Jesus, Our Primary Reward
by Mike Bickle
As I look back over 40 years of ministry, one of the most important truths that I can pass on to others is the absolute necessity of taking the time and effort to cultivate a vibrant relationship with Jesus. The pressure to grow our ministry can be overwhelming. It comes with many hidden traps that can result in killing our spiritual lives. Many leaders today confess to living spiritually dry, disillusioned, and burned out. This is the inevitable result of pursuing ministry without a vibrant relationship with Jesus.
Abraham’s greatest reward was God Himself (Genesis 15:1). His primary reward was to minister to God and to encounter Him. God promised Abraham wealth, honor, and impact on the nations (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:2). However, Abraham viewed these divine blessings as his secondary rewards. When secondary blessings become our primary reward, our spiritual life is weakened.
Jesus corrected the church in Ephesus for working hard in ministry without maintaining a fresh love and devotion for Him. He exhorted them, “You have . . . labored for My name’s sake. . . . Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:3–4). They increased their ministry outreaches and networking while they decreased in their love for Jesus. Growth in ministry is good, but it can never replace our relationship with Jesus.
The first commandment is to love God with all our heart (Matthew 22:37–38). It is the first command, not the “first option.” It is God’s first priority, and He wants it to be ours. The Spirit is restoring the first commandment to first place in the Church worldwide. This will empower us to love people more deeply and with more consistency. Ministry service without the foundation of intimacy with Jesus inevitably leads to burnout and, thus, to far less ministry in the long haul. Lovers always outwork workers.
Satan’s strategy is to distract from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3). He knows that if we lose this, we will be much more vulnerable to other things. We minister to God as the foundation of ministering on His behalf to others. We must intentionally cultivate a responsive heart of love to Jesus. It does not happen automatically. It is something that we must set our heart to do all the days of our life.
John reveals the Holy Spirit’s final emphasis in God’s kingdom: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!'” (Revelation 22:17). The final paradigm of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast releases divine romance. This is the most dynamic paradigm for stirring the human heart to the strong desire of extravagant love. At the very end of natural history, the Holy Spirit will emphasize a revelation of our Messiah as a Bridegroom God and transform our spiritual identity into one of a cherished, lovesick Bride.
The emotional implications are vast. The Holy Spirit will use this revelation of Jesus to restore the first commandment to first place in the Church. Seeing Jesus as our heavenly Bridegroom changes the way we operate within our own hearts. A dynamic of the Spirit is released in our inner man. We carry God’s primary reward within our hearts—a lovesick heart fascinated with the beauty of Christ Jesus. Our primary reward in this life is the ability to understand and experience God’s love and to see God’s beauty; to be tenderized by His love for us and then to be exhilarated with love for Him in return. His love imparted to us becomes the primary dimension of our spiritual reward.
Alongside love, the beauty of God is a dynamic preparation and reward of the Bride. In Isaiah 4:2 we read that the Branch of the Lord will be revealed in His beauty. This speaks of the Holy Spirit emphasizing Jesus’ beauty at the end of the age. The human race has a fascination with beauty. We can’t repent of it or quench this longing. The secular entertainment industry has exploited the longing of the human spirit for fascination. Consider the most lovesick man in the Old Testament, King David. He was struck with the beauty of God. He said in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have desired of the Lord: . . . to behold the beauty of the Lord.”
Often, today, the primary spiritual rewards we seek are: more anointing for ministry, increased favor with people, or economic prosperity. Yes, these are the blessing of God, but they are intended to be secondary. Our spiritual life is weakened when secondary blessings take first place in our lives. However, as the Holy Spirit reveals the bridal paradigm to us, the primary reward of the kingdom comes to the forefront. The anointing to experience and receive God’s love and then to love Him in return is the primary anointing to glorify God.
Imagine how glorious life in the Church will be when the Holy Spirit restores the first commandment to first place. As this transformation occurs, our efforts to serve the Great Commission will be less bruising. Working hard for God without the tenderizing work of being a lover often bruises us, breaks us, and causes us to burn out. To work hard without this primary reward will eventually lead to burnout, which is so common today. We were never meant to function best as workers for God. Rather, God designed us in His image as lovers of God. Dutiful obedience and service will never reach the same depth of spiritual reality.
A believer fascinated with God soon becomes a lovesick worshiper, one who is able to maintain an overflowing heart in God no matter how difficult the circumstances. When we are living with a fascinated, lovesick heart, our natural circumstances no longer dominate our thinking, even when people treat us wrongly. We find that the sacrifices we make to obey God have a new sweetness in them instead of being burdensome.
It takes God to love God. This issue of holy affection brings us to the highest heights known in the created order, where we’re exhilarated and lovesick for God. Oh, the glory of possessing holy affections! The capacity to feel deeply and love passionately is one of the great expressions of being created in God’s image.
But this very same capacity can also be dangerous. When stewarded wrongly, our human affections can draw us into agonizing destruction and torment. The very thing that separates us from the rest of creation is the capacity of our hearts to burn with such deep desires.
God’s people will emerge as voluntary lovers of Jesus. This is the crowning glory of humanity as the Bride of Christ: a Bride far below the transcendent God in glory yet exalted beyond the angelic host in intimacy with Jesus. God’s people will not merely be His messengers nor simply His servants who fulfill important tasks. When we see Jesus as a Bridegroom God, it causes us to redefine our own spiritual identity. We see ourselves as lovers of God, not just task-doers who sacrifice to obey a distant God.
Lovers are far more effective than workers. Workers have limits that lovers don’t have. Lovers will always surpass workers. My brother broke his neck many years ago. I stayed with him for months at time in various hospitals and rehabilitation centers over the years. One marvelous thing I have seen every now and then is a nurse who falls in love with her patient; she becomes a lover and not just a worker. When a worker becomes a lover, he or she throws away the obligatory checklist. Why? It’s no longer needed. The rule of a lovesick heart is a higher and more trustworthy rule to live by. And when that happens between us and our heavenly Bridegroom, there is no self-congratulation or religious self-determination, only an overflow of the gift of God.
A holy lovesick heart that empowers us to do the work of the kingdom is the secret of the martyrs. They are lovesick, lost in love. They don’t care what they do; they just want to do it with Him. They want to love and obey Him, whether or not it’s on the earth or as a martyr ushered into heaven. Their hearts are connected to a primary reward which is to live overflowing in the experience of the love of God—experiencing love from Him, loving Him in return, and then overflowing with love for people. This is the secret power of unity in the Church, and it will be the key to the great harvest. The Great Commission will be fulfilled by people whose compassion for others flows from a heart that is full of love for God.
Celebrate more than two decades of night-and-day prayer with worship by walking through IHOPKC’s prophetic history. Visit our interactive timeline at ihopkc.org/prophetichistory.
Mike Bickle is the founder of the International House of Prayer, an evangelical missions organization based on 24/7 prayer with worship. He is also the founder of International House of Prayer University, which includes full-time ministry, music, and media schools.
Mike’s teaching emphasizes growing in passion for Jesus through intimacy with God, doing evangelism and missions work from the place of night-and-day prayer, and the end times. He is the author of several books, including Growing in Prayer, Passion for Jesus, God’s Answer to the Growing Crisis, Growing in the Prophetic, and Prayers to Strengthen Your Inner Man. Mike and his wife, Diane, have two married sons and six grandchildren.