By Caitlin Meadows
My little boy, Hudson is 20 months old. That said, it won’t surprise you that he has not yet developed a life skill parents grow to deeply appreciate. Patience. Hudson has none yet. The kid is pure impulse. Patience is something my husband and I are attempting to cultivate in him. We get to cultivate it in him when we have to cook our food before we eat it. Or when we have to drive 15 minutes first for him to see his grandparents. We cultivate it in him when I have to finish unloading the laundry before I hold him or change his diaper before he can go back to playing. He doesn’t know it yet, but what he is after is instant gratification. And with that desire — that inward demand — he fits right into the culture around him.
The desire for instant gratification is in our human nature. We want what we want and we aim to get it in the quickest, easiest manner possible. Wait for it? Work for it? Only if we must.
Eve wanted to be like God (Genesis 3:1-7). Esau wanted to be fed (Genesis 25:29-34). David wanted sexual fulfillment (2 Samuel 11). And each biblical example suffered immensely for attempting to fulfill their desires their own way in their own time.
21ST CENTURY, FIRST WORLD CULTURE
One of the defining characteristics of our culture is that, in most circumstances, we are able to achieve instant gratification. As Amber Riggs noted in the most recent Artios Conversation video, the convenience of the Internet has fed our desire for instant gratification as a culture. The Internet provides answers for basically every question. Simple research takes minutes when it used to take hours or even days. Ours is a culture of microwaves and fast food, freeways and jet planes. Catchy slogans like L’Oréal Paris’ “Because you’re worth it!” 1 and Burger King’s “Have it your way!” fuel societal beliefs that we are entitled to what we desire when we desire it.
But all of this describes secular culture, right? Christians are not ruled by the expectation of instant gratification, are they? Jesus-followers are collectively patient and self-controlled… right?
IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF IT
The adage that the Church should be “in the world but not of the world” assumes the two can co-exist without intermixing. But is this what we’re called to and is this realistic?
In his article, “Let’s Revise the Popular Phrase, ‘In the World but not of the World’” David Mathis offers this insight based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
So maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase ‘in, but not of’’ in this way: ‘not of, but sent into.’ The beginning place is being ‘not of the world,’ and the movement is toward being ‘sent into’ the world. The accent falls on being sent, with a mission, to the world — not being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.”
In John 17:15 Jesus prayerfully asks the Father not to take His disciples — who are not of the world — out of it but to keep them from the evil one.
CHRISTIANS SHOULD CARE ABOUT CULTURE
Not only should Christians care about culture because we are called to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) but because our Christian culture is influenced by the broader culture around it.
Why isn’t it realistic for church culture and worldly culture to be totally independent of each other?
Israel Steinmetz explains it this way: “Because almost 100% of church culture is shaped by worldly culture.”
He goes on to define culture:
Culture is everything that makes up a unique society… So in that sense, it is true that the church can and does have a unique culture. And in some ways it’s unique to each local congregation. But those local congregations find themselves within a larger church culture, which is in a larger surrounding national culture, ethnic culture…”
Because our Christian, church culture is influenced by the broader culture around us — even the secular elements — we must care about it. It affects us in our daily lives. It affects our relationships with the Lord, our relationships with each other, and our relationships with the very people Jesus is sending us out into the world to point back to Him.
INSTANT GRATIFICATION AND OTHER CULTURAL INFLUENCES
So, is it wrong to be influenced by the broader culture around us? More specifically, is it wrong for the expectation of instant gratification to be an aspect of Christian culture?
Personally, I love that I can go to Google or BibleGateway.com for a quick keyword search to locate a Scripture I can’t recall or aid in topical Bible study. But with these conveniences, I have neglected to memorize Scripture like my grandma so diligently encouraged me to do as a child. Just like memorizing phone numbers, why bother if it’s just a click away? But memorization is beneficial (for a number of reasons). So, I can begin to utilize these instantaneous tools to aid me in Scripture memorization. But I should not neglect time studying the Word because it is less convenient than a quick online search. There are benefits beyond saving time and energy that I miss out on when I jump to the computer keyboard instead.
When it comes to prayer, I’ll admit that the expectation of instant gratification has challenged me. I want God to work in my time. I want His response to be clear, concise, and a click away. And so, my prayers can become stale, self-centered, and impersonal.
God doesn’t work my way, thankfully! He isn’t Google and He certainly isn’t fast food. God doesn’t need to adjust to my expectation, I need to adjust to His ways and His leading. Even when that takes time and energy. Thank God that I can go to Him immediately in prayer, offering Him thanksgiving and presenting my requests. And, as Philippians 4:6-7 promises (a Scripture that I do have memorized) the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard my heart and mind thanks to Jesus Christ. Which is so much better than getting the thing I want when I want it, anyway.
OTHER CULTURAL ISSUES
There is a plethora of other cultural influences that the Christian culture debates. These debates are healthy and good. They provide accountability and stimulate reflection, contemplation, and study in individual disciples. We face evolving music genres, clothing trends, and slang. And those are just a few of the many aspects of each culture. Are these aspects bad or ungodly? In some instances, yes. In others, no. Each aspect deserves prayerful, Scriptural scrutiny by each believer. But far be it from us to bury our heads in the sand of our own beliefs and neglect to go into our complex culture for the sake of making new Christian disciples.
SENT INTO THE WORLD
Culture, as Israel explains, is not bad. It is simply every element that makes up a society. While, because of the presence of evil in our world, there are negative aspects of every culture, that does not mean Jesus-followers should ignore it. Rather, we should be paying attention and prayerfully influencing the culture around us for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.