Delayed Gratification

matthew 7 7

MATTHEW 7

One of the most famous experiments ever done to understand the human psyche is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  In this study, a marshmallow and a bell were placed in front of a preschool child. The instructions were as follows: if the child wanted to eat the marshmallow in front of them after the adult left the room, they only need to ring the bell to gain permission; however, if they waited for the adult to return to the room on his/her own, about fifteen minutes later, then they would receive an additional marshmallow for their wait, essentially doubling their pleasure.  A seemingly simple experiment became a tortuous endeavor for these children. Initially, almost all the children tried to wait, but the longer they watched the door and thought about the marshmallow, disbelief and displeasure began to fill their minds. The ones who were ultimately successful looked in a different direction, sang a song, or reframed their desires, all of which helped to ultimately endure to receive their reward in full. Conversely, some were overcome with their desire or doubt; they rang the bell and received a lesser reward.

 

Matthew Chapter 7, our reading for today, contains a handful of verses we will most likely wrestle with at some point in our lives when our metaphorical marshmallow is placed in front of us.  Yesterday’s devotion showed us God’s provision, but there is a distinction here that appears in times where we appeal to God for greater things, beyond bread or fish (Matt 7:9): the search for a spouse, selection of a college or career, the growth of a church or ministry, the health of a loved one, the birth of a child or wisdom in a difficult situation.  All of these have a biblical basis as blessings from God, the giver of “good gifts to those who ask” (Matt 7:11), so we might suspect for these to move up God’s priority list. The only requirements are we ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7:7). Initially, these three actions seems the same, but through my own appeals, I have come to realize these in fact may be steps of a larger process.

ASK

First, you must ask.   While our action and efforts show our faith, if we bring God in, we are no longer in control (or under the illusion that we are in control).  By making our request known to our Heavenly Father, we begin to have peace with the “marshmallow” that passes our comprehension of the situation (Phil 4:6-7).  We are settled knowing that if we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father will not only hear our request, but has already placed our desire within the scope of his will and eternal plan (John 14:12-14). You will receive it.

SEEK

Next, you must seek. We are to search for God’s will in our lives which is much larger than a single request.  It is so easy to be consumed with a single desire and measure your faith and relationship with God by it. He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), so we must look away from the “marshmallow”, and look towards God’s kingdom as the first priority for our lives.  By daily searching for God and His perfect and pleasing will, we will ultimately collide with the desire of our heart at the single most opportune moment which is mutually benefiting God’s kingdom and us. You will find it.

KNOCK

Finally, knock, which is by far the most difficult of the three.  You must patiently wait and trust God. As we wait, the rain will come down, maybe harder than ever, the floods will come up, maybe higher than ever, and the wind beat against the house, maybe stronger than ever, and the foundation of our lives will be exposed (Matt 7:24-29).  These are the moments that make or break a faith. To endure the storm, we must be persistent in our prayer lives, even when we are frustrated. We are to be fervent in our discipleship, even when our will is depleted. We must share our faith, even if we have moments of doubt.  We will not “earn” our reward, but they give us the strength to continue to stand at the door knocking, waiting for God’s perfect timing, the delayed gratification, the moment when faith becomes sight. And soon enough, He will open the door.

 

The children who participated in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment were later studied as teens and adults.  There were some startling correlations with the group that found their way to endure to the end, delaying their reward until a more pleasing moment.  They were better able to cope with stress, more likely to be fulfilled in the work, less likely to be impulsive or aggressive, and less likely to be addicted or become divorced.  As we wait for our good and perfect gift from above, God may be moving heaven and earth to bless us (2 Kings 20:1-11). The problem is He is on the other side of the door, and all we can see is the marshmallow.  It is so easy to become focused on this one thing and forget about the promise. There is so much blessing waiting in the waiting. Our focus changes, we become disciplined, we find ways to sing while stressed, we become fulfilled in God – blessing or not.  We are focused by and consumed with God, not the marshmallow. Then the door opens and we remember the promise, and we see our reward and how His plan was so good.  God delays our gratification, not to experiment or simply because He can but to show us He truly is the giver of the greatest gifts to those who ask, and he will double or exponentially multiply the reward.  Don’t give in and ring the bell – Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find it. Knock, and the door will be opened.

-Aaron Winner

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Bitterness

Ruth 1 5

Happy Tuesday and thanks for sticking with me this far!

I’m leading a Bible Study this summer on the book of Ruth using the study guide Ruth: Discovering Your Place in God’s Story by Eugene H. Peterson. One of the reoccurring themes that has come up during our discussions has been Naomi’s role in the story. If you are not familiar with her story, I encourage you to go ahead and pick up a Bible and read at least the first chapter of Ruth before finishing this post.

There are different ways one can read Naomi’s character. Some people within my group thought of her as sympathetic, down on her luck, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Others, like myself, view her as more selfish, bitter, and self-centered. Regardless as to how one chooses to read her, there is no denying the fact that in the first chapter, she is a complainer.

She complains:

“Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow.  I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my     back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined       me.” Ruth 1:20 & 21 MSG.

Bad things happened to Naomi. She lost her husband and then both her sons. But there are lots of people in the Bible who had bad things happen to them, yet, they did not turn on God, nor were they led to believe God had turned on them. Take Joseph, Jacob’s son, for example. His whole story was one whole roller coaster ride of ups and downs, trials and triumphs, yet he never stopped trusting that God had a plan.

Naomi’s story presents us with a different sort of Biblical character. She believes God no longer cares for her. All the while, right in front of her, God has left her with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Eventually, because of Ruth and the kindness of a man named Boaz, Naomi’s faith in God is once again restored. In the second chapter she declares: “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” (2:20 MSG).

Here are the two takeaway lessons from Naomi. One, Naomi is an example of how our bitterness can keep us from seeing God’s blessings – even when they are directly in front of us. God never forgot or abandoned Naomi. He had a plan. He gave her a loyal daughter-in-law and orchestrated events for her to meet Boaz. The second lesson we can learn is that even when we complain and are bitter, God doesn’t give up on us. Even when we are fickle and only trust God when things are going well, like Naomi appears to be doing, it doesn’t make us tarnished. God’s grace covers us, liked it covered Naomi.

-Emilee Ross