REDISCOVERING THE ANCIENT PATH—Week of October 3, 2021
Delay Gratification: Gal. 5:16
We are in Week 35 of our examination of Benedict Nursia’s rules for Christian formation. This week we are examining Rules 4.59-60: Delay Gratification. If there was ever a rule of formation that stood in direct opposition to the culture of our day, it is this one. In Benedict’s day, Roman society was very much consumed with the attitude of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In our day, our society’s attitude may be best summed up with that classic Queen song, “I want it all, and I want it now!” This attitude is so pervasive, it is a struggle to not let it influence our spirituality as well. I know that I personally struggle with impatience with God and his timing. I get frustrated when God doesn’t move when and how I think he should. Jealousy and bitterness can creep into my heart when I see others being “blessed” with the things I desire and don’t have. If Jesus came that I might have life and have it more abundantly, why doesn’t he give me what I want?
As I was researching this topic, I came across this quote from Augustine of Hippo, which both encouraged and admonished me:
“The entire life of a good Christian is an exercise in holy desire. You do not see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when God comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.
Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it, and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us. Simply by making us wait, God increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is about to be given,”
Delaying gratification is not about us denying ourselves and our dreams to earn God’s favor. Nor is it about God denying us our desires because we don’t deserve or haven’t earned them. Delaying gratification is about preparing and stretching our souls to receive the things God has for us—things that Eph. 3:20 tells us are exceedingly abundantly more than we can even imagine. I have experienced this personally in the life of my family. For years, my wife and I struggled to have children, an issue that caused us much heartache. At times, it broke us—all we could do was cry and pour out our souls to God. After years of struggle and when we were to the point of giving up all hope, when our desire was for just one child, God answered our cries with 3 beautiful, healthy children. And that delay, though painful, prepared our souls for the magnificence of God’s blessing. This is particularly true for my wife. Everything she does for her children, even the difficult things, she counts as pure joy, for she remembers the heartache of delay. Nothing she does for them is seen as a burden. It is all a blessing.
Thus, delaying gratification is not so much about denial as it is about holding out for something better. Just as my father would admonish me to not fill up on bread at the restaurant because a delicious steak was coming, so too my Heavenly Father asks us to wait patiently for the good things he has in store.
- What are some of the ways our society pushes towards instant gratification? What do you see as some of the negative impacts of this push? How has this influenced you personally?
- Have you ever been frustrated by God’s delay in answering a prayer? Are there things you are praying for now that haven’t happened? How do these rules impact your view on delay?
- Think back on your life. Can you see how periods of delay prepared your heart for what God had? If so, how?