A loving father approached his two young sons to teach them a lesson they would never forget. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he began. I’ll give you each a dollar a day for the next month, or else I’ll give a hundred dollars at the end of the month, your choice.” “A dollar a day,” the first thought to himself. “That sounds so good! I could stop on the way from school and buy a candy bar every day!” So the first son chose option one. The other deferred to the end of the month. As the weeks passed, the first son was having a good time. He decided to try many different kinds of candy bars and choose a favorite. The other son sometimes felt a little jealous, but he kept thinking about the much larger gift his father had promised. It wasn’t always easy, but he knew he had made the much better choice. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the month was over. The big day for the second son had come. His father was true to his word. A hundred dollars was enough for a shiny new bicycle. When the first son saw it, suddenly all those candy bars, now long gone, seemed worthless. He was filled with regret, and resolved never to make the same mistake again. Delayed gratification is enhanced gratification.
The Lord Jesus Christ has taught us this principle in the Sermon on the Mount. He contrasts two kinds of people. The first live for the present. They seek instant gratification, even in their religion. The second are Jesus’ true disciples. They are future oriented, humble, God-fearers, practicing secret devotion and self-denial, and by patient continuance in well doing they seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life in the age to come (Rom 2.7). Hear the Lord’s counsel from Matthew 6 (emphasis mine):
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
The original culture where Jesus first spoke these words was intensely religious and peculiarly Jewish. The proud Pharisees parading their religion were generally held in awe and admiration. Many who would not imitate them still thought their extreme religious commitment was praiseworthy. Jesus urged His disciples to shun the common, worldly perspective. The hypocrites’ steps go down to hell. “They have their reward,” now, in this life, and that is all there is.
Our culture today, in some ways, could hardly be more different. A man praying aloud on a street corner is thought deranged, and pitied, if not despised as a villain. Giving to the poor fares a little better, but fasting is for kooks.
So who are the conspicuous public figures that are almost universally admired, grabbing all the gusto of the moment with no thought for Judgment Day? Hollywood celebrities must be near the top of the list.
Last Sunday 43.7 million viewers tuned in to the Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen Degeneres, a wealthy, lesbian comedian. It was the now famous “selfie” which crashed Twitter that got me thinking about this. She posed with about 11 other celebrities—well dressed, all smiles, and obviously having fun. The image seems the very picture of good cheer and success, and millions and millions of Americans are evidently very envious.
Almost immediately the image brought to my mind Jesus’ words, “They have their reward.” Unbelievers like these seek instant gratification. They often achieve it, but it is like four weeks of candy bars. A nearer analogy would be the happy sow that eats well because the farmer is fattening her for the slaughter at the end of the season, and she has no idea what is coming.
A recent online article from ScienceNews claims, “Delaying gratification is about worldview as much as willpower,” and explains,
Willpower alone doesn’t explain why some children forgo a marshmallow in hand for the prospect of getting two gooey treats later. Kids’ beliefs about the reliability of the people around them, such as the trustworthiness of an experimenter, can dramatically shape their willingness to wait for a sweeter payoff, a new study finds.
How do real Christians persevere in lives of delayed gratification? Not by willpower, but by faith and hope. We trust God, believe His Word, and confidently expect His praise and reward when the Lord Jesus Christ returns for us.
Dear reader, you should rather pity Ellen and her ilk than envy them. They are having “their best life now.” Pray for their salvation, and pray against the influence of their pernicious example. If you give, pray, and fast in secret as a disciple of Christ, your Father in heaven has far better things prepared for you.
1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb (Psa 37.1-2).–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) Exeter, New Hampshire USA http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com
 http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2014/03/03/oscars-abc-tv-ratings/5978897/ (accessed 5 March 2014).
 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/delaying-gratification-about-worldview-much-willpower (accessed 5 March 2014).