There are countless tips and “tricks” you can use to speed up the process of getting out of debt, save money at the grocery store, and invest more for the future. But if you really want to get the money thing right, you have to cultivate certain inner disciplines. And there is one that rises above all the rest.
At first glance, it will sound completely unappealing. And you’ll find virtually no support for it in our culture. But because it’s so incredibly helpful, I strongly encourage you to find the patience to read on.
One now, or two later
In the late 1960s Stanford University researchers conducted an experiment among hundreds of four-year-olds. One at a time, the children were brought into a room and told they could eat one treat such as a marshmallow right away, or if they could wait until the researcher returned from a brief errand, they could have two.
A few kids couldn’t wait at all. Before the researcher had even finished giving the instructions, the treat was gone. The majority of kids held out for an average of… wait for it… 3 minutes. 3 minutes!
But the remaining 30 percent were able to hang in there, resist temptation, and wait for what turned out to be 15 minutes in order to get the better reward.
Some 12 years later, when the kids were in high school, lead researcher Walter Mischel tracked the kids down to see if there were any discernible differences between the kids who could wait and those who couldn’t.
He asked parents, teachers, and academic advisors about the kids’ ability to plan and think ahead, cope with problems and get along with peers. He also requested their S.A.T. scores.
And what he found was remarkable. The kids who could wait had noticeably fewer behavioral problems at school and at home. They were better able to handle stressful situations, did better at paying attention, and found it easier to maintain friendships.
As for their S.A.T. scores, the kids who could wait scored an average 210 points higher than the kids who couldn’t.
Clearly, good things really do come to those who wait.
A character trait unlike any other
So helpful is the ability to delay gratification that psychologists call it the master principle. They say it’s the most essential psychological skill for effective living.
Think about the financial benefits of patience. Those who routinely save for what they want instead of impatiently buying today on credit can save thousands of dollars on interest. Those who patiently invest over long periods of time stand a much better chance of being able to help their kids pay for college or having enough money for their own retirement.
The marshmallow experiment kids who could wait were the ones who clearly saw that their future reward would be much better than the immediate reward. Having no doubt that the waiting would be worthwhile motivated them to be patient.
The ultimate form of delayed gratification
The Apostle Paul said something very similar about heaven. He said everyone who has placed their faith in Christ has “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” meaning that the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of heaven. And he said this taste of our future inheritance naturally leads to two responses: A yearning for heaven and the patience to wait for that reward (Romans 8:22-25).
Do you yearn for heaven? When I first thought about that, I had to admit that I don’t. When I’m away from home, I yearn to see my family. Every spring, I start yearning for our summer vacation. As for heaven? I’m thankful that it’s real, but I can’t say I’m in any hurry to get there.
If it seems that you don’t yearn for heaven either, consider this: Maybe you actually do.
Think about something you love to do—your favorite hobby, perhaps, or a place where you love to vacation. C.S. Lewis said our longing to spend more time doing what we most enjoy is an expression of our ultimate longing for heaven.
…it (is) not in them. It only comes through them and what (comes) through them (is) longing…For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.
That’s why even the best things of this world only leave us wanting more. As Lewis wrote,
If I find in myself a desire which no experience of this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
The realization that the things of this world will never completely satisfy our deepest longings is not bad news; it’s good news. It can help us stop looking to them for what they’re incapable of delivering, and it can free us to enjoy them for what they are: Good gifts from God, but not the basis of our identity, security, or ultimate happiness.
The patience to wait for our ultimate reward in heaven is what turns the master principle into the Master’s principle.
As John Eldredge wrote, we express our longing for God best when we “enjoy what there is now to enjoy, while waiting with eager anticipation for the feast to come.” I love that.
Are you looking to something of this world to deliver what only heaven can deliver?
How might your use of money change if you were clearer about what the things of this world can deliver and what only heaven can deliver?