How long did it take for you to come to Christ? How long did it take for Christ to come to you? How long will it take you, or take me, to grow up into Christ in all things (Eph. 4:15), by embracing the patience of God?
A dear friend invited me a while ago to tell the story of my coming to Christ and of my wife and me coming together in marriage. As I pondered that question I realized that my coming to Christ is the story of my entire life; for Christ has been seeking to love me into life from the day I was born. In fact human history, our history is the story of God’s seeking to love us into life (John 10:10), and overcoming the powerful obstacles of sin to do so. That is a story of patience.
Rather than embrace the patience of God’s love, however, most of us cry out insistently, “How long?!”
But one of the dominant directives to people of faith in the Bible is, “Wait…” (Ps. 27:14, 37:9, 62:5; Isa. 40:31; Rom. 8:25; Jas. 5:7). Delayed gratification–or patience, or waiting–is at the heart of following Christ.
My friend’s invitation to tell my story, and consequent reflection on patience, led me back to my book, Climbing Home: From Valleys of Despair to Mountains of Hope.* I realized that book is, in large part, a testimony to the patience of God, loving after us as the hound of heaven, never content until we are enfolded in His gracious, saving arms. And so I want to include a selection from that book dealing with delayed gratification, or patience, and pleasure:
Delayed gratification is not fun and seems, at first glance, inconsistent with pleasure. But there are three things that can make delayed gratification a part of our experience of a pleasurable, enjoyable life.
The first of these is the pleasure of the moment. Parental presence in play can help a child know the pleasure of the toys, games, and other means of pleasure that are available in the present moment. Stop and look around at the things, people, songs, events, jobs, or acts of kindness and love that can make this day pleasurable. We don’t have to wait for all gratification, just the gratification that is still in the future.
A second factor in accepting and even enjoying life in delayed gratification is memory. I personally am quite excited to move on to the next phase of my life and find out what heaven is like. Now, don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are enjoying life more now than we ever have, albeit with a bit less energy, vim, and vigor than twenty years ago. But one of the reasons we are enjoying the delay of heaven’s gate is that we are having so much fun with memory. Just this morning I began to sing, “There’s a land that is fairer than day, and I know I shall see it someday; . . . .” Then I said, “Calder, we need to watch that show again soon.” She knew immediately I was referring to the movie with Sally Field and Danny Glover, Places in the Heart. Memory brings us pleasure while we wait for the gratification that will come for us soon enough in heaven.
The third element of pleasure through delayed gratification is undelayed gratitude. This is closely related to finding pleasure in the moment. The most beautiful human beings I have known have been those who express gratitude on a daily basis for the gifts of God that are all around us, filling each day with pleasure.
One of our next door neighbors in Melvin, Alabama was a considerable bit older than I when I pastored her church. She lived a modest but comfortable life, though some would say she lived far below her means. But I’ll never forget one day walking over to her house to visit her and her husband. She was singing as I walked up to the open door of the house, “There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low; fear not I am with you, peace be still, in all of life’s ebb and flow; Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. . . .” I listened a moment, then knocked, and was greeted by, “Well, hello, preacher; isn’t this a fine day for you to come visiting, though!” She knew the pleasure of gratitude that is undelayed and constant in season and out of season. She knew how to do pleasure.
So, how long? Is it time to embrace the pleasures here and now of life in the patience of God?
*(Ordering information, including check orders, is also available on the book page of this website.)