My wife tells the story of a teacher who motivated his students by awarding their obedience and success with points.
“What do we get for the points?” one student asked.
“Oh, points are great,” the teacher said with great enthusiasm. “They are the best! Everybody loves to get points. When you’re older, you’ll really understand. Points are great. Trust me. You want more points!”
We live in a world that keeps score, even if the score doesn’t always matter and the points don’t really hold any value. You can’t redeem them for money or merchandise or favors. All they buy is ego biscuits.
I, too, like points. I prefer points that matter, like the ones that get me a free cup of coffee. And I like it when my team (the Arkansas Razorbacks) accumulate more points than their opponents, especially when the opponent is Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, or Ole Miss. And don’t forget Texas. But I also like points that are essentially worthless – points in a computer game or points in a friendly game of cards with my wife (she usually wins).
Points are great. Trust me. You want more points.
The problem with points, however, is that we often come to expect them. We feel entitled to get points for anything and everything we do. And even when the points clearly have no real value, we expect to somehow redeem them for something. You owe me points, and, by the way, I’m ready to cash them in. It’s in the Constitution, right? But expecting a payoff for everything we do can suck the joy out of doing things for others.
When I cook breakfast for my wife, should I do it because I love her and want to bring joy to her life, or because cooking breakfast will earn me points? When I memorize a verse of the Bible, should I do it because it earns me points (and maybe a “level up”) on my Bible memory app, or because it draws me closer to God? When my wife and I lead a Bible study, should we do it because it earns us jewels in our heavenly crown, or because it’s a natural response to God’s love for us?
We all need a little help with motivation from time to time, and points and other rewards can be a good way to keep us engaged. But we’re wise to keep those points in perspective. God looks at the motivations of our hearts. If we want to grow in favor with God (Luke 2:52), we won’t get very far if our primary motive is to earn points. Such points are worthless in God’s economy. The Apostle Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
That’s far more valuable than all the points the world can offer. Trust me. Points are great. Love is better.