Delayed gratification, if that’s the key, how do you develop it in your life? And the method of developing biblical discipline can be summed up in three words. Discipline is two words: delayed gratification. How you get it – the process of developing it – you say to yourself, What’s the training? Where’s the magazine that says if I run, jog a little bit, and then, the next week, I actually try and jog a mile, and then, after that, I go and – where – how does that happen?
You’re gonna see it right out of Scripture. The three key words are advance decision making. The key to delayed gratification – if you are at the window and the moment where you know you need to delay your gratification, and you haven’t predecided what you’re gonna do in that moment, about 95 percent of the time, you will do what you don’t wanna to do.
Let me give you a biblical example, and if you have your pen or pencil, pull it out, ‘cause I want you to do a little Bible study. You’re gonna see something very interesting about what the apostle Paul does. Now, remember, this is a godly, godly man. Thirteen books in the New Testament he writes. So, I want to give you a little context. This is a guy who God has greatly, greatly used. But listen to some of his fears in his life. He’s writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way” – that’s a manner of living – “that you may win.” Circle the word win. “[And] everyone who competes in the games” – he’s giving reference to the Olympic Games at the time – “exercises” – put a box around – “self-control” – that’s our word – “in” – what? – “all things.”
Application to the Olympic Games and the people of his day: “They . . . do it to receive a perishable wreath.” In the Olympic Games, they actually had an Olympic village. You had to – talk about training – you had to sign up in advance. You had to be approved, and you lived in an Olympic village, and they moderated your food and your schedule for a full year. And you were in what was called “training.”
So, that was the commitment, long before the games. They’d do it, so at the very end, in front of thousands of people, they would take a wreath – not gold. It was – they would use part of a an olive tree, and they would stick it on your head to declare you as the champion, to get the praise of people. They’d do it; they’d go into training. They’re self-controlled. They’d rearrange their time, their eating, their habits, their focus, their family, to get a perishable wreath, “but we, an imperishable.” And he’s picturing the Judgment Seat of Christ and the reward for the sons and daughters of the King.
So, here’s his personal application: “Therefore I run” – notice – “in such a way” – what’s that? It’s repeated again. It’s a manner of life. How do I do life? How do I put my schedule together? What are my priorities? See, “I run in such a way” – notice – “as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I [buffet] my body” – and the phrase is interesting in the original text. Literally, it’s a battering to black and blue. He’s making a little hyperbole, here – “and [I] make it my slave.”
In other words, my body’s not gonna tell me I gotta go to the refrigerator. My body’s not gonna tell me ‘cause I’m tired, I gotta turn on the TV. My body and my emotions are not gonna tell me how to live my life. I’m gonna be in control , by the Spirit of God, to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, so that I can have a wreath from the King of kings, that says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” I can have the kind of marriage that God wants for me. I can have the kind of kids who’ll say, “I wish I had a dad or a mom like that.” I can have employees who say, “Now, there is someone who runs a company God’s way.” Get it?
He goes on to say, “After I have preached to others – I buffet my body; I make it my slave.” He’s talking about the self-control – lest possibly “after [I’ve] preached to others, I myself [should] be disqualified.” Not speaking of his salvation, whatsoever. Disqualified as, “You know what? I’m not in the game, not making a difference.” I mean, all of us want to say, “Well, Paul, are you kidding me, man?” I mean, right? By now, he’s probably got five, six, seven New Testament books written. “You’re one of our heroes. You’re the greatest missionary entrepreneur of all time.” And he realizes it never ends – the pull of the flesh, the draw of the Spirit, the pull of the world, the draw of the Spirit.
Let me make a couple observations, and then, I want to get this very practical. Notice, he has a clear-cut goal – verse 24: to win. Notice verse 25: There is a focus on the prize. He lives consciously, with a sense of reward: “There’s something I want to get. There’s something I want to become.” Notice, verse 25 and 26: There’s a motive. And his motives are the eternal versus the temporal, right? An imperishable, versus a perishable. And then, finally, notice the – the personal application. He basically says, “I have clear-cut goals. I don’t beat the air. I don’t run aimlessly. I’m not jogging, here. I know exactly where I’m going.” Second, he focuses on the reward: “So that I’ll get that.” And third, he ponders the consequences of, “What if I don’t do this? What if I don’t do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am disqualified for service?” And from that passage alone, if you honestly, in your heart of hearts, wanna learn to put first things first – everything from your money, to your time, to your relationships, to ministry, and to work – I will tell you, the apostle Paul is outlining for us exactly how to do it.
Advance decision making, we said, is the key. Notice, it begins with clear-cut objectives. Now, let me give you a couple examples of advance decision making.
