Take No Shortcuts to Success: A Reflection on 1 Samuel 26
Success: The Sooner, the Better?
Every one wants to be successful in life. We think that the sooner one gets it, the better. We want to get everything we want without so much hassle. We are impatient creatures. We like instant results, instant noodles, instant coffee, et cetera. However, given the proper motivation, we can suffer waiting if the end goal is holistically better than what we have in mind. Take these kids, for example:
The Principle of Delayed Gratification
The experiment above is originally done by Walter Mischel, a professor from Stanford University. It is called The Marshmallow Experiment. The experiment is primarily a study on delayed gratification.
Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, describes the process that the subject undergoes when the subject resists the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward ("Delayed gratification," 2019).
What made the experiment interesting, however, is not the initial test results but what the follow up studies revealed years later. The researchers made a follow up study on the children in their adult life. It turned out that the children who decided to delay gratification lived a better, successful life than those to did not resist temptation (Clear, 2011).
Delayed Gratification in the Bible
The Bible is full of stories reinforcing the principle of delayed gratification. In fact, one may conclude that God Himself is an advocate of this character. He could just snap His fingers and deal away with all evil in the world, but He has a better plan in mind. In addition, He Himself promotes delayed gratification to characters seen in the Bible. From Adam to Zechariah, we read stories of people made to wait for something better. There are no shortcuts allowed to their success.
In this article, we will reflect on a particular story of success from a man called David.
Success in the Story of David
David is one of the most famous characters in the Bible. His story is one of those rags to riches stories we love telling about. He was a shepherd boy. As the youngest among his siblings, an unfortunate status in that ancient culture, he has to live under the shadows of his elder brothers. However, much to his brothers' surprise, he was chosen to become the next king. He rose to prominence when he defeated the giant Goliath. Yet, as secure as his future already was, he took the long road before sitting as the rightful king. Fame led him to become envied and persecuted by the incumbent king, Saul. He literally became the most wanted man at that time.
Right after David killed Goliath and before we get to the chapter this article is focusing on, the Bible describes David as a successful man already. He became an officer of Saul and got many followers. 1 Samuel 18 describes how David was successful. The word "success" appears four times in this chapter and all of them refer to David. Interestingly though, the word for "success" in this chapter also means "act wisely" or "behaved wisely or skillfully." We can see that by comparing Bible translations. That says a lot about how the Bible defines success. In turn, it is that success that caused David to make a run for his life. Saul started going after David's head.
How Challenges Complements Success
In the chapters before 1 Samuel 26, we can find how David was the favorite among the people. But in this chapter, we will find that one cannot please everybody. The "people of Ziph" are among David's haters (1 Samuel 26:1). These are the people who told Saul, where David was hiding.
Not only that, when Saul found out where David was, he assembled three thousand men just to hunt for him. Saul is very determined to take David out. Imagine yourself being hunted by three thousand men. It's like John Wick without guns.
We can see here that success does not come along easily. Most of the time, we have to go through difficulties in order to get to the place where we find real success. Challenges always come with success. Clearly, God did not promise a trouble-free life but a victorious one. Victory does not mean going through it all without a fight.
Success and Our Choices
Success always involves character. That is why the word "success" also means "behaving wisely" in the Bible and particularly in the Hebrew culture. Success is not just achieving something we aim for but also how we behave when the goal is within our grasp. The choices we make reveal our real character. Our character determines our attitude to and with success.
The choices we make reveal our character and perspective about success.
In the sixth to thirteenth verse of First Samuel 26, we will find David in the brink of achieving victory over Saul. The death of Saul means David's kingship. It was David's golden opportunity to end all his troubles in just one strike. Besides, it is not David himself who would do the killing but one of his men who volunteered, exempting David from personal blame. He was literally staring at Saul as he sleeps. Imagine yourself staring at the person who is causing you misery as he sleeps. Can you bear staying there without doing something crazy?
But here we find David's humble and loyal character. He would not have the king, his persecutor. His words to Saul and his men was: "The LORD rewards us for the things we do right and for our loyalty to Him" (1 Samuel 26:23 NCV). Success requires hard choices. David chose God's reward over his personal agenda.
Take No Shortcuts to Success
Sometimes we want to take matters quickly in our own hands. Most of the time, we end in failure. There are no shortcuts to success. If there is, it is cheating. We must learn to face and accept challenges no matter how difficult they are. We must choose to do what is right and not what brings us temporary pleasures.
Our journey to success takes every step no matter how small they are. We do not have to take a shortcut. David traveled through all the hard road he has to take. Through that road, God forged him to be a man of character.
Clear, J. (2018, July 13). The Marshmallow Experiment and the Power of Delayed Gratification. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
Delayed gratification. (2019). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_gratification. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
© 2019 Red Fernan