In the late 1960s and early 1970s at Stanford University, Austrian-born American psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a series of experiments now referred to as the “marshmallow tests.”
The experiments went like this: he put a single marshmallow on a plate in front of a child. He then told the child that they could either eat the one marshmallow now, or they could wait ten minutes and get two marshmallows.
Some waited, while others ate the marshmallow right away. Then Mischel tracked each child’s success in life through factors like SAT scores, educational attainment and body mass index (BMI).
What he found was striking. The children who could wait the ten minutes to get the two marshmallows led significantly more successful lives—even when accounting for other factors like IQ score.
The implication? Self-control really matters. If you have the self-discipline to delay your gratification—like some of the kids did by not eating the marshmallow right away—chances are good you will have a more successful life.
What can this experiment teach us about giving?
In the midst of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers this jewel in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I wonder if our Lord had the future Doctor Mischel at least partly in mind when he said those words almost 2000 years ago. Like the children in the experiments, Jesus implores us to wait for the future in heaven rather than indulging in what the world has to offer today. It’s not much of a stretch to apply the same teaching to giving.
We can certainly choose to spend all of our income on fancy automobiles, palatial houses, exotic vacations and sumptuous meals; but cars and homes require constant maintenance, travel is fleeting and you can only eat so much caviar. On the other hand, giving a small portion of our income back to God on a regular basis is an investment in His everlasting kingdom. We won’t receive a reward today or even in our lifetime, but, as Jesus indicates in the passage, our hearts will be in the right place. The fact is our regular demonstration of self-control— including self-control with money—is a symbol of our trust in God’s holy provision for the future. Besides, as King Solomon discovered, without discipline, our pursuit of worldly treasures is a chasing after the wind.
In case you’re wondering—like I was as I was researching this meditation, the end result of the “marshmallow test” was the same with other delicious treats like Oreo cookies or M&Ms. What a relief!
I guess the Apostle Paul was really on to something when he penned Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
As we strive each day to cultivate these fruits in our own lives, let us not forget to apply self-control to our finances, too. Think of an offering as a contribution to your future retirement…in heavenly eternity!