Connecting with someone before they get whisked into a meeting is less than ideal when they reveal something you had been blind to. She told me she was once as into ‘it’ as I am. That my expressions were once hers. Sadness played on her smile as she continued. Something pushed her away from it, from Him. It was a guilty pleasure, she said. She spoke with a conviction even I override now and then, “Presumptuous sinning is wrong, God charges you for it more than the ignorant, I can’t be in God’s face like that.” Yet here she was, not as ‘committed’ as I am. The thing is, I felt she was talking about me.
God and I disagree on what pleasures are acceptable, even if I don’t do the things myself. I ask things like, “What’s so wrong about having the last dumpling covered in curried chicken gravy even if I am full, or hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, or a glass of wine now and then, or masturbating, (that’s not technically fornication if it’s just one person), I add, or buying the 3rd outfit with no use for it, or binge watching a series that is ‘clean’ but says nothing about God or stalking celebrity pages that promote nothing I stand for or at worst, is fashionable pornography or watching an all-night funny cat video marathon? Come on! They are just cats!” If my conscience could be silent, I would get away without feeling guilty too. But there is something God wanted to teach me about the human desire.
“St. Thomas says [I-II, Q.34, a.4] that a man is good when his will takes joy in what is good, evil when his will takes joy in what is evil. He is virtuous when he finds happiness in a virtuous life, sinful when he takes pleasure in a sinful life. Hence the things that we love tell us what we are.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude, Pg. 11
I find pleasure in things that have nothing to do with God because they make me happy. I would go further to say, even more than the things that honor Him. But this is something I am far from comfortable with. Authors Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey shares about a pleasure/pain experiment:
“Then, somewhat characteristically, he recruited volunteers among the female students who agreed to let him stimulate the nerves of the clitoris electrically. To his surprise, he found no nerve ending that could be designated a “pleasure nerve.” In fact, the main feature of the erogenous landscape was an abundance of the free nerve endings normally associated with pain.
Weddell concluded that sexual pleasure, too, is more perception than sensation. Sensors of touch, temperature, and pain dutifully record the mechanical aspects of one body coming into con- tact with another. But pleasure involves an interpretation of those reports, a process heavily dependent on subjective factors such as anticipation, fear, memory, guilt, and love. Physiologically, sexual intercourse between two lovers and the ordeal of rape involves the same nerve endings—but one registers as beauty, the other as horror. Pleasure, even more than pain, emerges as a by-product of cooperation among many cells, mediated and interpreted by the higher brain. ”
Pain, The Gift Nobody Wants – Pg. 59-60
So, are they saying something I find pleasurable can turn into pain if I just changed my mind about it? Trust me, I’ve tried, don’t work. Or so I thought. I needed to see the end of my pleasures. Solomon ran ahead and did that. His conclusion was it was all meaningless, like chasing the wind. (Eccl. 2)
Real Pleasure Defined
How does prayer and study become more pleasurable and not painful or just mundane? Romans 12:1 shares the renewal that takes place. But how? Colossians 3:1 states it beautifully, it’s setting my heart/eyes/mind on things above so constant renewal can take place.
How then do I define these heavenward pleasures so I can submit to this process of renewal? The late Ravi Zacharias has defined this using these three biblical points:
- Anything that refreshes you without distracting you from your final goal is legitimate. (What is the ultimate goal of your life?)
- Any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another is an illicit pleasure
- Any pleasure, however good, if not kept in balance will distort reality or destroy appetite
While sinful things feel good even fantastic at the moment, it is short-lived and harmful. Jesus said it best:
18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
Mark 4:18-19 KJV
Imagine the thing that should cleanse our ways barren and dried up. The results of that are uncontrollable lusts that lead to sin and ultimately death. Perhaps we need to see ‘innocent’ pleasures as leaven.
God of the Happy
Despite what others say or our own thoughts, God is interested in our happiness, in us finding pleasure. It’s the source that has always been the problem.
“Being happy in God and living righteously tastes far better for far longer than sin does. When my hunger and thirst for joy is satisfied by Christ, sin becomes unattractive. I say no to immorality not because I hate pleasure but because I want the enduring pleasure found in Christ.”
― Randy Alcorn, Happiness
I am happiest with Jesus; I smile more; I overthink less, my fears are subdued by His grace, I find meaning for my life, motivation for purpose, I am more productive, and have peace down to the depths of my soul. Anything else and I become overwhelmed, flustered and depressed.
What can we do starting today? Replace mindless scroll time to check up on a friend, or pray for them. Share meals at lunch to avoid overeating, give that money to somebody in need that you would have used to buy the extra outfit. Think about things that make you experience closeness to God. Do more of that. When you are overwhelmed and tempted to waste time on a series that adds no value to your life that you will end up regretting, find another one to watch! Just let it be God glorifying, I highly recommend The Chosen, they even have an app for better quality! And let’s not forget music, use the weapons of melody to redirect your thoughts.
Have extra time on your hands? Give yourself to volunteerism in the ministry and or shelters, hospitals, prisons, etc. It’s amazing how understanding someone else’s struggles reduces the delight in selfish pleasures. If you are tempted, at the moment, say it to a friend or leader, confession is POWERFUL. Ask them to pray for you. If you can change your environment do so. All of life’s war is choosing one thought over the other. Don’t let one sinful thought escape, they have a way of growing into monsters. Fight to the end. Remember, you are precious.
Recording: Abigail Barrett