I really hate giving kids prizes for memorizing Bible verses.
I usually get puzzled looks from people when I say this. After all, giving prizes is a major motivator in school, at home, and in church. The argument for this usually goes like this, “Well, they won’t do it if we don’t give a prize.” The reason we think that is this: as soon as we stop giving prizes, the children stop striving to learn verses, get A’s, or do chores. But what if we never gave prizes in the first place? If they will only do something if they get a prize for compliance, do they truly want to do it? Are we more concerned about outward behavior or their hearts?
Do adults need prizes to read their Bibles? Go to church? Help others?
Some of us are just like little kids. Some of us only do these things because we believe we get a prize.
But, our prizes are not toys, money, and candy. Our prizes are:
- Self-righteous pride (“I go to church every Sunday. Those people over there are only here twice a month.” “I know the entire book of Job by heart. I bet you don’t.”)
- The adoration and approval of others (“She’s so holy and such a good Christian. Look at all the ministries she’s involved in.”)
- The false belief that our works get us into the Lord’s presence (“I’m a good person. God just has to let me into Heaven.”)
The prizes may be different, but they are just as temporal as those we give to children. They go down sweet but leave us empty and hungry for more. Furthermore, they trick us into thinking we are close to God when in fact, we are far from Him.
What does God say about pursuing prizes instead of Him?
Let’s take a look at some verses that address this issue of trying to get temporal prizes.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” Isaiah 29:13
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23
If all the prizes of recognition, approval, reputation, reward, and popularity were gone, would we still be motivated to “do good works”? Would we go to church if doing so meant we might spend time in prison? Would we read our Bibles if owning one meant the loss of our home? What if bragging about our good deeds brought ridicule instead of praise?
Only works motivated from within–from the Holy Spirit indwelling us–truly honor God.
When the heart motivates us, not temporal prizes, we receive the only true reward that lasts.
We need to stop teaching our children to work for cheap substitutes that leave them hungry and desperate. Don’t give children prizes for learning Bible verses, for going to church, or for participating in any church activity. Instead, let’s present the Gospel in a way that awakens a soul thirst for God. Let’s live in such a way that they want what we have—the Holy Spirit living in us. Our example is a powerful testament of God’s grace in our lives. You can read more about that HERE. Let’s love each other as fellow believers in Christ so that they will want to be part of the Body.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.
My prayer is that the next generation of believers will be motivated not by cheap substitutes or legalism, but by a true desire to experience the blessings of surrender to Jesus.
I pray that we, too, may be spurred on in good deeds by the Holy Spirit, not worldly prizes.