There’s something gratifying about finding a way to make a long journey shorter. I look to my GPS for help these days. But even when I was a kid, a shortcut was always appreciated. When I was 12, my friends showed me a quicker way to the store where we could buy candy. It happened to go through a stranger’s backyard and across his patio. I used it many times until an angry man stuck his head out a window and yelled at me, threatening to call the cops. Shortcuts may get you where you want to be sooner, but they can create unforeseen problems as well. Looking for a quicker way can also become a mindset that touches all my choices.
The temptation to reach goals faster, cut corners or bypass steps in a process shows up in a multitude of situations. Businesses consider it when they have the option of offering lower-quality products. Builders face it when they’re trying to increase their profit margin. Students have to make a choice when they discover a way to cheat on a test and get the ‘A’ with minimal studying. I fall into it when I’m assembling IKEA furniture and don’t want to take time to read the instructions. A shortcut offers a more direct path to an objective and the feeling that I have escaped unnecessary pain, suffering or drudgery. But at what hidden cost?
The Easier Path
Jesus was offered a shortcut. It was His third temptation in the desert (for thoughts on the first and second, read Choosing to Not Take the Bait and Choosing to Not Test God). We’re told in Matthew 4:8-11 that the devil took Him to a high mountain where they saw all the kingdoms of the world and said he would give them to Jesus if He would only kneel before Satan. Of course Jesus resisted and told the devil to leave, reminding him that the scriptures instruct us to worship and serve God only. While it’s no surprise that He didn’t give in to Satan, I have wondered what was so attractive about the Evil One’s offer. What could possibly tempt Jesus to bow down to the devil?
The scriptures make it clear that Jesus came to earth to save the whole world—all nations. Satan foresaw this and offered a shortcut. He would turn the kingdoms of the world that he had enslaved over to Jesus right then for the ‘small’ concession of the Son of God bowing before him. Imagine what would have been going through Jesus’ mind. “If I go this route, no need for suffering, no need for a cross, no need to spend three days in a grave, no need to be separated from my Heavenly Father. Our heavenly goal would be accomplished so much faster and easier.”
Whether or not these were His thoughts, I believe the humanity of Jesus would have found Satan’s offer attractive. And thus there was a real temptation. Every human would find a shortcut to a significant goal alluring. And Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. Yet He kept His focus on the bigger picture—which is a key to resisting temptation. He knew that part of His mission was to defeat the Evil One (1 John 3:8). He also knew that reaching a goal sooner is not always better. The journey often is just as important as the final destination. Jesus’ willingness to endure discomfort, adversity and untold torment, even when offered shortcuts, is what made our salvation possible. In addition, the grip of the devil was broken, and we were given an example of how to walk through our own difficulties and temptations.
My ‘sufferings’ cannot compare with those of Jesus or the many who have endured abuse, torture and misery for the sake of their faith. But because I so often do not have the bigger picture of the purpose for my existence in mind, I quickly choose to take any shortcut offered that promises a life that is easier, more comfortable and makes more sense. The ‘long way’ often seems illogical with needless difficulty and more loose ends that can slip out of my control.
The temptation to seek immediate gratification for all that I desire in life is a strong one. It shows up in my interactions with people when relationships stop meeting my needs or just become tiresome. Some people are difficult and high-maintenance. Why tolerate this person when I can go find someone else to work with, hang out with or live with that makes me feel happier? I, similar to everyone else, yearn for the richness of long-lasting relationships. But putting up with certain people in order to get there feels like too much. Surely there’s an easier road out there with a different person or different set of circumstances that could save me a lot of hassles.
This temptation also rears its head when considering our personal lifestyles. Happiness is the most common life-goal for people. But, depending on how we define happiness and how quickly we expect it, we can take many shortcuts to grasp it. Do you need more money to obtain your interpretation of happiness? Do you need more approval from others? Do you need more control of your circumstances? What corners might you be willing to cut to get there or arrive faster? Temptations to take shortcuts can be woven into the fabric of your day so that they’re rarely noticed. And the long-term negative consequences of giving in to them can be greater than those of poor business decisions, cheating on tests or failing to read IKEA instructions. They’re usually not understood or realized till long after.
The Big Picture
We’re told in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross because He kept in mind the joy that would ultimately be His. He could see the delight of a future intimate relationship with you and everyone else in this world. And it gave Him strength to resist the allure of any shortcut.
What’s the big picture of your life that must be remembered when tempted to cut corners? What has God already showed you to be your ultimate joy, or some other treasure bigger than yourself that’s worth suffering for? And if you have no image to refer to, then what’s stopping you from asking your Heavenly Father for His vision for your life? He has so much more to offer than you have yet dreamt or imagined.
We were never meant to live with a short-term, this-present-world-only mentality. There is a treasury of delights in God’s heart available to us. They will outlast our present lives and are worth waiting and suffering for—if we have the heart to wait for them as we seek Him.
Shortcuts won’t get you there. The long road is worth it.