Delayed gratification and discipleship pave the way for difficulties

Published 6:25 pm Thursday, July 18, 2019


Religion Columnist

Do you remember the famous marshmallow test for children? In 1972 psychologist Walter Mischel asked children, “Do you want one marshmallow now, or two in five minutes?” He was studying whether kids would delay a reward, and how they compared to the kids who didn’t.

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He gave the children two options. 1. They could eat the marshmallow in front of them now, but if they did, they would only get that one marshmallow.  2.They could wait a few minutes for a second marshmallow, but only if they didn’t eat the first marshmallow that was sitting in front of them.

It turns out the children who resisted the first marshmallow and waited for the second enjoyed greater success as adults. These kids grew up into adults who learned how to save, wait and cope with uncomfortable situations, just as they did as children resisting a tempting marshmallow. 

I wonder if kids would do as well today as they did back in 1972. Times have changed a lot since then. Our culture bombards us over and over with messages that we should not only satisfy all our needs immediately, but it is our right and privilege to enjoy instant gratification, without blame, guilt or even discipline.  Consider that most of the things important to us — hard work, strong faith, spiritual health, healthy minds and bodies — all these require a disciplined lifestyle, and a commitment to growing and maturing over time.  Look around you and ask yourself, “How many people do I know who live the disciplined lifestyle that spiritual, mental and physical health requires?  How am I doing in my disciplined lifestyle? Am I tempted too easily by the search for those things that bring instant gratification?”

In Hebrews 12:3-12 we read very insightful words on discipline.  Verse 11 struck me as challenging and thought-provoking.  It says, “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  I think we also find in our discipline that as we mature we find that the rewards of delayed gratification, for something worth working for, makes whatever trial we experience along the way diminish in unpleasantness.

The Christian will notice that discipleship and discipline share the same roots.  I believe as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to live the disciplined life of faith.  There is no instant way to become a disciple. That is because God loves us too much to leave us where he finds us, and therefore is always setting opportunities and tests before us so we will have a stronger faith.        

Take Bible study for example.  All Christians can probably agree that knowing what is in the Bible is important to be a mature Christian.  However, it takes quite a bit of discipline to begin to have a working knowledge of what God is teaching us in his word.  Too many Christians quit too quickly, because it is “too hard” to understand, and they often feel embarrassed if they go to a Bible study with others, and don’t know anything about the Bible.  I say, “Put your pride away, it is foolish pride, and dig into your Bible. Ask all the questions you can of people who started before you to study scripture, and desire to become Biblically literate.”

Other spiritual disciplines that a disciple needs to commit to over time include regular worship, tithing our income, evangelism, mission to those in need and daily prayer.  As is so often true of discipline — these are not in order of importance, but closely woven together, each depending on the other to enhance our growth in the faith.  All of them require a lifetime commitment for God to make us into the disciples God desires us to be. 

I ask again, how many people do I know who live the disciplined lifestyle that spiritual, mental, and physical health requires?  How am I doing in my disciplined lifestyle?  Am I tempted too easily by the search for those things that bring instant gratification?  I am strengthened in the knowledge that when I am weak, and fall into the temptation of taking shortcuts — neglecting disciplines — that God is there for me to provide strength, hope and courage.  I hope you know God is there for you as well.

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