Delayed gratification does not come easily for most people. It is choosing to resist present comfort for long-term pleasure. The Christian life is a life of deferred gratification. Jesus teaches us to not store up treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21).
We learn the value of investing in eternity instead of the fleeting things of this earthly life. We are attached to the instant gratification lifestyle here on earth instead of setting our minds on things above (Col. 3:1).
Delayed gratification is a difficult concept to counsel. Counselees come to counseling in desperation. They are on the verge of a spiritual meltdown and want immediate relief for their problems. Their impatience grows as the counselor pulls out the Bible to read a passage and the counselee does not see how it relates to their immediate need. But for biblical change to happen, both the counselor and the counselee must embrace the process of delayed gratification.
The Process of Delayed Gratification
The process of delayed gratification is resisting the temptation of instant gratification. That is the most difficult challenge in the Christian life. Jesus demonstrated delayed gratification by resisting the temptations presented to Him by the devil in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
Satan tempted Jesus immediately after His baptism when God identified Jesus as His Beloved Son (Matt. 3:17). Satan’s purpose was to cast doubt on God’s Word and to destroy Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.
Satan’s purpose for us is to cast doubt on who we are in Christ and to destroy God’s plan for us. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness demonstrates the common areas of temptation— the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).
First Temptation: Lust of the Flesh
Satan offered Jesus instant gratification by challenging Him to prove His identity. He tempted Jesus to exercise His power by changing stones into bread. Jesus had the right to instantly prove His identity. But instead of succumbing to Satan’s influence, Jesus submitted Himself to the authority of His Father by stating: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
Second Temptation: The Boastful Pride of Life
Satan offered Jesus instant gratification by challenging Him to proudly use His divine Sonship to obligate God to prove Himself. Satan wanted Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, presuming God would catch Him based on His promise in Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus refused to use His position as the Son of God to put God to the test (Matt. 4:7).
Third Temptation: Lust of the Eyes
Satan offered Jesus instant gratification by challenging Him to bypass the pain and suffering of the cross to gain immediate possession of all the kingdoms of the world if only He would worship him. Jesus choose the difficult route of the cross by obeying God’s word to worship and serve Him only (Matt. 4:10).
The Principles of Delayed Gratification
In Matthew 4 Jesus teaches us the principles of delayed gratification: God’s will, God’s way, and God’s timing. These principles lay down the fundamental truths that serve as the foundation for escaping the instant gratification trap.
God’s will is what He wants to happen and how He wants things to be. We know God’s will by reading His Word. Romans 12:2 states, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is God’s will for us to not conform to this world, but to be transformed by a renewed mind in Christ.
When the counselee is anxious about a situation, we can counsel what the will of God is based on Philippians 4:6—It is God’s will to not be anxious about anything. An anxious counselee will be tempted to find a quick way to stop worrying. Instead, we must lead her through the pain-staking process of delayed gratification to present her requests to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.
God’s Way is the manner in which He wants things to be done. God’s way is powerfully stated in Galatians 5:16; “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” The way to live the Christian life is to walk by the Spirit.
When the counselee carries out the desire of the flesh—such as immorality, idolatry, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, etc. (Gal. 5:19-21), the counselor must counsel God’s way of living the Christian life which is walking by the Spirit instead of the flesh. The temptation is to give the 3 quick steps to instant freedom from the flesh. The process of delayed gratification is to resist the temptation of the flesh by walking in the Spirit.
God’s timing is to choose the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect. Ecclesiastes 3:1 declares, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” It is wise for both the counselor and counselee to understand that God controls the timing of all things.
When the stresses of life mount, the temptation is to take matters into our own hands to find an immediate fix to the problems—which makes the situation worse (Prov. 19:2b). “For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him” (Eccles. 8:6). Even in the stresses of life, delayed gratification must be practiced in order to remain under God’s authority.
God wants us to do His will in His way in His timing. The practice of delayed gratification will provide a way of escape from the instant gratification trap.
Questions for Reflection
How important is the practice of delayed gratification in the Christian life? Have you been tempted to counsel the quick fix instead of counseling delayed gratification?