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God And - how to make God the greatest reward

I. Introduction

I want to say what a privilege it is today to speak & share this time with you. So, thank you for that, especially Doug for giving me this opportunity to preach.

The title of the message this morning is this: "God and" - "God and." I want to share two parts to this message: First: God, the greatest reward, and, second: the problem with the "and." And I hope you can all see the slash going across the "and."

Let us begin, then, with our great God, and my desire is that we will all truly see Him as our greatest reward, the greatest goal that we could ever attain to.

II. Part A - God, the greatest reward

Hebrews 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."

A. God exists

We must believe that He exists - an obvious one, but necessary, none the less. When we open our Bibles, we immediately find that God is there. Amongst all the gods that are worshipped in this world, we proclaim Him to be the only true God. Jesus Himself said: "This is eternal life that they should keep on knowing You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." He is the only true God, the only real God. Others might appear real, but only He really is.

And, although, we may have accepted that God is, we also need to accept that God is here - right now. Because He is here, and He is near. "He is actually not far from each one of us," Paul says, "for in Him we live and move and have our being." We cannot escape Him. He is close. He is near. God is waiting for us seek Him. Indeed, He requires that we seek Him, that is, if we want to find Him. He says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

B. God speaks

Okay, so we believe that God exists, and that He is near to each one of us. He, also, is the God who speaks. And it is His voice that brings life. Indeed, was it not God's voice from which all life sprung forth? Our loving Father desires to speak with His children, with each one of us.

I believe a key factor for me in coming to this point of view was in fact through these Quiet Times that you have now been introduced to. By Mum & Dad getting me on a daily basis to read the Bible and listen to what God would say to me, I know it began to instil in me that God will speak to me, and wants to speak to me. It is the same for all of us.

Hebrews 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."

C. God rewards

God exists. He is near & speaking. And...And He rewards those who seek Him. We must believe this also, that God is a rewarder. So, what is the reward? Well, what I want to suggest to you, and what I've been trying to inspire in you already, is this, that God Himself is the reward. He rewards those who seek Him with Himself. Those who seek Him will find Him. Surely, there can be no greater reward than God Himself.

He wants to reward us with Himself, with His presence and with His voice, and this will continue forever and ever.

And I earnestly believe this, that God is the greatest goal we could ever have.

And I'm sure you all see this - that God is the greatest reward. But we have a problem don't we? The problem with the 'and'.

The second part of my message is this:

III. Part B - The problem with the 'and'

A. The problem

Well, what is it? Why has it got a slash through it, and why is it a problem? For me, this is the more personal part of the message. This part is my struggle. And so I will be honest with you here, and say, that though I know God is the greatest reward I could seek & receive, I don't always treat Him or live like that. This is my problem with the 'and.'

What is it? The 'and' is simply anything other than God. Anything in my life that becomes a priority over God. It has been many things to me: sports, possessions, hobbies, T.V., knowledge, recognition, pleasure, comfort, and the list really is endless. All of these are very general, but it's because the specifics are always changing. So, what the 'and' is to me will probably not be what it is to you. Whatever your pursuit or priority is, if God isn't first, then it is an 'and' problem. Activity within the church can even become caught up with this 'and' problem.

Whatever form it takes, it is something treated as a necessary accessory to God, or worse, a substitute for God. And I think that really is what determines its unhealthy placement in our lives. Is God able to take it away? Or is it a necessary accessory?

The "and" can be good, but it is its placement that makes it wrong. Consider the story of Abraham. Was he really valuing God more than anything else, or was it possible that the very gift given him in Isaac had become dearer to him than the Giver? Abraham was obedient to God, and although Isaac didn't die that day, in a way Abraham died to Isaac. God challenged Abraham's devotion, and Abraham passed the test.

God will challenge all of us as to what we are putting first in our lives. Are we seeking blessings instead of Him? Are we allowing distractions to come before Him?

