Instant Gratification

Instant Gratification – a real temptation

Hundreds of advertising messages bombard the average American each day. The pressure to buy (and buy now!) is practically unavoidable. Manufacturers spend billions each year to convince us that we need their newest and greatest products; they want us to believe that our lives will be incomplete until we buy what they are selling. Marketing pushes us to pursue instant gratification.

American Christianity is not immune to this thinking. A quick scan through most local religious TV or radio stations will quickly reveal “preachers” wrongly teaching that present possessions, wealth, and prosperity are the unarguable marks of God’s blessing. Now add the obvious observation that some wicked people prosper far more than many Christians, and you have a very confused theology on your hands!

Instant gratification – an old temptation

Even Bible-believing saints have faced this pressure for generations. In Psalm 73, Asaph makes a striking confession.

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (2–3).

He knows well what sins characterize the lives of these prosperous sinners! They boldly wear pride like a necklace; violence enshrouds them like a cloak (v. 6). Further, they are guilty of corruption, wicked words, oppression, and lofty speech (v. 8). Their mouths blaspheme heaven itself (v. 10)! Yet, despite their thorough sin, they seem to have it all. Asaph notices that the wicked appear to have pain-free deaths (v. 4) and trouble-free lives (v. 5). It looks as though the wicked were successfully achieving instant gratification!

Instant gratification – a selfish temptation

John Bunyan described the same situation in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian visits the house of the Interpreter and sees a vision of two children. The older child, Passion, is “much discontented”—he is far from content! Against the patient wishes of his guardian, he demands to be given wealth and treasure immediately; he wants instant gratification.

The other child, Patience, waits until the governor wishes to give the gifts. Interpreter explains Patience’s wisdom to Christian: “The glory of the next world will never wear out; but these are suddenly gone.”

Passion gets his treasure immediately and mocks Patience, only to overspend his treasure quickly and have “nothing left him but rags.” Patience waits and, upon receiving his gifts in the right time, enjoys the “glory” of his treasure.

Eternal treasure – glorious gifts

Interpreter gives the moral of this story: “the glory of the next world will never wear out; but these are suddenly gone.” Why should Christian avoid the trap of instant gratification? Earthly treasure fades and passes; eternal treasure has enduring glory!

The temptation of instant gratification breaks down precisely where it appeals most. Its seduction is based on “now”— having what you want right away. Its failure is in the same “now”—its delights pass immediately. As Moses noticed, its pleasures are only “for a season” (Heb. 11:25).

Eternal treasure – our glorious God

This is the same conclusion that settled Asaph’s heart in Psalm 73. He looked to the future. He realized that the lives of the wicked are not light and fun. Rather, God has “set them in slippery places” and “they [are] brought to desolation, as in a moment” (v. 17–19).

Asaph’s future (and present!) security, however, was God. Just as Patience looked forward “the glory of the next world” in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Asaph confidently prayed about his glorious treasure.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

The end of the wicked is “slippery places” and “destruction.” Asaph’s end was glory. Yet Asaph also knew that the future glory isn’t merely waiting for some heavenly crowns. The glory that helps God’s people fight against instant gratification is God’s presence!

True, eternal treasure is better than the fleeting pleasure of the earthly delights. But there is a true “instant gratification” for the believer; God is with you right now! His presence is the ultimate immediate joy. His guiding counsel, His glory, and His strength are specific things that Asaph rejoiced in in the present.

In fact, the believer’s real “portion” is God Himself. Just as God allotted an appropriate “portion” of land to each tribe, He Himself is the perfect allotment for each believer. His presence is exactly what we need.

Eternal treasure – our glorious confidence

This confidence in future glory is part of our defense against the world’s pressure of instant gratification as well. Like Patience, Asaph, and Paul, we look for “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17). In the midst of myriad pressures to buy it now, we can base our patience on our confidence in our glorious future with God.

In contrast to the fleeting temptation of earthly pleasures, we must also set our desire and delight on God Himself. With Asaph, we should value the highest good: “It is good for me to draw near to God” (v. 28).

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