It’s a Virtue

“The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.”
–Dr. Phillips Brooks

The psychological experiment is legendary now…Stanford University in the 1960s, a number of four-year-olds, and bags of marshmallows all converged to produce a study on waiting and rewards. A single marshmallow was placed on the table in front of each child tested. The children were told that they would be given another marshmallow in addition to the first one if they did not eat the first one before the researcher returned (usually within 15-20 minutes). If the first one was eaten before time was up, they would not receive the second marshmallow. Each child was then left alone in the room with a single, tempting marshmallow for company and was watched from the other room secretly to record the behavior.

Some children sang songs and hummed to distract themselves, while others stared around the room, intentionally avoiding the sight of the marshmallow. One child crawled under the table to avoid eating the marshmallow and others sat holding their heads. At least one of them placed the tip of his tongue on the tabletop…as…close…as…he…could… possibly…get to the marshmallow without actually touching it. There were some of the children who sat very still, very patiently, for a very long time (at least, a long time for a four-year-old) and waited. Then there were those who simply looked at the marshmallow and devoured it, thus missing the reward of twice as many later, opting instead for immediate gratification.

Patience can be hard to maintain, regardless of age. I sometimes ask groups of people, “How many of you have ever prayed for patience?” Usually a large number of hands go up. Then I ask, “How many of you have ever prayed for patience more than once?” Usually the vast majority of hands drop. Why? Because God does not so much give patience to us as develop patience in us. It’s not something that is usually dropped into a person’s life easily by a one-time installation, but it is a virtue developed over time, through difficult and trying circumstances. During those situations, God seems to take His time with us to grow patience within us. God is “the God of patience” (Rom. 15:5).

We, as His children, are to bear the same characteristic. We too, are to wait calmly and allow “patience [to] have its perfect work” (James 1:4). Often we think we have signed up for a spiritual 50-yard dash, but in actuality, we are slated for the marathon.

The marshmallow study mentioned earlier didn’t end in the 1960’s. Researchers tracked these individuals who were tested and studied them again, thirty years later, as adults. The results: the children who didn’t wait tended to become adults who were impulsive and sought instant results, whereas the ones who waited tended to be more disciplined and structured and patient in all areas of their lives. Lives of impatience, left unchecked, continually produce even more impatience.

Far too often, because of impatience, we sacrifice the “best” yet to come and settle for the “good enough” now. We seek to gratify the flesh instead of glorifying Christ. All the waiting and patience yields rewards…and they are greater than a second marshmallow.

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