Walking through Westfield—an enormous West London shopping mall—on a recent Wednesday, I noticed a queue of people outside the Apple store, complete with security guards monitoring the store’s inflow and outflow. “What are they waiting for?” I asked one of the guards. “The iPhone 5” came his nonchalant reply. After exchanging knowing looks, wondering why they didn’t all save themselves some time by coming to the shop the day after, or better still, next week, I glanced back along the line noting that at least half these desperate customers were clutching and staring into what I presume were perfectly functional iPhone 4s. What had brought them to Westfield so early on a midweek morning? Why did they need this iPhone on launch day? What’s the itch with new gadgetry?? Why all the fuss??, I thought, as I paced to the nearest chocolate vendor to buy the Daim bar that had been consuming my thoughts for a good two hours.
In A Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck describes delaying gratification as an essential discipline for the solving of life’s problems. Learning to face up to and deal with smaller problems, irritations and dislikes, for example doing the washing up before sitting down to watch TV, or eating the salad before devouring the steak, can enhance the enjoyment of the end reward while simultaneously equipping us to deal with other kinds of suffering.
But in this digital, quick fix, easy access age, is such a discipline necessary? Why wait when it is (relatively) easy to get what we want right now?
According to the Bible, the discipline of foregoing certain pleasures, of sometimes going without, and of suffering—even if only a little—in the meantime, is good for a number of reasons. Paul writes that ‘we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Rom. 5:3-4). These aren’t qualities of exclusive benefit in the afterlife, but are of real value now. Jesus fasted and prayed and conquered Satan in the process (Matt. 4). The Bible is pretty clear on the costs of immediate gratification—it’s barely three chapters in before Adam and Eve have succumbed to their cravings, with disastrous consequences—as well as the benefits of delaying it, or giving it up altogether. Jesus once told a man, “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). Could we defer that long for such a reward?
After two hours in the mall, my Daim bar did taste good, and I sincerely hope the iPhone crowd got what they were hoping for, but ponder this: what might have been had Adam and Eve deferred their apple…