The Gift of Pleasure
About the Guest
Does God approve of pleasure? According to Gary Thomas, not only is pleasure a gift of God, but we are to receive His gifts and delight in them, as long as we don’t turn them into idols.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Does God approve of pleasure?
The Gift of Pleasure
Gary: The Bible presents a world in both lights. At times, it can be a place of temptation. At times, it can be a place of nurture and delight. The problem is we’ve gone so far to the other way in looking at the world that we act as if God created the world as a moral obstacle course. As if He set it up, can you say “No” often enough; can you not touch; can you not taste; can you not go there? As if we’ve got this antagonistic view of God that He is always primarily testing our piety.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. When you hear the phrase “worldly pleasures”, do you think to yourself those are to be avoided or God has given us good things freely to enjoy? We are going to talk about that today.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. Do you have any ice cream recommendations or anything you want us to share?
Dennis: You know what, Bob? I’ve kind of figured out why many of our listeners like FamilyLife Today. They mention all the time that we laugh and what we’re talking about here today on the broadcast which is experiencing pleasure as God designed it. We bring some delight and some pleasure to peoples’ lives. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we like to laugh. We have a good time, and it is not an act.
If you only knew some of the things we had to cut out of the broadcast, you’d really want a reel of that. I promise you. You really would. I think people like FamilyLife Today as a broadcast. I’m not trying to improperly brag on what we are doing here. We have people coming up, you know, all the time. They say, “You know I really enjoy the biblical teaching, the principles. You are helping me in my life and my family. By the way, I like it that you guys have fun.”
If I might, I’d like to get a little serious right now because it is the month of December. It is the month where forty percent of the donations that keep FamilyLife Today on this station or continuing to be downloaded on this iPhone or iPod whatever you have. It is a key month for us. We need your help. We need for you to stand with us in what has become the largest, single matching gift we’ve ever had for the month of December.
Bob: We’ve had some friends of FamilyLife who have gotten together, and they’ve said that they will match every donation we receive this month on a dollar for dollar basis up to a total of—well, now it is a little more than two million dollars. Obviously, that is a big number. If we are going to take advantage of those matching funds, then we need to hear from as many listeners as possible. We need to ask you to be as generous as you can possibly be.
Dennis: That is right. I’d just like to ask everybody who is listening to this broadcast if you can give a gift: five dollars, ten dollars, twenty-five, fifty, a hundred or more; really no gift is too small. We need a lot of people to stand with us if we’re going to be able to take full advantage of that gift.
Maybe you’ve been to the Weekend to Remember, and you’ve benefitted from that ministry. You’re also a radio listener, and you are just sitting there thinking, “You know, I really have benefitted my marriage and family a lot of ways.”
I want to tell you right now would be a very strategic time to go online to FamilyLifeToday.com and take a look at the thermometer there. See how we’re doing and do what a friend of mine did the other day. He called me and said, “I saw where the thermometer was, and I gave the gift of a hundred bucks.”
Bob: Wanted to nudge it up a little bit.
Dennis: He did want to nudge it up. You can do that. You can help us, and I just want you to know I am really grateful for all of you who have given in the past and everyone of you who are going to give today and throughout the rest of this month.
Bob: We will try to keep having fun here on FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: We will.
Bob: In fact, that is really what we want to focus in on today: the fact that having fun, laughing and enjoying life, experiencing pleasure is a good gift from God. That is at the heart of what our guest today has written about in a book called Pure Pleasure. Gary Thomas joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Gary, welcome back.
Gary: Thank you.
Dennis: You like to laugh too, don’t you?
Gary: I love to laugh. It is healthy to laugh.
Dennis: It is. Gary is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston. He and his wife, Lisa, have three children. I’ve got to ask you a great question: What would you say is the most delightful moment that you can share here on FamilyLife Today that was ordered by God? It was a great, pleasurable moment for you as a man.
