Do Good Things Really Come to Those Who Wait?

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When I was growing up, every time that my mother would buy me new shoes or new clothes, she would never let me wear them right away. For some reason that is unknown to me as a child, she would always insist that I delay the unboxing of any new apparel until the “right time.’’ I believe she was trying to teach me something about delayed gratification, but my childlike mind saw it as being unjust and cruel.

Our view of God can often reveal a similar spiritual immaturity when we resent God for delaying something that we are expecting to receive. Perhaps a blessing that God Himself has promised to us, but for some unknown reason (to us anyways), He chose to hold it back until the right time. Is God trying to teach us about delayed gratification, or is He just being unjust and cruel?

The virtue of patience is something that every parent tries to instill in their children at a very young age. The sign of immaturity is reflected in young kids that want everything their way, right away! Sadly, many of us (older kids) still find it hard to develop patience as adults. After all, do good things really come to those who wait?

Instant gratification has robbed everyone of patience and the advancement of technology has been a big culprit. Think about it, most innovations are developed to save us time, but we still seem to have less and less of it now than ever before. Why is that?

Our perspective and expectations have altered because what used to be acceptable is now no longer the case. We used to tolerate a week or more for an online order to be delivered. Nowadays, same-day delivery is fast becoming the norm. It also used to be acceptable to wait for up to one full minute for a digital photo to download (a line of pixels at a time). We can barely wait that long for an HD video to buffer before we move on to the next website.

While we generally weigh the benefits of waiting in physical outcomes (e.g. better return on financial investments, improved technology, better trust in potential marriage partners), the true reward of patience is actually the internal welfare of our mind, soul, and spirit.

The Bible has a lot to say about patience. James 1:3-4 encourages us that trials are God’s way of perfecting our patience. Colossians 1:11 reminds us that we are strengthened by Him to “great endurance and patience.” This ability is refined and strengthened when we submit our wants, desires, and dreams in God’s will and perfect timing rather than our own.

In fact, God has his own sense of timing: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day,” (2 Peter 3:8). He has perfect timing: never early, never late. God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time.

While the Bible does not explicitly say that good things come to those who wait, there is scientific proof (from follow-up studies of the Marshmallow Test*) that children that are able to develop the virtue of patience turn out to have better life outcomes. Perhaps my mother was doing me a favour after all when she held back my fresh pair of Nikes, so that I can become a more competent adult today. 

* In follow-up studies, Mischel found unexpected correlations between the results of the marshmallow experiment and the success of the children many years later. The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent.” 
A second follow-up study, in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores