[Today is the 3rd part of a three-part series on joy that began earlier this summer. I took a small break between completing the series, so if you need to refresh your memory, you can revisit PART 1 and PART 2 to get caught up.] In the first two posts about pleasure, we talked about the two extremes we must avoid. The first is the belief that everything in life is ultimately about my pleasure. This is extreme expresses itself when people make every decision based on how much pleasure they will receive from it. As Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is no amount of pleasure that will every satisfy our lives and this extreme must be avoided.
The second extreme is equally unsatisfying, and that is the belief that we should avoid all pleasure, or that somehow, by not taking pleasure in things, we will be more spiritual. God created things for our pleasure, for our enjoyment, and we insult our Creator’s gifts and power when we choose to be without joy over the work He has done, and is doing!
So what’s the middle ground? How can we take pleasure in this life, without letting pleasure consume us? How can we learn to say “no” to things without saying “no” to everything? How do we find balance when it comes to pleasure?
Beats me. But here are a few concepts that help me, and maybe they will help you:
- Remember, joy and pleasure are gifts from God: James 1:17 reminds us that all our good and perfect gifts are given to us by God. God is a giver of good things. In Philippians, Paul tells us, repeatedly, to “rejoice in the Lord!” In Philippians 3:1 he says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” Then in Philippians 4:4 he says, “Rejoice in the lord, always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Joy and pleasure are gifts from God -- He expects us to enjoy them!
- Moderation and self-control are central to keeping pleasure in its place: Without self-control, pleasure can too easily become the drive in our life’s direction. Pleasure can consume us and ultimately, take us away from the path God has laid out for us. Did you ever see the Johnny Depp version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”? In the movie, Willie Wonka the benevolent chocolatier, played by Depp, is going to give away his chocolate empire to one worthy child. He holds a contest and several children win the chance to come to the chocolate factory to be “tested” by Willie to determine who will be the new king/queen of chocolate. One of the winners is a rather large, chocolate-loving child from germany. In fact, he won by eating thousands of chocolate bars in order to find the winning ticket that was put inside 5 special bars. In the first part of the tour, the children are guided into a room made entirely of candy. The grass. The trees. The flowers. The soil. Everything is made of candy, centered on a flowing river made entirely of chocolate. The young boy from Germany cannot resist the temptation, and although warned by Willie to avoid it, he runs instantly to the river and plunges himself into the chocolate he so loves. The plunge costs him his chance at chocolate greatness and he is the first child eliminated from being the next heir of Willie’s empire. It’s a silly movie (that I strangely enjoyed), but it repeatedly illustrates this truth: The pursuit of pleasure will destroy a life, but self-control can bring balance. Solomon spent over 20 years of life pursuing pleasure. In Ecclesiastes 2 he says he refused himself nothing in the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasures that included entertainment, sex, money, work, fine living and more. At the end of it all, he found emptiness and not a hint of satisfaction. It’s no mistake that Peter tells us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control....” (2 Peter 1:5). Self-control gives us the freedom to enjoy the pleasures of life, without being consumed by them.
- Thankfulness keeps us mindful of God’s provision of pleasure: Paul wrote in 1 Thess 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances...” We usually take the “give thanks” command as something we are to do in tough circumstances. But notice Paul says to do so, “in all circumstances” -- even the good ones! God’s children should be the most thankful people on the planet! When’s the last time you gave God a hearty “thank you” after you took pleasure in something He provided? We often pray before our meals, but have you ever thanked God after a meal? Have you ever had a wonderful steak, grilled to perfection, and sat back from the table and said, “Thank you God for that wonderful meal?” We should be a thankful people, and especially when pleasure is involved. I am confident, that gratitude and thankfulness are huge keys in putting pleasure in its right perspective in our lives!
Life is full of opportunities to enjoy. When you and I live in faith, grabbing the sides of the boat and taking the plunge onto the water, we will experience joy and pleasure like never before, and that’s how God intended it! However, the pursuit of pleasure can be destructive to a life, and the Overboard life must be marked by faith, not by fun. Pursuing faith first, will provide the fun; but pursuing the fun first, will destroy the faith. Let’s enjoy this wonderful life, and let’s enjoy it in a way that honors our creator God.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always more fun on the water!