Recently I assisted my two young granddaughters in making a craft/snack project. With the help of their grandmother, we made little “bird nests” out of peanut butter, chocolate and crunchy chow mein noodles. As a final touch, we placed three colorful jelly beans in each. The girls were delighted, especially when I told them we could eat them later. However, every time a nest was full, and I glanced away for a moment, my gaze returned to find an “egg” or two missing. Delayed gratification is a foreign concept for two and three year olds.
It’s not until a child is five or older that she can even begin to comprehend the benefits of restraining those immediate urges. I like to think that I have moved beyond preschoolers in the self-control department. However, when I step on the scale and grimace at the number that appears, why do I not stop my unhealthy late-night snacking? Satisfying my short-term appetites still dominates much of my behavior. Studies have shown that those who learn to defer gratification have greater success in many areas of life—academic and social competence as well as physical and psychological health. Might it also apply to spiritual wholeness and well-being?
What’s so good about waiting?
Of course, one of the Fruits of the Spirit is self control (Galatians 5:22). This tells me that an indicator of the indwelling Spirit of God is my own spirit’s ability to govern itself according to God’s desires and design. A lack of self control implies that there are still resistors within impeding the flow of the Holy Spirit’s presence and will. Fruit, afterall, naturally appears on healthy plants. Thus difficulty in managing my negative impulses, be they angry, controlling, eating, sexual or verbal, indicates God’s Spirit does not yet have full sway in my life.
It’s also a matter of what has my attention in the moment. One of the conditions that hinders the development of deferred gratification is a focus on avoiding discomfort with little-to-no thought for future ramifications. Like most everyone, I want to feel good and satisfied now. I appreciate the immediate benefits the Bible presents to followers of Jesus, like peace, joy and forgiveness as we put our faith in Him. But much of what the scriptures offer are promises for the future.
Hope is the confidence that there is good ahead regardless how life is going at the moment. The way things are today—difficult, negative or evil—is not how they’re going to remain. That’s hope! The problem, however, is that we often place it in things, events, advice or people that are not reliable or at best short-term (read “Choosing to Put My Hope in Something Worthy”). Much of what Jesus told His followers had them looking into the future with growing expectation. In fact, to be a follower of Jesus even today one must let go of demanding that every question, problem, pain, doubt or discomfort be resolved instantly—or even in this lifetime. Resolution is coming, though we don’t see or feel it now. Patience, also called long-suffering, is one of the most difficult yet necessary virtues for us to embrace as long-term Jesus followers.
Blessings to come
Matthew 5:3-12 gives us Jesus’ instructions for storing up blessings and happiness into the future. We now call them the Beatitudes. They are nine statements of what is promised if we learn to endure and not settle for incomplete, short-term gratification.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who humbly endure this life destitute of wealth, influence, position or honor, but trusting God through it all, will one day be given full access to His kingdom where they will enjoy what they presently don’t have.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who allow themselves to feel the pain and sorrow of this damaged and sinful world (including their own sin) identifying with God’s broken heart will one day experience consolation, reassurance and delight that heal wounds and restore life beyond what can be imagined.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Those who humbly trust God in the face of evil and injustice, not depending on their own schemes and assertiveness to settle scores, will one day be among those who walk the earth with an other-worldly authority.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Those who do not give up when they are denied good things, but persevere when right outcomes don’t materialize the way they ought, will one day experience the deepest gratification and contentment as they watch God right all wrongs.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Those who extend kindness and compassion to others who are undeserving will one day receive kindness and compassion they don’t deserve.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Those who give up other enticements and set apart their hearts for God alone will one day have their eyes opened to understand, experience and enjoy Him for who He really is.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called [children] of God. Those who commit themselves to the long-term development and well-being of those around them will one day experience the honor and privileges that come with being sons and daughters of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who align themselves with God’s way of rightness and justice though they are mocked, wrongly accused and physically violated will one day be given access to God’s kingdom where they will be cared for, appreciated and highly esteemed.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on [Jesus’] account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven. When you choose to stick with Jesus no matter how bad life’s circumstances get or how wrongly people treat you, you will one day receive payback that will make all the painful and hard times seem like nothing.
Investing in the future
These instructions for future glory and satisfaction require your hope to be rooted today in what God values. The other option is to live now as if today is all there is. That approach requires you to squeeze from the present moment all you can because tomorrow is untrustworthy to produce any good.
But God doesn’t call us to sacrifice our immediate comfort and control merely because He’s the Boss. In His wisdom and care, He promises glorious things for our future as we set our hearts and minds on His heavenly values now. He knows how things work. We must let go of the I-deserve-to-feel-good-with-no-delay approach to this life. There’s an entirely different level of goodness ahead if we will only learn to wait.
The Beatitudes challenge short-term thinking. It takes an investment mindset to appreciate and access the treasures of the Kingdom of God—all the things our hearts are truly longing for. What we deposit today through obedience, patient trust, persevering faithfulness and even suffering, releases promises of blessings to be fulfilled that are uncountable and more glorious than we can imagine. Delayed gratification is the more healthy way to live—physically, emotionally and spiritually. We just have to learn to move past our preschooler mindsets.
Are you investing for the short or long-term?