As a teenager growing up, I remember my parents' frequent complaining over my need for instant gratification. They counseled me on the importance of self-discipline and delayed satisfaction, and they warned of the dangers of imprudence and impatience. Naturally, I responded the way most teenagers do...I ignored my parents and took (nearly) every opportunity to indulge my flesh.
How was I supposed to avoid the temptation of instant gratification? Growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, I witnessed the dawning of the "now" society. I can still remember the day my parents brought home our first microwave oven. We marveled at the prospect of defrosting hotdogs in seconds and cooking entire meals in less time than it took to set the table. Instant gratification never tasted so good!
Soon cable TV, the VCR, cordless phones and self-correcting typewriters followed, and they ushered in the generation of quick and easy. Why wait for anything when technology could fill every need instantly?
Today, instant gratification is no longer considered a vice for Christians – it's become a lifestyle! Technology delivers to us immeasurable quantities of information in a instant, while distributing our most private thoughts to a worldwide audience of strangers. Modern medicine seems capable of curing every ailment in just 24-48 hours, and instant credit has brought the world's treasures within everyone's financial reach.
Having become a parent myself, I can better appreciate my parents' wisdom, and so now I'm the one counseling my own children to practice patience and self-discipline in a world of instant messaging, cell phones and downloadable everything. Even now I still battle a desire for the "quick and easy" solution to every situation, but I'm learning that quick and easy isn't always best.
For example, an instant gratification lifestyle can have a detrimental impact on our Christian walk, leading us to depend upon quick and easy solutions to otherwise difficult spiritual problems. Instead of regular prayer and waiting on the Lord, we launch urgent church campaigns and deliver impassioned calls to action. The practices of daily devotionals and seeking godly counsel from our church elders give way to 40-day programs and an intense marriage retreat weekend. Life-long Bible scholarship can't compete with 7-week discipleship programs or the latest bestseller from some popular preacher. Welcome to instant gratification discipleship in the 21st century!
When we seek an instant gratification approach to our Christian walk, we will inevitably grow frustrated as our efforts to produce spiritual fruit take longer than we expected or desired. Frustration leads to discouragement, and ultimately we may abandon the basic disciplines of the Christian faith. Conditioned to believe every good thing is quick and easy, we may rationalize our poor spiritual disciplines with thoughts like, "Prayer takes too long to see results, studying the Bible is so boring, and fasting just isn't good for my metabolism." We may live in the age of instant gratification, but there is no such thing as instant sanctification this side of heaven.
On the contrary, Scripture counsels us to be patient no fewer than 25 times in the New Testament, and it's a theme featured prominently in much of Paul's writing. For example, his famous discourse on love in 1Corinthians 13 begins, "Love is patient..." In Galatians, Paul lists patience as a fruit of the Spirit, and Paul repeatedly exhorts the church to follow his example of patience in suffering and trials.
Clearly, a mature Christian walk should be marked by patience, particularly in spiritual matters. While the world preaches "now," we are counseled by Scripture to look beyond the here and now and choose to live for an eternal purpose. We are to devote ourselves to a life of discipleship, knowing that these disciplines produce fruit in time and in direct proportion to our patience and diligence. Pray, study your Bible, seek godly counsel and serve in your gift with an eye for eternity, and you will find the fruit of your patience in eternal reward.
Our parents were right: patience is a virtue, which is why I pray the Lord would give me patience...but give it to me now!