End of term is almost here, delighted to tell you that I'm spending part of the summer break in Uganda visiting the Kampala Christian Orphanage, really looking forward to this as you might imagine! So lots more about this visit here on Facebook shortly.
Meanwhile, on Friday I was very pleased to speak at full school assembly under the heading of 'making good choices', please see below pretty well what I said, as always, any comments very welcome!
Desires, I suggest, come in two broad categories. There is the immediate desire for things I want right now. I feel thirsty so I want to drink. I feel hungry so I want to eat. I feel tired so I want to rest or sleep. I’m bored so I want to be entertained. A thought comes into my mind so I want to say it straightaway.
Alongside these immediate desires are long term desires, aspirations, ambitions, goals. These would include passing GCSEs, A levels, degrees, getting onto the desired training course, having a successful career, playing the piano, being a sportsperson at a high level. These are all examples of desires which can only be achieved over a long period of time with sustained effort.
Making good choices, resulting in a flourishing, fulfilling life is a matter of working out what your long term goals are and then managing – even overriding – your immediate desires in order to achieve those long term goals. To take an example, if you have a long term desire to play the piano to a high standard, then you have to put in a large number hours in practising, maybe ½ hour a day 5 or 6 days a week going over many years. In that practice it is essential to play scales and arpeggios over and over again so that important aspects of piano playing technique, initially really cumbersome, eventually become automatic. Let’s be realistic here. You cannot reasonably expect, every time you sit at the piano stool, actively to want to practise and you may well much prefer, at that particular point in time, to watch TV or play video games. So, to achieve the long term goal of playing the piano you have to find ways of managing your immediate desires. How do we do this? No magical answers, but let me suggest a few. Parents, carers and teachers can help in creating a regular routine, including a system of rewards – and maybe sanctions also – around the practice. I can tell myself that, if I practise for ½ hour, then at the end of that time I can do something which I more immediately want to do. I can visualise the future in which hundreds of people applaud me when I play the piano at virtuoso level, and that can inspire me to keep on practising. However we do it, we need to find ways of prioritising the end goal and then manage more immediate desires.
Now, I was your age about 40 years ago, and in those 40 years one of the key changes which has taken place is that, to a much greater extent now than then, we are able to have what we want when we want to have it. So, when I was your age, watching a particular TV programme meant being in front of a TV set at a particular time, video recorders, DVDs, multi-channel TV and streaming services were all in an unimagined future. Similarly, receiving a phone call meant being within reach of a handset plugged into the wall, no answer machines, caller id, cordless or mobile phones then! The idea that, if I want to read a book, we can press a few buttons on an electronic device rather than go to the library or bookshop was completely unimaginable. No Internet enabling a vast amount of information – good, bad and indifferent – to come directly to us as we remain seated behind a screen, or to buy things which are then delivered to the door. No instant communications anywhere in the world – so, when I went to Indonesia for short term missionary service at the age of 18, it took a minimum of 2 weeks to exchange letters. No background tracks on keyboards which, in the early days of playing the piano, give an illusion of a much higher level of achievement than has actually taken place.
So in some respects things have changed considerably, it is much easier to satisfy immediate desires straightaway than it used to be. But in other respects things have not changed at all. It remains the case, and always will remain the case, that, if you want to achieve at high levels in any field – academic, career, music, sports, drama, dance, anything – you need to put in sustained effort over a considerable period of time, devoting hours to your goal when there are many, more immediately enjoyable things you could be doing. Being a top rate swimmer means putting in a large number of hours in the pool first thing in the morning when you would probably much prefer still to be in bed. Doing well academically means spending hours studying into the evening rather than playing Fortnite. There are no short cuts here – but you, to a much greater extent than me when I was your age, you are fed the lie that there are shortcuts in having what you want when I want to suggest that there are not.
In Hebrews chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 we read the following:
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So the long term goal for Jesus was being restored to His rightful place at God the Father’s right hand in heaven, achieving that long term goal involved huge suffering, including being tortured to death. For us the long term goal is living out a Christian life, which is compared here to a long distance race. If we are to achieve that long term goal, we need to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’. Or put another way, we need to manage, even override our immediate desires in order to achieve our long term goal of following Jesus Christ.
Here we are three working days before a 6 week break. For many of you, I suspect, this offers the opportunity to give in to immediate desires, spending all your time lying in bed, watching TV, playing video games and other such activities, so that you will return in September with nothing to show for the time off. Let me challenge you, therefore, to set yourself a goal over the summer, whether it be in sport, music, art, reading and writing, or whatever it might be, and then arrange your immediate desires around this goal in order to accomplish something this holiday. This is the path to making good choices over this period of time.
And beyond this, looking forward to adult life, can I challenge you to make good choices by setting yourselves ambitious long term goals, working out what you want to achieve in life. You then need to work out how to manage your immediate desires in order to achieve these goals. And my hope and prayer for all of you is that your long term goals include being a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In a moment I will conclude with a prayer. Before I do so, I will pause briefly to ask you to consider – what goals can you set for yourself over the coming summer holiday? And how will you manage your immediate desires in order to accomplish those goals?
Father, we thank You for making us the people we are, with our talents, gifts, enthusiasms and desires. We pray for your help, over the coming summer period, that we would have the discipline to set ourselves a goal and then manage our immediate desires in order to achieve that goal. In the Name of Your Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.