“What do you mean it is going to take forty-five seconds to cook in the micro-wave? I want it now!”
(…continued) ‘Instant gratification’ is what we might want, but seldom does it do us any good. Oftentimes, as it says in Romans five, it is suffering that produces strength and character and perseverance and hope. The desire for instant gratification is understandable, but when answers to prayers or the fulfillment of our desires is delayed, we would do better to trust God’s delay than to insist on what we want right now. This is easy to see in the story of the prodigal son or in the letter from Pamela. It is not as easy to see if you are waiting for answers to prayers on healing, relief from pain, or worries about a loved one. Very often it seems that what we want right away should also be what God wants; and if what we want does not happen, we might wonder if God really cares about us.
The book of Joshua tells a story very different from the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son demands and receives instant gratification, but the book of Joshua tells of gratification delayed; of a promise of God, a firm and solid hope, that was a long time in coming.
The book of Joshua begins with the Israelites finally, again, ready to enter the promised land. God had miraculously freed them from slavery in Egypt, but that was forty long years ago. The journey from Egypt to the promised land should have lasted only a few months. Four decades earlier, after that few month journey, they were about to enter the new land. But their lack of constant lack of faith and ongoing disobedience, even while God was working for them great miracles of deliverance, finally resulted in God’s punishment. God said their entrance to the promised land would be delayed until that entire disobedient generation was dead. There would be no ‘instant gratification’ for them.
So for forty years they had to wait, living not in the lush promised land of abundant crops and fruits and blessings galore, but in the harsh, hot wilderness, eating the same bland food, manna, every day. Finally now, says Joshua 5:11-12, they are about to have their hopes fulfilled and eat from the rich produce of the new land.
Forty years was a long delay, but it was not wasted time. During those years in the wilderness, a nation of people of faith and character were being built, and they entered the new land a far stronger people than they were before. The instant gratification ruined the character and life of the prodigal son and of Pamela, and made them unable to endure the troubles that inevitably come into everyone’s life. But the disappointing delays for the people of Israel gave them something far better than instant gratification. It built into them a faith in God that gave them the strength to withstand anything. And they remained faithful and strong– until their faith and character were again weakened by the good life in the new land, and they fell away from God. Such is our sin. It so often happens that the more we are blessed, the worse we get.
The main theme in both stories is the enveloping grace of God. In Joshua, God had delayed his promise, but he did not go back on it. The Israelites, as a stronger and better people, did enter the promised land with all of its many blessings. And the father of the prodigal son is like the Heavenly Father, granting every blessing, though undeserved; and then even when those blessings are not appreciated and wasted, welcoming back with forgiveness his repentant son.
These two stories, like so many in the Bible, are lessons in trusting God, even when it looks like his promises are delayed; and, of returning to God in faith, even when we have not made the best use of the blessings that we have received.
Instant gratification has long term consequences.
Joshua 5:6 — The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Romans 5:3b-4 — Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Psalm 119:71 — It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
Lord, here I am, do with me as seems best in Thine own eyes; only give me, I beseech Thee, a penitent and patient spirit to wait for Thee. Make my service acceptable to Thee while I live, and my soul ready for Thee when I die. Amen.
–William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1573-1645)
Lord, teach me the art of patience while I am well, and enable me the use of it when I am sick. In that day either lighten my burden or strengthen my back. Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness in presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I rely solely on your assistance. Amen.
–Thomas Fuller, English clergyman and historian (1608-1661)