February 24, 2013

Delayed gratification and eternity

Excellent art can raise in me an emotion that I cannot label. It doesn’t seem like envy nor total admiration. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. I would like to be able to do that well. Something in me nags that if I had made different choices, my skills would be more developed, that I could do that well. 

The problem with this thinking is that God did not lead me in that direction. I could have decided to work in several areas, yet had a problem with motivation. A Christian cannot press to excellence just to be better than others, win prizes, make money, or only for the personal pleasure of it.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Since I’ve learned that verse, I’ve realized that the only way to have this pure motivation is by having a willingness to abandon all else. This does not mean that God will not let me paint or create art in some way, or even do it well, make money, even win prizes. What it does mean is that those end results are not important to me. The goal is to be that I care about bringing glory to the Lord, not myself. 

This is not easy. Pride creeps in. A competitive spirit creeps in. So do greed and selfish ambition. Another problem is that of envying others who seem to be able to do whatever they wish, and do it well, without a thought of God being glorified. Some of them are even nasty in the process. They excel but trample on others and act in ungodly ways, yet are successful in their ambitions. This does not seem fair.

How true that we live in a sinful world that sometimes seems very upside-down. Christians struggle with illness and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are healthy. Godly people struggle and ungodly people prosper. Spiritually rich people are poor, and professing atheists are rich. God knows that this can be a huge problem for His people so He says things like this:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:1–3)

Immaturity could be defined as “I want what I want when I want it” and of course, maturity is the ability to be content with delayed gratification. Christian maturity certainly is fits this description. When I focus on “me, myself, and I,” my desires are long and my patience is short. However, it is possible to feel otherwise, even when my circumstances do not change, but it takes time and the power of the Holy Spirit to learn the deep lesson that Paul writes about…

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

Along with the goal of desiring only to glorify God comes several tests to see if this is really my motivation or do I have something else in mind? One test is time. Can I wait rather than demanding opportunities right now? Do I trust Him with all the matters of life, including their sequence? 

Another test is interruptions. Do I get upset and irritated? Or do I see them as tests of my trust in Him, even as opportunities to glorify Him? 

A third test is the way my heart reacts when I see the success of others in areas where I’d like to be successful. Do I resent it? Envy it? Wish I had what they had? Or can I joyfully share in their delight, glad that they are doing well, even glorifying God for their opportunities and talents? 

For all this, including envy, the Bible says fret not. The will of God is eternal. Nothing else lasts, and is like grass that is here today and gone tomorrow. Instead, I’m to think long term, even eternally. In the meantime, I’m also to trust Him and do what He says. Being faithful to His leading has far greater value that wanting and doing what I want, when I want. 

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