it was much more common for those around me to make choices that I wasn’t comfortable with, and many of my friends – new and old – chose to go down those paths. I started to experience an incredible sense of loneliness; I felt like I was the one on the outside looking in at all those having fun, while I missed out on everything because I didn’t have a clear conscience to take part in those “fun” events.

Throughout college, I really struggled with these feelings, and I started to resent my choice to abstain from that lifestyle because it made me “miss out.” I hated hearing that college is “the best four years of your life” because it only perpetuated the idea that I must be missing out on all the things that make it so great.

Finally, my senior year I received some wisdom that changed my perspective on living life as a Christian in a college town. An older woman gently asked me, “Why are you mourning the things God did not intend for you to have?”

Thankfully, by grace, God kept steering me away from the sins that would have swept me under. One decision after another, he kept giving me reasons in different contexts not to partake in things my friends were doing, and after a while, I finally thanked him for this. Thank goodness, I don’t have the scars from certain sins to take away from my college experience. I do have scars from others – my pride, my lack of trust in God, my fears, my legalistic tendencies, my judgmental attitude, my jealousy – I could go on, but I finally quit spending time blaming God for missing out and I began to thank him for saving me from what would have damaged me spiritually.

Things really change when you begin to see obedience to God as a reward – not a punishment, not a means of missing out. For those who obey, they are the ones who benefit. For those who go down a dark road of sinful choices, they haven’t gained anything from it. And we all do make sinful choices – no one is exempt from that. But try to stop envying those who seem to have all the fun in the very actions that break God’s heart to witness. Because that’s not his way. As the psalmist says, his way brings “joy to the heart.” It’s “refreshing to the soul,” and “there is great reward.”

Recently, Satan has been especially nasty towards me – true to his natural character. For one, he has tried to tell me that I’ve been a fool for keeping away from certain choices. Everybody else has done it, so it is a complete waste of time that I chose not to. Even people who are very dear and close to me have gotten to “experience” those things, so I’ve only, yet again, missed out – these were his lies.

Secondly, Satan has tempted me to be vengeful towards another and to hurt them because they’ve hurt me. When you’re feeling low, this option seems promising. In the middle of the lies, it seems like it will make you feel better to know you have the power to hurt someone who has really done you wrong in numerous ways. But today, praise God, he reminded me that obedience is the reward. Revenge does not have its reward; it’s only promise is a sure absence of peace and freedom. God’s healing provides that peace and freedom, and listening to what he says and doing what he says is the reward in the depth of your hurt, when revenge does seem like the only helpful option.

When I believe what God’s Word says and really feel its power in me… I rejoice that I don’t have the experiences of the world. I praise God that he saved me from scars my friends have to bear now that they feel the weight of their choices. I never, ever thought I got a reward from saying no to things – just the miserable feeling of missing out during what are notoriously praised as the best four years of your life. But what I realize now is that the choices I made (or didn’t) are my reward. Obedience to God is a reward. Because you get more of him, and he’s the prize.

As a disclaimer, I don’t want this post to give you the impression I’m claiming to be a perfect little girl. College, and before then, was not a smooth ride. Ask my roommates, girls who discipled me, mentors – they will affirm, I struggled. I made mistakes. But God was still so present with me, faithful to protect me and guide me away from things he knew would harm my soul.

The psalmist puts this struggle for me in the sweetest terms. He praises God’s law; he doesn’t blame God for making him miss out in life. He couldn’t stop saying enough wonderful things about all his commands. To him, they were sweeter than honey and more precious than gold. I don’t know many people in America who speak so endearing of God’s Word. But David, the writer of Psalm 19, saw it as perfect and refreshing.

Many people who have stories like mine believe they’re not worth being told. From a human perspective, I don’t have the black and white testimony that some Christians do; they went from one extreme, living an intentionally sinful life, to another, broken for their choices and now resolved to live a Godly life. So I don’t really foresee many people sitting on the edge of their seats as they hear the details of my testimony. To some, it wouldn’t seem like he’s done this huge, turnaround work in my life.

But what God is firmly showing me is that he has done much in my life. So, so much. For some reason, not at all by my own merit, he has shared his mercy with me to keep me, to protect me, and to guard me from certain miserable roads of sin. He didn’t have to! I could have easily had the disposition to RUN happily down those roads on my own accord. But with his marvelous grace, he has given me a desire for much of my life to seek him and to obey him.

And I tell you, that is not me. That is not my story to boast in. That is his freely poured out mercy in my life.

I am confident he is going to do more with my life. He already is. He’s allowed me to go through a valley I’ve never before encountered on my own, and I’ve been slipping and sliding through that for a while. And in the pain, there is purpose and there are lessons so rich from him to be learned. So he’s not done.

But, I have been living in a story he’s written and is continuing to write, and I tell you, obedience is, and always will be, the reward.

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