1010) Instant Gratification (2/2)

“What do you mean it is going to take forty-five seconds to cook in the micro-wave?  I want it now!”

–Homer Simpson

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    (…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.

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Instant gratification has long term consequences.

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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.

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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)

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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)

1009) Instant Gratification (1/2)

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     A young woman in Los Angeles wrote her mother in North Dakota the following letter:

Dear Mom,

     I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, and I have not been very good about returning your calls.  I am sorry about that.  I just got sick of you and dad always lecturing me about money and saving for the future and not going so far into debt and all that.  Even when I came back to visit dad on his deathbed, he had to bring it up and I didn’t want to hear it.

      But you both were right.  Mark lost his job six months ago and has not been able to find work and now we are losing our house.  Not only that, but we are getting a divorce.  All we do is fight about money and blame each other for the mess we are in.  We both made plenty of mistakes, but we won’t admit that to each other.  We disagree on everything, especially on what to do about our debt.  But we do agree on going our separate ways and starting over alone.

     We should have listened to Dad all those times he told us to be more careful about our money.  But we both had such good jobs, the credit was easy, and we had no trouble paying all the monthly bills for school loans, house and car payments, credit card payments, and payments on the loans we took out to do all the traveling we did.  I did not want to have to be like you, waiting so many years to enjoy life and then having only a short time with Dad to enjoy what you worked so hard to save.  We wanted to have it all right now.  I was sure we were better off in these times than in the old days.  I thought we were more secure and we did not have to go by the same old rules you did.  Besides, we didn’t have four kids to worry about like you did, so we thought that the money would never run out.

     I am sorry about the big fight we had after Dad’s funeral.  I hope you can forgive me for all the mean things I said.  How thoughtless of me to add to your grief at the worst time of your entire life.

     If you can forgive me, I have to ask you for a big favor.  I need a place to live for a while.  Not only are we getting a divorce, but we have to file bankruptcy.  And not only that, but my company is making cutbacks, and I am also losing my job. There is no work out here, and there is no way I can afford to live in this city.  I just need to have a place to stay for a while until I get things figured out.  Can I have my old room back for a few months?  I am so sorry.

Your foolish daughter, Pamela

     What got Mark and Pamela into trouble was the desire for instant gratification.  They knew what they wanted and they wanted it now.  The key to such instant gratification is the credit card; something my grandparents never had, what I did not get until I was well into my 30’s, and is now aggressively marketed to 18 year-olds.  For some young people who have never had to wait for anything, the instant gratification available with a credit card is considered a basic necessity of life, no less necessary for survival than food and water.  But life is not designed to guarantee instant gratification, and for someone used to such a luxury, even a small bump on the road can cause the bottom to fall out.

      There were no credit cards at the time of Jesus, but human nature was the same. People then, as now, had huge desires that craved fulfillment, but often needed to be resisted.  Jesus once told a parable about this very thing.  It was the parable of the Prodigal Son, his desire for instant gratification, and what happened when he did receive everything he ever wanted.  ( Luke 15:1-2…11-32)

     Usually, if a son wants to take over the family farm, he first of all stays home and helps his father on what is still the father’s farm.  As time goes on, he can begin to buy into that farm, or perhaps, buy it outright, and then make payments to his parents as long as they live.  A farm is a lifetime investment now, and it was no different in Bible times.

     What you don’t ever see happening is what happened in this parable of Jesus.  In his parables, Jesus would often set up an outrageous situation in order to make a powerful point about the outrageous, amazing grace of God.  “There was a man who had two sons,” Jesus begins, and we find out later the man is a farmer.  Then, says Jesus, the younger of these two sons said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”  “Excuse me,” the father could have said, “an estate is settled after a person is dead.  As you can see, I am not dead, so if you ever want any part of this estate when the time comes, get back out to the barn and help your brother finish the chores.”  That is what any normal father would say to such a rude request.  But this father says, “Okay.”  

     Now, a farmer’s assets are not primarily in cash, but in the land.  Therefore, to give his son half of the estate would have meant selling off a fair amount of land.  But this father does just that, or as the text says, “He divided his property between them.”  So either the father or the son sold the property, because by the next verse the son gathered up his wealth and took it to a distant country.  That is what you call instant gratification.  One half of this father’s entire lifetime investment is cashed in and given to this rude son, all at once, to do with as he pleased.

     A mature and wise son could have seen this as an opportunity.  Perhaps he did not want to be a farmer, but he could have used this wealth to buy a business that did suit him and at which he could work at to support him and his future family.  But this was not a wise son.  Rather, he was very foolish and so, says verse 13, “He squandered his wealth in wild living.”  What was built up over a lifetime, was lost very quickly.  Then, as for Pamela and her husband, the economy changed.  Verse 14: “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”  

     Then he, like Pamela, “came to his senses.”  He decided to repent of his wrongdoing and return home.  There, his father welcomed him with open arms.  (continued…)

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Matthew 5:45b  —  …(Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Luke 15:11-12  —   Jesus continued:  “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he divided his property between them.”

Luke 15:21  —  (Jesus said), “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

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Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your child.  Forgive me, for I want to come home.

–Based on Luke 15:21

834) The Patience of God

By Cyprian (c. 210- martyred 258), Bishop of Carthage, North Africa

     What great patience God has!  He makes the day dawn and the light of the sun rise both over the good and over the wicked; he waters the earth with his rain, and no one is excluded from its benefits, since water is given to the just and the unjust alike.  We see him act with equal patience toward the guilty and the innocent, the faithful and the wicked, the thankful and the ungrateful.  For all of them, the seasons obey God’s commands, the elements place themselves at their service, the winds blow, the waters flow, crops grow in abundance, grapes ripen, trees swell with fruit, forests take on greenery, and meadows blossom with flowers. 

     Although God is provoked by frequent and ever continual offenses by those he created, he tempers his indignation and waits patiently for the day fixed for retribution.  And although he has the power of vengeance, he prefers to have patience for a long time.  God waits and graciously defers so that if possible, the malice of men might become less with time and we who are mired in the infection of our sins might finally turn to God.

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God’s patience is infinite.  Men, like small kettles, boil quickly with wrath at the least wrong.  Not so God.  If God were as wrathful as men, the world would have been a heap of ruins long ago.

– Sadhu Sundar Singh  (1889-1929)

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Matthew 5:43-45  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

II Peter 3:3-4…8-9  —  Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” …  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

II Peter 3:10-11  —  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.   Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Romans 2:4  —  Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

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Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices. 

–St. Teresa of Avila  (1515-1582)

770) On Interruptions and Real Life

From a letter by C. S. Lewis to his friend Arthur Greeves, December 20, 1943; From The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II.

     Things are pretty bad here.  Minto’s varicose ulcer gets worse and worse, domestic help harder and harder to come by.  Sometimes I am very unhappy, but less so than I have often been in what were (by external standards) better times.

     The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life.  The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day.  What one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.  This at least is what I see at moments of insight.  But it’s hard to remember it all the time.  I know your problems must be much the same as mine…

     Isn’t it hard to go on being patient, to go on supplying sympathy?  One’s stock of love turns out, when the testing time comes, to be so very inadequate.  I suppose it is well that one should be forced to discover the fact!

     I find too (do you?) that hard days drive one back on Nature.  I don’t mean walks… but little sights and sounds seen at windows in odd moments.

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Galatians 5:22-23  —  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Colossians 3:12-13  —  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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Grant us, O Lord, grace to follow you wherever you lead.  

In little daily duties to which you call us, bow down our wills to simple obedience, patience under pain or provocation, strict truthfulness of word or manner, humility, and kindness.

In great acts of duty, if you call us to them, uplift us to sacrifice and heroic courage, that in all things, both small and great, we may be imitators of your dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Christina Rossetti  (1830-1894), British poet

431) Patience in Suffering

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606.  This piece was taken from the chapter 41 of that book, The Principles of Christian Patience.

          Rest in the Lord, and bear patiently the cross imposed on you by God.

     Think about the terrible sufferings of Christ.  He suffered for all, even for those who despised Him and trampled him underfoot.  He was delivered up, stricken, and forsaken by His heavenly Father.  He was deserted by the disciples whom he loved, and rejected by his own people, the Jews, who chose to have the robber Barabbas released instead of Him.  He bore the sins of all mankind, so the whole human race is guilty of sending him to His death.  And, he suffered in every conceivable way.  His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death; He sweat great drops of blood; His head was crowned with thorns; His lips tasted the bitter gall; His hands and feet were pierced with nails; His side was lacerated with the spear; His whole body was scourged and stretched upon the cross.  Jesus suffered hunger, thirst, cold, contempt, poverty, insult, wounds, and the awful death on the cross.

     So consider how unseemly it would be for our Lord Jesus Christ to suffer such great pains, and then for us, his servants, to expect and demand that we live in undisturbed joy!  Oh, how unseemly it would be that our Savior should be severely punished for our sins, and then that we should continue to delight in them!  No, but rather as it was necessary for Christ to suffer and then to enter into his heavenly glory (Luke 24:26), so also we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).  

     Let us remember that as children of God we are heirs not only of the joy and glory of the future life, but also of the sorrow and the suffering of this present life, for “the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Heb. 12:5-6).  Great, indeed, are the mysterious influences and blessings of our afflictions, since by them God calls us to contrition for our sins, to a true and holy fear of himself, and to the exercise of patience.

     Think of the inconceivable reward held out to you!  “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  Whatever our sufferings may be here, it is only for a time, but the glory that awaits us is for ever and ever.  God knows perfectly all our adversities, and will one day bring them all to an end; and God will then wipe all the tears from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4).

     To this eternal glory, O Lord Jesus, lead us on and on, and to its blissful enjoyment finally bring us!  Amen.

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Acts 14:21-22  —  (Paul and Barnabas) preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Psalm 30:5  —  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

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Grant, almighty God, since the dullness and harshness of our flesh is so great that it is needful for us to be afflicted in various ways, that we may patiently bear your chastisement, and, under a deep feeling of sorrow, flee to your mercy given to us in Christ.  And then, not depending upon the earthly blessings of this perishable life, but relying only upon your Word, we may go forward in the course of our lives; until at length we are gathered to that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

–John Calvin  (1509-1564)