On that glorious day when I stand in Heaven before the majesty of the Almighty, there is only one question I’m going to ask: “Why, O Lord, in Your omnipotent wisdom, did You make it so that I always had to pass a doughnut shop on the way to the gym!”
You and I both know that God doesn’t actually operate that way, but let’s be honest, friends – the struggle is real. Just yesterday, even though I had fully planned on getting to the gym, I saw a sign at a local fast-food joint displaying their latest deep-fried temptation and it was like my car steered itself there. The only exercise I ended up getting was the repetitive motion my hand made as it went from my plate to my mouth, over and over again.
In moments like these I can quite easily relate to the Apostle Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:18, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Preach it, brother. We all struggle when it comes to doing the things we know we ought to do. As followers of Christ, we know that we should have enough commitment and discipline to do what it right and necessary even when it is neither easy nor convenient.
Before we go any further, I think it’s extremely important to stop for moment and clarify something. There is a huge difference between our struggles with sin and our struggles with self-discipline. Overcoming habitual sins is not going to happen by simply learning to “just say no.” Why? Because sin is a spiritual problem, not a self-discipline problem. If you want to break the chains of an oppressive sin in your life, it will only happen through a process of genuine repentance and Holy Spirit restoration.
While I don’t want to gloss over the extremely important topic of breaking free from sin, I realize that many of us struggle just as much with self-discipline. For example, I know that God would have me take good care of this physical body He gave me, but I often neglect to do what’s required of me in order to get in shape. Likewise, we all desire to have deeper prayer lives, stronger faith, and a greater knowledge of God’s Word, and we know what actions we should take to achieve these things, but too often we fail with our follow through.
Let me ask you something. Why do you think we struggle in such ways? Why do we keep sneaking that midnight snack when we know it will only hurt us later on? Why do we keep quiet day after day when we see that friend who we know we should invite to church? Personally, I believe it has a lot to do with our extreme dislike of something called delayed gratification. Bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? How can something be gratifying if I’m not experiencing it right now?
We love when something is gratifying but our sinful nature tends to make us only think about instant gratification and to shun paying attention to delayed gratification. We’ll eat that chocolate doughnut covered in sprinkles because it makes us happy now, and who cares about that heart attack that may or may not happen one day? We will walk right past that person who needs our prayers simply because it messes up our schedule or because we fear being rebuked. What does it matter that taking those five minutes to stop and pray might have sown the seed that later resulted in salvation? It’s so easy to tell ourselves that we’ll worry about the consequences tomorrow just so we can enjoy the momentary pleasure of doing what is easy today.
In case you’ve forgotten, Jesus warned against living this kind of life. In fact, the life and teachings of our Savior show us that God’s plan for His children is one that includes embracing the practice of delayed gratification.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)
Learning to follow Christ is also about learning to say no to what is easy and convenient. This thought may turn a lot of people off from wanting to live a life for Jesus, but what we often overlook is the implied joy and gratification that will come from following the footsteps of our Savior. Even in simple things like trying to live a healthier lifestyle, our approach should be one that turns away from the instant gratification to await the gratification that God will bring in His time.
Still struggling, though? I know you are and so am I. This is one of these things that is much easier said than done. Therefore, let me leave you with a bit of advice to help you in your fight today.
- Determine your direction before denying yourself. Those words from Jesus begin with, “If anyone would come after me.” That means that you and I have to decide first whether or not we are going to pursue a Christ-like life. When you decide to do this, then you will begin to make decisions that are more in line with God’s long term goals for your life. An easy way to do this is to make sure that you begin your day with just a couple of minute’s quiet time with the Lord. Renew your commitment to live your life His way and ask Him to give you strength in the moments you face the temptation of instant gratification.
- Don’t try to do this alone. We are warned in Hebrews 10:25 to not get in the habit of forsaking the fellowship of the church family. Jesus was always seeking to bring His disciples into close relationship with one another for He knew that the struggle with sin and temptation would be all the greater if faced alone. We need to get back to the practice of finding ourselves at church every time the doors are open. More than that, we need to share our struggles and weaknesses with our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we might find encouragement and experience the joy of a burden made lighter when shared.
- Meet the challenge with faith and expectation. I’ve been preaching a lot lately about living in faith and expectation. The more I do so, the more I’m reminded what a powerful combination those two things are. Faith is believing in the promises of God. Expectation is when you start living in the assurance that those promises will come to pass. Examine that issue where you struggle with the discipline to do what is right, search out a promise of God that speaks to your challenge, and then carry that promise with you wherever you go. When the temptation hits, shout aloud the verses God has given you and then say, “Today, I am determined to come after Christ. I will deny myself of my preferences and momentary pleasures. I will take up the cross of Jesus and the call He has placed on my life. And I will follow my Savior wherever He leads me, knowing the joy and gratification I will find there.”