The Danger of Instant Gratification
One reason why Christian men are stunted in their growth is because their vision is skewed. Like David from the Old Testament, they are spiritually nearsighted. Many of us will be familiar with the story of how David, one of the great men in the Bible, committed a grievous sin against God. He saw a beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop beside his palace, got her pregnant, and then, trying to avoid the consequences of public humiliation, organized the murder of a good friend who also happened to be the woman’s husband. Yet the full tragedy of the scene is only evident once Nathan the prophet shows up and reveals just how limited David’s perspective was. Nathan, speaking on behalf of God, says, ‘I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more’ (II Sam. 12:8 NIV). Those last seven words are harrowing. What David lost sight of while hooked by lust was the reality that the fullness of joy was not in the arms of a woman but at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11). God could have, indeed most assuredly would have, provided David with far more joy – and better joy – than any guilt-infused affair could supply. Yet, sadly, the sun was eclipsed by a candle, and David chose a one night stand over abiding communion with God.
Such spiritual nearsightedness is a common ailment among men. The pleasures, comforts, and honors of the world are constantly on display. Modern society is institutionally structured to make sure that instant gratification is affordable and available to all. Meanwhile the greatest goods, the fine vintages of personal knowledge of God, genuine spiritual-fulfillment, and eternal rewards, are hidden in a cellar out of view. Richard Baxter, in his classic The Saints Everlasting Rest, makes the comment, ‘When God would give the Israelites his Sabbaths of rest, in a land of rest, it was harder to make them believe it, than to overcome their enemies, and procure it for them.’ This difficulty of belief is, for many, a difficulty of sight. A lot of men order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because they do not see the ribeye steak on the menu. They settle for less because they forget there is more.
Captivation: the Ability to See the Horizon of Glory
In light of this problem, what do Christian men need in order to avoid the blunders of nearsightedness? The answer is hearts that are captivated by the beauty, promise, and majesty of Christ. Imagine the difference it would have made for David if, beyond the foreground of a beautiful, naked, and available woman, he had seen the backdrop of the holiness of God. A flashlight shines brightly on a moonless night. Under the blaze of a Middle Eastern sun, however, a torch is irrelevant. On or off it goes unnoticed. Something similar is true of temptation. Had David remembered the incomparable pleasures at the right hand of God, he would never have dared sacrifice those joys for a short-lived and guilt-ridden fling. The magnetic field of God’s glory would have nullified the attractive power of sin. He would have said with the hymn-writer: ‘To feel thy power, to hear Thy voice,/To taste Thy love, be all my choice.’
So, then, why do we need hearts that are fiercely gripped by the splendor of God? The answer is because willpower on its own is a twig that readily snaps under the pressure of temptation. Unless reinforced by love, the will can never hold out under the siege of the devil. Like the Alamo, regardless of how nobly the fight begins, eventually the fortress will fall. For this reason, the deep prayer and earnest aspiration of every Christian man must be to sing the words of ‘When I Survey’ with sincerity and earnestness:
Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most;
I sacrifice them to His blood.
In essence, this stanza tells us two things. The first is that the world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly trying to cast a spell over us. We know this by the extent to which we fall prey to the false promises of pleasure, comfort, and achievement. Yet, the more impressive truth recounted in the hymn is that the sight of Christ’s love is able to break the spell. Somehow, by seeing the love that was visibly, tangibly, and irrevocably revealed by the blood of Jesus, we are set free. Strangely, we are willing and able to joyfully surrender (this is the meaning of ‘sacrifice’) the very things that before entangled our desires. We find the power to say ‘no’ to temptation because beyond the billboards of lust we glimpse the threshhold of glory.