I made an advance decision: I’ll be with God before I’ll be with people. That’s my advance decision with my time. “Hey, can we get together tomorrow? I’ve got a big business deal. We want you to meet so and so and so and so, and da-da-da – we’re gonna meet at Sunstreet for an hour.” Okay. Advance decision: I’m gonna meet with God before I meet with people. Boy, that really backs things up. But I just found, when I start getting with people, I get pulled. I need to meet with God first.
Second advance decision: I will give the first portion of every check to God. We predecided, by faith, either I trust God, I believe in God, or I don’t. He needs to have my heart. He doesn’t have my heart unless He has my money. And we’ve been on this journey of giving the first portion because we want to. Because we actually believe there’s an eternity, and we actually believe there’s a reward, and we actually believe you can send it on ahead, ‘cause Jesus said so.
So, what predecisions would God want you to make?
You know, my dad – I really saw God do a great thing in his life. . . it was really hard – he was in World War II and became an alcoholic. And I remember when he quit. And then, he just made some predecisions. You know, all of his buddies, he just said, “I can’t go to Pete’s Bar and Grill. I like hanging out with you guys, but I can’t go there and maintain victory.”
And we all have those areas. I have a very, very good friend who does not have Internet at his house. And you’re thinking, How do you do life? Well, he had a porn problem for two years. And he just predecided, I just can’t have it in my house.”
But if you wanna be disciplined, you have to make some predecisions, and here’s the key: Let the predecisions grow out of clear-cut objectives. My experience is, so often, what they grow out of is guilt and other people’s expectations, and this thought of, Why I oughta do this. And you know, that won’t keep you. What are your clear-cut goals?
I would encourage you to develop a “to-be” list. I know you do “to-do” lists, or at least most of you do. It was 1986. Obviously, Prof Hendricks of Dallas Seminary’s had a big impact.
It was a brown-bag lunch. I was with 12 other guys. We were talking about life and ministry and being husbands and fathers, and what we were supposed to be, what we wanted to do. And I’ll never forget, Prof put these four words up on the board and then, he basically said, “Guys, (A), get grace down. God loves you at this moment as much as He’ll ever love you. Okay? Let that sink in. Gentlemen, you can’t impress Him. Reading longer, praying longer, effective ministries – doesn’t change His love. So, what you need to do, first, is get rooted and grounded in that you are loved and accepted, that you are His son.” We were all men in the room at the time. He says, “Then, you need to ask, how do you say thank you, and what do you wanna do with your life? What do you wanna be? What do you wanna be? “
And it hit me, ‘cause I was focused – accomplishments are about doing, doing, doing, doing. And I remember driving home – I can almost tell you where I was on the freeway, out of 175, driving out toward that little town in Kaufman, and I started thinking, What do I really wanna be? I mean, out loud in the car, you know, talks with God? I thought, I wanna be a man of God. That’s what I wanna be. I wanna be a man of God. I wanna be one of those people God would say, “Chip fulfilled God’s purposes. Chip had a heart for Me.”
And then, I thought, I wanna be a great husband. I want a great marriage. I wanna be a great husband. I had three kids at the time. I wanna be a great father. And then, I got kind of bold, and I thought, I wanna be a great pastor. I don’t wanna be an okay one. I wanna be a great pastor. And then I took my want-to-bes, I wanna be a great friend. I wanna be in shape the rest of my life. And then, I put my “to-bes” on my calendar. For me. You can do it any way – To be a man of God, I’m gonna meet with God, and I blocked off these mornings. And to be a great husband . . . It takes a lot more, and it’s relational. I blocked off Friday, and I had a date with Theresa, and we had a three- or four-hour block every Friday, all the time I pastored. And then, I put my kids in my calendar. And then, I blocked off all day Wednesday, half Thursday - I wanna preach great messages.
And I remember thinking, I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna write – this is an old card, 1986. It’s my desire cards. And it’s, “Delight yourself in the Lord; He’ll give you the desires of your heart.” What if I started writing on cards what I wanna be? That I knew for sure is God’s will. I’m not gonna memorize ‘em. I’m coming out of being a workaholic after three years. I don’t wanna memorize ‘em. I don’t wanna demand ‘em. I’m not gonna say they’re goals. I’m just gonna tell God, “These are desires of my heart,” and then, I’m gonna let Him sort of gravitate.
At night, I would just read these over, and then, during the day, now and then, and if I missed a day, who cares? But three or four or five times a week, I’m reading these over.
“I want to be a worshiper. I want to enjoy God more, sing of His greatness, ascribe worth and praise to Him.” ‘Cause it didn’t come naturally to me. “I’d like to become habitually thankful, as a matter of subconscious response to all life’s circumstances and relationships, in light of the goodness and the sovereignty of God.” I just wanna become – my subconscious reaction to everything: thank you. “I want to learn to take time and schedule in enjoyable, fun, refreshing activities, without feeling guilty about them or what others might think.”