And so, it seems to me that there are two camps when it comes to this problem of the 'and'. First of all: those who get distracted from their pursuit of God, and allow other "things" to take their affections. This is where I mostly see myself as going wrong. I stop coming to God, because I've allowed other 'things' to take His place in my life. Whatever they may be, if they take my gaze off Him, then they are a problem. So, that's the first group I believe.

Then there are those who have seen the pursuit of God as a means to their ends. For example: I will seek God so my finances will be in order, so my kids don't go off the rails, so I live in good health. But ultimately I will seek God, so I can escape hell and get to heaven. In this situation God is merely a means to an end, and not the end itself.

Still, in both cases mentioned here, God is not the focus, the goal or the reward. I was greatly influenced a few years ago, when I was 16, through a famous audio sermon I listened to called "Ten Shekels & a Shirt" by Paris Reidhead. What it really drove into me over and over was that God is the focus, the centre point of Christianity, and nothing else. One phrase sticks clearly in my mind "God is not going to be a means to anyone's end."

And so, God must be the end. The 'and' needs to be removed from our lives, and that is why I have put a slash through it. Not necessarily in a physical sense. Did Abraham still have Isaac? Yes. I mean by removed that the 'and' has to be cut off from the priority we have attached to it - priority being the key word. God must be first, not anything else regardless of how good it seems, not a means to an end, but the end.

B. The burden

We've looked at the problem with the 'and' and a couple of camps occupying that problem. I want to tell you now about the burden of it, because I really think there is a burden associated with not seeking God. It is I believe a burden of self-seeking, and dissatisfaction.

With my own life I can see these periods when I start to carry a burden, perhaps unaware of it at first, when God is slowly replaced by other things, but sooner or later the burden grows and is evident not only to ourselves but also to others, as my parents would no doubt testify. There is only burden in self-seeking, always wanting but never satisfied, trying to maintain an artificial image to those around you. There is no freedom in that.

And so, Jesus calls us to come to Him, "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

We get heavy laden when we add an 'and' onto our pursuit of God. We must come to Jesus everyday, and allow His voice and His presence to minister to us, and minister to Him with ours. How heavy are the burdens we carry, but Jesus would have us carry His one, which is light.

C. The remedy

Finally, let's look at a remedy. We may be convinced that God is the reward, and we see our great problem in seeking other things instead of Him. And we want to change and seek God above all else. But there is an obstacle that we have to face. What if we have no desire for God? Or if we do, what happens when the desire fades? These are probably the most challenging obstacles we are going to face.

- The discipline we can practice

What can we do? I think the remedy can be summed up in one word. That word is discipline. It is the discipline we can practise on ourselves, something we can do about setting our priorities right and putting God first. And I want to show you something interesting from Revelation. Jesus said to the church in Ephesus after commending them, "I have this against you, that you (the Ephesians') have left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen (remember what you used to be like, and take note of this next part), repent (or change your mind) and do the first works." In other words, the first love is directly tied up with or corresponding to the first works they did that showed that love.

What are some of the first works that we would associate with being in love? For one, there is bound to be a desire to spend time with the person loved. And this is where our discipline comes in. Though, we may not have a greater desire for God over the 'and', we can act as though we do, by getting alone by ourselves to spend time with Him. We can actually discipline ourselves in spending time with God. Remember, He is near and He wants to speak.

I want to conclude today with something A.W. Tozer said in his book The Pursuit of God. He lived in the early part of last century and this book has now become a well-known Christian classic. You will see where my idea for this message came from. Tozer said this: "When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-'and' effectively prevents us from finding God in a deeper way. In the 'and' lies our great woe. If we omit the 'and' we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly been longing."

I admit before you all that I fail the test constantly, and allow the 'and' to distract me from seeking God first. As I have said, this is about my struggle. God is correcting me again and again to bring me back to this, that He is the greatest reward I could ever possibly seek or receive.

- by Matthew Pyle

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