One of the most famous experiments ever done to understand the human psyche is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In this study, a marshmallow and a bell were placed in front of a preschool child. The instructions were as follows: if the child wanted to eat the marshmallow in front of them after the adult left the room, they only need to ring the bell to gain permission; however, if they waited for the adult to return to the room on his/her own, about fifteen minutes later, then they would receive an additional marshmallow for their wait, essentially doubling their pleasure. A seemingly simple experiment became a tortuous endeavor for these children. Initially, almost all the children tried to wait, but the longer they watched the door and thought about the marshmallow, disbelief and displeasure began to fill their minds. The ones who were ultimately successful looked in a different direction, sang a song, or reframed their desires, all of which helped to ultimately endure to receive their reward in full. Conversely, some were overcome with their desire or doubt; they rang the bell and received a lesser reward.
Matthew Chapter 7, our reading for today, contains a handful of verses we will most likely wrestle with at some point in our lives when our metaphorical marshmallow is placed in front of us. Yesterday’s devotion showed us God’s provision, but there is a distinction here that appears in times where we appeal to God for greater things, beyond bread or fish (Matt 7:9): the search for a spouse, selection of a college or career, the growth of a church or ministry, the health of a loved one, the birth of a child or wisdom in a difficult situation. All of these have a biblical basis as blessings from God, the giver of “good gifts to those who ask” (Matt 7:11), so we might suspect for these to move up God’s priority list. The only requirements are we ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7:7). Initially, these three actions seems the same, but through my own appeals, I have come to realize these in fact may be steps of a larger process.
First, you must ask. While our action and efforts show our faith, if we bring God in, we are no longer in control (or under the illusion that we are in control). By making our request known to our Heavenly Father, we begin to have peace with the “marshmallow” that passes our comprehension of the situation (Phil 4:6-7). We are settled knowing that if we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father will not only hear our request, but has already placed our desire within the scope of his will and eternal plan (John 14:12-14). You will receive it.
Next, you must seek. We are to search for God’s will in our lives which is much larger than a single request. It is so easy to be consumed with a single desire and measure your faith and relationship with God by it. He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), so we must look away from the “marshmallow”, and look towards God’s kingdom as the first priority for our lives. By daily searching for God and His perfect and pleasing will, we will ultimately collide with the desire of our heart at the single most opportune moment which is mutually benefiting God’s kingdom and us. You will find it.
Finally, knock, which is by far the most difficult of the three. You must patiently wait and trust God. As we wait, the rain will come down, maybe harder than ever, the floods will come up, maybe higher than ever, and the wind beat against the house, maybe stronger than ever, and the foundation of our lives will be exposed (Matt 7:24-29). These are the moments that make or break a faith. To endure the storm, we must be persistent in our prayer lives, even when we are frustrated. We are to be fervent in our discipleship, even when our will is depleted. We must share our faith, even if we have moments of doubt. We will not “earn” our reward, but they give us the strength to continue to stand at the door knocking, waiting for God’s perfect timing, the delayed gratification, the moment when faith becomes sight. And soon enough, He will open the door.
The children who participated in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment were later studied as teens and adults. There were some startling correlations with the group that found their way to endure to the end, delaying their reward until a more pleasing moment. They were better able to cope with stress, more likely to be fulfilled in the work, less likely to be impulsive or aggressive, and less likely to be addicted or become divorced. As we wait for our good and perfect gift from above, God may be moving heaven and earth to bless us (2 Kings 20:1-11). The problem is He is on the other side of the door, and all we can see is the marshmallow. It is so easy to become focused on this one thing and forget about the promise. There is so much blessing waiting in the waiting. Our focus changes, we become disciplined, we find ways to sing while stressed, we become fulfilled in God – blessing or not. We are focused by and consumed with God, not the marshmallow. Then the door opens and we remember the promise, and we see our reward and how His plan was so good. God delays our gratification, not to experiment or simply because He can but to show us He truly is the giver of the greatest gifts to those who ask, and he will double or exponentially multiply the reward. Don’t give in and ring the bell – Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find it. Knock, and the door will be opened.