Saturday, January 1, 2011

"But I want it NOW!"

I saw a mother and her son in the checkout line of the grocery store. The boy was probably four or five years old. While waiting for his mother to unload all the groceries he was perusing through the candy and gum rack. His eyes lit upon something he wanted badly and he placed it on the conveyor. There was no protest from his mother and as they were leaving the store he asked for his treasure but his mother refused. What followed was not pretty. He threw a little hissy fit. His mother was firm, “I told you, not until we get home!” His vocal cords went into full throttle, “But I want it NOW!”

I’ve thought of that incident as a microcosm of a major problem in our modern society. We want it NOW! We can’t wait to buy the new car. We can’t wait to get that big screen T.V. We are consumer beasts gobbling up everything in sight. We want to be gratified instantly. For some reason many in our society, especially younger members, believe it is normal to have as much as the neighbors do. They believe being head over heels in credit card debt is a normal lifestyle. At twenty-five years of age they expect to live the lifestyle mom and dad live even though their parents have worked a lifetime to achieve it.

I grew up in a small town of 17,000 people in northwestern Pennsylvania. I had no idea that my family was poor. I used to ride with my father on Sunday mornings to pick up children for Sunday School. One of our pick-up spots was a place we called “Shanty Town.” They were about twenty or thirty tar paper-covered ‘shacks’ that you might think were uninhabitable. My brothers and I never thought of ourselves as being poor because we were always so connected with those who had less than we.

As we grew and became more aware of the world we realized just how poor we were. We were poor but happy. We didn’t have a lot of extras but we certainly had all we needed. I can’t tell you how many retired couples I’ve talked to who have stories of “starting out.” Their stories pretty much begin like this, “When we were young we had nothing….” and they almost always end with this, “…but those were our happiest years.” Jesus said it best, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke 12:15)

Have you ever thrown an adult hissy fit like the little boy in the grocery store? “But I want it NOW!” Your credit cards make that possible. How many people do you know who have a swimming pool they never use? Do you know someone who has a motorcycle in the garage that hasn’t been started for 6 months. I’ve known my neighbor, George, for 8 years now and he has the most beautiful bass boat I’ve ever seen. In eight years I’ve never seen George take his boat out of his garage! Instant gratification may not bring the satisfaction sought but it very well might bring economic bondage.

I’m reminded of the fellow Luke told about in his fifteenth chapter. A son went to his father and asked for his inheritance. He was very rude. What he was really telling his father was, “I can’t wait for you to die, I want my share now.” His father gave him what he asked and “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living.” His immaturity and addiction to instant gratification is nothing short of astounding! The prodigal son learned that sin is very costly. Bad habits are expensive to sustain. Self-destruction isn’t free.

Americans spend millions of dollars in destructive behavior. They spend large amounts of their income purchasing alcohol, drugs and tobacco products which are very destructive when used improperly or excessively. Most people who try to sustain a $200 per day drug habit can’t, so they turn to crime. Over $3,000 is being spent every second in America for pornography.(1) Tourists in Los Vegas lose $17 billion annually.(2) The average American spends $1100 per year on lottery tickets. We are not much different than the prodigal, spending money like drunken sailors in our attempt to find satisfaction through materialism and seeking instant gratification. Might we learn from the writer of Proverbs what the prodigal son failed to learn, “…Drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

We no longer own credit cards in our home. My wife and I have decided to live by the principle of previous, wiser generations who believed, “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.”

We recently enjoyed our Christmas together. We probably had less gifts this year because we, like other Americans, are affected by the floundering economy. When all the gifts were unwrapped and our five-year-old son was playing with his new toys, I turned to my wife and asked, “How much do we owe for all these Christmas gifts?” She smiled and gave me one last gift, “Honey, we don’t owe a penny. It’s all paid for.”

I am reminded again of the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs who said, “What a foolish thing is this, that because I have not got what I want, I will not enjoy the comfort of what I have!” I am also reminded of Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

To those who are Christ-followers, wealth is not measured so much by one’s material possessions. Christians are wayfarers in this world, simply passing through to their eternal home. Their wealth can never be understood nor can it be taken away by those “who lay up treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy.” (Matthew 6:19)

1. Internet Pornography Statistics, by Jerry Ropelato


Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.

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