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Delayed Gratification

Delayed Gratification

At this year’s county fair, we told our three kids that they could have four dollars each to spend on rides.  The older two started scoping out their options right away; but our six-year-old thought about it for a while, then said, “Actually, I really want to save up for a skateboard.  Can I skip the rides and save the four dollars instead?”

I admit, I was quite surprised by his willingness to forego immediate fun in favor of a delayed, longer-lasting reward.  He realized that the enjoyment of the fairground ride would be very short-lived; the skateboard, on the other hand, though still a temporary pleasure, could hopefully be enjoyed on numerous occasions. 

But he would have to wait for it.  He didn’t have enough money yet. 

My son’s reasoning that day challenged my own thinking on a number of levels. 

Firstly, I don’t like to wait.  To be stereotypical, I’m an average American – I like things now.  Drive-thru fast food, instant messaging, high-speed internet.  The idea of having to wait doesn’t appeal to me.  But what does that reveal about my patience with the Lord?  What about the fact that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit?

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Secondly, my six-year-old’s request at the fair got me thinking about the pleasures of this world versus the eternal pleasures that God offers to those who believe.  Psalm 16:11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Do we really live as though we are looking forward to the eternal pleasures that await Christians in heaven? 

Are we prepared to wait for these eternal pleasures, even if it means foregoing certain earthly pleasures?  Even if it means enduring a potentially long wait?

A couple weeks after going to the fair, we were driving home from a camping trip.  On the car ride home, we told our kids that they could each have two ten-minute turns playing Angry Birds.  Again, our six-year-old said, “Can I save my second turn for another time?”

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It turned out that he had to wait more than 24 hours for his second turn, despite asking repeatedly the next day.  Because he had to wait so long to cash in his voucher, I let him have a double turn when the game finally became available.

When my brother-in-law heard about this he observed, “Well, yeah.  Basic principles of investment.  The longer you wait, the greater your return.”  

The longer you wait, the greater your return.  Couldn’t this principle be applied spiritually as well?  Though we have to wait longer to reap the benefits, the choice to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth is an investment which will result in rewards that will last forever. 

Good things come to those who wait 

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At a recent church picnic, a cooler box was opened, and much to the delight of all in attendance, it revealed a myriad of ice cream treats.  I snatched a Snickers ice cream bar for my husband and proudly delivered my acquisition to his table.  He looked up to see my offering and said in surprise, “Is that for me?  Man, I’ve seen these at work and I always wanted to buy one, but I decided to save my money.  Now I get one for free!”

The man who sat with my husband smiled and observed, “Isn’t that how the Lord works?”  He then went on to share a testimony about how his family had longed for outdoor patio furniture, but decided not to spend money on it.  Then one day their neighbors came over and said they were upgrading their patio furniture.  Would they like to have the old table and chairs?  

By waiting on the Lord, even in the ‘small’ things like Snickers bars and patio furniture, we will often be surprised by even greater rewards if our initial investment is obedience, trust and faithfulness.

What if the wait feels like it will never end?  

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We can talk about skateboards, Angry Birds, Snickers bars and patio furniture – but what about the ‘bigger’ things?  What about those longings that seem to go unfulfilled, those prayers that seem to go unanswered?

Most of us know couples who have longed for biological children for years and years.  Some have glorious testimonies of how the Lord answered their prayers after seven years of crying out to Him.  But what about those who are still waiting? 

I don’t have the answer, and my heart genuinely and sincerely goes out to these couples.  Yet at the back of my mind, the nagging thought remains: As believers, we are ultimately waiting for Christ

It can be very easy to get consumed with longing for something that this world has to offer – even something as wonderful and honorable as a spouse, or children.  But these longings and the objects of our waiting should not overshadow or cloud the vision of the primary purpose of our wait – to be with the Lord. 

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My mom was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 50.  For nine years, we prayed for her to be healed.  For nine years, she experienced physical discomfort, side effects, surgeries, radiation, and numerous ongoing chemotherapy treatments.  We waited and waited and waited for the Lord to relieve her of her suffering.  And after nine years, He did – but not in the way we had prayed.  He relieved her of her trials by taking her home.  In hindsight, this was the greatest gift – her greatest hope, and the object of her desire.  Her wait was finally over. 

Consider Christ.  He was subjected to 33 years on earth, separated from the intimacy He had enjoyed with His Father from before the beginning of time.  For 33 years He had to wait for God’s plan to be fulfilled.  Toward the end, as He realized His time was drawing near, He even cried out, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.  Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). 

Even our Lord had to endure a lengthy wait to be reunited in full glory, and even our Lord prayed for the cup to be taken from Him.  Yet, like Jesus, we ought to be sure that even in the midst of the most challenging ‘waiting room’ circumstances, our prayer remains, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”   

Waiting on the Lord

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I was recently struck by a passage in the book of Lamentations.  The author of this book certainly seemed to have reason to despair.  He wrote: “I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.  So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”

Can you relate to that?  Do you feel as though you have been deprived of peace?  Do you feel as though all that you had hoped from the Lord is gone? 

Read what the very same writer goes on to testify:  “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:17-26).

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  He is our portion.  May He strengthen us to wait for Him, and the eternal pleasures at His right hand.

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Kate Headshot Kate Motaung is the wife of a South African pastor and homeschooling mom of three.  She has contributed to UngrindRadiant Magazine, (in)Courage, StartMarriageRight.com, Thriving Family, MOPS and Young Disciple magazine.  You can read more from Kate at her blog, Heading Home or on Twitter @k8motaung.