“Instant gratification is not soon enough,” opines actress Meryl Streep1—and she is not alone in this rush for the quick fix. In fact, a closer look at twenty-first-century global culture suggests that we have moved altogether into instant gratification mode (IGM). Heard about a new best seller and saw intriguing reviews? A click on the right button and you can read the eBook on your mobile device. (Granted, that click will be noticed on your credit card bill at the end of the billing cycle.) Liked the song on the radio? Just buy it (or the entire CD) in digital format from one of the many outlets in our increasingly digital marketplace. Click! Done! TV shows, movies, specialty food, or any other merchandise can be bought—right now. Your only requirement is a reasonable connection to the Internet and a valid form of payment. Online dating apps offer numerous opportunities to find the “love of your life”—quickly (though not necessarily instantly) and without having to leave the comforts of your home. The SpeedDate app or Web site, for example, promises live five-minute online dates with the singles in your area (or across the country).
Why do we hanker after instant gratification? What caused the word “wait” to be considered a four-letter word? And, ultimately, can we see the IGM within the confines of our churches and congregations?
I cannot answer the first question. Fact is that Genesis 3 contains the first hint of IGM in Scripture. Eve just needed to find out after having heard the carefully worded and intriguing insinuations and half-truths concocted by the serpent (and the one using the serpent). We remember the rest of the story—and daily feel its repercussions in our own quest for eternity.
We are in good company as we struggle to overcome IGM and just—wait.
Not only the teenagers in your life are acutely aware of the challenges of the “wait.” This is not a semantic problem—we do understand the concept. Rather, when we consider IGM and “wait” together, we subtly and, often distressingly, move into the realm of who we really are and, a little bit at least, our wondering about God’s character. Why does He want me to wait? Why would sex outside the boundaries of marriage be considered sin? We love each other—we are meant for each other! Or do you remember this mental soliloquy: Why do I have to wait longer to hear God’s voice and get clear guidance? I have been waiting for ages—I need an answer now! Has He left the country? Is He still around? The psalms are full of references to “waiting upon the Lord” (cf. Ps. 27:14; 37:9, 34)—and it seems as if that waiting was not always smooth sailing. So we are in good company as we struggle to overcome IGM and just—wait.
What about the final question? Is IGM part and parcel of our church culture? We pray for change; we study challenging (and often divisive) issues; we seek revival and reformation; we want to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the cities—and yet, after a while on our knees or serving the homeless and healing the sick, we become restless and wonder about our prayers. We want to see God’s promises fulfilled—now. We desire to see His kingdom advance. We hope to see our Master coming in the clouds of heaven—soon.
Instant gratification mode is not God’s mode of operation, and if we are truly changed by beholding, we still need to do a lot of beholding. God’s creative word—spoken purposefully and deliberately—culminated in a day of rest. Satan’s offer of a shortcut (read IGM) in the wilderness was countered by deliberate quotes from Scripture. Jesus did not succumb to the lure of IGM, but stayed within the Father’s will.
“God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts:
who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.
His state is kingly
thousands at his bidding speed
and post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.” 2
- John Milton, “On His Blindness,” cf. www.poemhunter.com/poem/on-his-blindness/.