Too often I see believers waver through difficulty. Somehow, we have bought the message that when we come to Jesus, everything will be easy and anything that is not easy is obviously “not God” and we should isolate ourselves from it. A friend of mine summed this attitude up by pointing out that growing up, he was always asked “Does it make you happy?“. If he was doing anything that didn’t make him happy, he was encouraged to just drop it and do something else. What a life pattern! Does your current job make you happy? Does turning up to your sporting teams’ practice sessions make you happy? Does changing your baby’s dirty nappies make you happy? Imagine how many things in life we simply would not do, if the only criteria was whether or not it made us happy.
Sometimes in life, even with happiness being our ultimate goal, we subject ourselves to things that maybe don’t bring so much happiness at the time, but are part of a longer term goal. For example, I’m sure most of us aren’t overjoyed at the thought of this month’s mortgage payment being deducted from our bank account’s hard earned dollars, but the concept of one day owning that home brings great joy. If we don’t want to make mortgage repayments, the options are simple…we cannot buy a house, and will be equally displeased when paying our rent each month. Home ownership, like many other good things in life, often requires a level of deferred gratification. We may have less available cash today because we are making a contribution to a greater goal, that will ultimately bring a greater return.
There is a term called “hyperbolic discounting” which describes why we struggle with this some times. Hyperbolic discounting means that the further away in the future the reward is, the less inclined we are to be motivated towards it today. Simply, most of us are looking for immediate, short term rewards to short term goals, and anything long term disappears into our “too hard basket“. To overcome this problem, we need to find ways to keep the goal in clear focus and not allow it to disappear into the future. How we do this can vary depending on the context. For example, with regard to a mortgage, we may have a visible, wall chart that clearly shows how much principal and interest is being paid each payment, how much interest we will save by making extra payments and forecasting how long until we are mortgage free. But what about something that we determine is even further away into the future? Eternity! We often don’t give it much thought today, because hyperbolic discounting says there are too many short term goals and objectives between now and then and we put it off thinking we will worry about that later. That might seem like a good decision, but we need to constantly remind ourselves that often the longest term decisions have the longest term ramifications. We get the incredible opportunity to live today, with eternity in mind. The things we do today can have amazing benefits in our eternity if we invest our lives today wisely. Alternatively, we can allow hyperbolic discounting to rip us off…but the rip off will last a very long time.
My encouragement to us all today is to live in the fulness of life today, for the fulness of time in eternity. Get a hold of God’s pattern (found in his word) and live it to the fullest (in the power of His Spirit). On those days when we are tempted to take an “easier” option and look to get on the path of least resistance, we should just commit to “making a mortgage repayment” and make a contribution into our own long term future and keep moving forwards in the radical faith adventure that Christianity really is.