“I long to see each of my children hunger and thirst for righteousness and know deep in their souls how loved, significant, and valued they are in Christ, not because of anything or anyone.” “I’d like to become more joyfully disciplined in praying for longer seasons of time, and learn the joy of simply resting in and enjoying my relationship with Jesus.” “I wanna stop caring about what others think and apply myself, my schedule, to what will make me the best I can be, to honor God the most.”
“I want to be and grow free of the invisible expectations that I allow to hinder my joy, my freedom, my schedule, and for pursuing the best.” “I want to become more authentic in every aspect of my life” – 1 Corinthians 10:12, where Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” “I’d like to view others in light of their eternity and needs, instead of by their outward appearance, possessions, status, or –”
Do you get the idea? What would happen if you did that? If God says He’ll give you the desires of your heart, what if you wrote down what you really wanna be? And I can tell you, as I would read these over – I just have to confess, I wasn’t trying to pray, but I would just start gravitating toward praying these things for my kids. Clear-cut objectives.
What do you “want to”? You wanna be a great mom? You wanna have a great marriage? You wanna build a godly, great business? You wanna be a great employee? You wanna have great kids? Write down those desires. Get a clear-cut objective. And then, all of a sudden, “Yeah, a little sacrifice with our finances. Yeah, we can get on a budget.” ‘Cause it ties into the clear-cut objective.
Second is, then, focus on the reward, like Paul did. Imagine, picture in your heart and mind the success. Reward yourself along the way. When we get this discipline, it’s like back – when I did real well in something – it takes six weeks to develop any habit. Okay? Getting up in the morning, whatever. When I did real well, and it was hard to discipline myself, and all these pulls, I would reward myself.
In California – I met this older guy, godly guy, wise, gave oversight to these big companies in the past, and he was my leadership guru. Every Thursday morning, if my outline was done by 6:30 A.M., we played nine holes of golf. And the first two or three holes, we’d talk about stuff. Then, I would go through my message, and then, the last three holes, I’d give him all my leadership issues. And he’d put his arm around me, and had kids my age, and I gotta tell you, a lot of times, I was up at 4:00 in the morning, at my little doughnut shop, finishing up my outline so I could be with Dick.
And then, if I did these things, “We’re gonna treat ourselves, and we’re gonna go out to eat, and guess what? Yeah, we’ve been saving; we’ve been budgeting, but it’s steak all around! We’re gonna have a blast!” And you know, “If we do this, Honey – da-da-da – we’re gonna save up. You and I, we’re gonna go away.”
Plan in some rewards and have a blast! What happens, you live with all this guilt, and you don’t know – and so we do too many fun things to escape stuff, instead of reward ourselves and enjoy what God’s giving us.
The key to discipline – delayed gratification. The key to delayed gratification – advance decision making. How do you make advance decisions? One, clear-cut objectives. Two, reward yourself along the way. Three – and this is very important – advance decision making becomes personal and a conviction when you ponder the consequences. Ponder the consequences. The apostle Paul says – he ponders: Without a clear-cut goal, if I don’t buffet my body – I don’t think he liked that.
If I don’t discipline myself, if I don’t say “no” to the refrigerator, say “no” to the emotions, say “no” to the quick fix, say “no” to that everything and anyone that wants to run from this marriage issue, to say “no” to delaying talking to one of my kids, to say “no” to sitting down and saying, “You know what? I need a day away to figure out, what am I on Earth for, and what am I gonna do with my life?” You gotta say “no” to all the pressures, and then, give yourself permission and come up with a plan. Clear goal. Focus on the rewards.
And then, I remember sharing this with our church, and it’d be different now. I guess I would have to say “grandkids.” But one of my great fears is – just ‘cause I see people fall financially or morally – is, I have this picture in my mind of all my kids on a couch – and I guess now, the couch gotta be really big so their kids... And bending over with my knees, and they’re on the couch, and I’m explaining to them how I really do love God and I have been preaching God’s Word for a lot of years, but it was just a weak moment, and I’m really sorry, and I know I’ve embarrassed God.
I know I’ve embarrassed the Kingdom. I know that everything I’ve ever taught you – this behavior and what I just did, and now it’s in the papers, and… And I visualize telling my kids, eyeball to eyeball – and now, grandkid to grandkid – that I blew it, and I fell. It scares me to death. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
You need to ponder – you know, you think of that one – raise the ante. Imagine what it’s gonna be like when Jesus is sitting on the couch, and you’re explaining to Him why you didn’t have time to fulfill your purpose, and how you were gonna get around to getting on a budget and getting your finances straight, and dreaming the dream, and discovering your purpose, but you just had too many emails to answer and too many committee meetings to go to, and too many kids to run around to all these activities. And I don’t know about you, I want gold, silver, and precious stones. I don’t want wood, hay, and stubble. But it takes discipline. That’s how you put first things first.