Bob: It doesn’t have to be the most delightful because—
Dennis: Top hundred. You know it can be any in the top one hundred.
Bob: Just pick one that—what delights you?
Gary: Thank you because I need to go home and have my wife happy with me.
So, if I don’t mention something with her— You know, there are those moments. I think every father looks back to holding each one of their children in their hands for the first time. There is something that is overwhelming about that.
Gary: If I were to talk more recently now as a forty-eight year old who is becoming an empty nester here in a couple weeks, I would go back a year and a half ago. The first time I finished the Boston Marathon because I had pursued that for five years and because I had failed at my ability to get there and the work it took to get there.
I will never forget the final two hundred yards. You are going down this street, and it is packed. Crowds are ten deep. They are yelling, and they are screaming. I looked up to Heaven, and I just said, “Lord, you made this possible. You gave me this body. You ran every step with me to try to qualify.” Five times it took me to be able to qualify.
For me, that was a moment I had uniquely with God because He was the only one who was with me on every training run. He knew the doubts, the challenges, the aches. That was, for me, very much an act of worship especially those final two hundred yards. I was hurting a little bit back at Heartbreak Hill, but by that point, it was more worship.
Bob: I knew when you asked the question; I thought whatever answer Gary Thomas gives is going to be different than what I would give as a moment of pleasure.
Dennis: I was going—
Bob: The end of a marathon is not where I think, “Wow!” The pleasure that you would experience in that moment, you’ve got to be kidding me. It is interesting. There was not a whole lot of sensory pleasure in that moment. You weren’t tasting anything particularly good. You weren’t touching anything good.
Dennis: His body was slammed with endorphins because he’d been running so long.
Bob: But your senses—
Bob: You are not smelling anything particularly good. The crowd cheering—maybe you are hearing something good. You are seeing the finish line and what that represents is good, but I think when we think of pleasure we often think of whatever will excite our senses. Part of what you deal with in this book is that pleasure goes well beyond just our sensory experience.
Gary: Absolutely. This had been an issue with my wife because I kept getting injured on my attempts to qualify. My doctor quite sensibly said, “You know, Gary, you are in your mid-forties now. You might want to think about taking up biking or….” So, I switched doctors.
Found one that had run marathons and understood the drive.
Bob: The disease is what they call it.
Gary: But my wife when she found out, she said, “Why don’t do the half marathon? You can walk the next day when you do a half marathon.” My response was spontaneously, “Because I don’t fear the half marathon.” I felt like I could wake up any day and go out thirteen miles, but there is something about miles twenty to twenty-six. They will bite you.
I think it is the same thing where—I’m not this—but the bungee jumpers and the rock climbers, the mountain— Some of us really enjoy sitting with a good novel in a Starbucks with a great latte; some of us want a little bit of danger; others want the excitement. God made us so differently. There are vast differences in what people take pleasure in.
Dennis: What you are saying is, is that pleasure is a gift of God. As you’ve been talking, I keep thinking about the passage in the Gospels where Jesus said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more?”
The implication of the passage is how much more is God able to give you good gifts, too? God is really the giver of good gifts. He wants us to experience delight in the things He brings our way. Some people who are hearing me say that right now are going, “That is not my picture of who God is.” You know? You know what I mean?
When I grew up as a kid, God had fly swatter in his hand. If you enjoyed it a little too much, “Whaack!” It took awhile for me to bust out of that and realize, “Yes, there are limits. Yes, there are things you shouldn’t do. The Ten Commandments are not the ten suggestions; but God is also a God that in the sense of pleasure, ‘no boundaries’ it seems at points.” I mean, it really does seem like He wants us to experience life in its fullest.
Gary: Our view of pleasure is directly affected by our view of God. I really think you hit on something there. Two verses that have been very healing to me because I didn’t grow up with a positive view of pleasure. Not my parents’ fault, not the churches’ fault. I could just be guilty—I don’t know whatever.
David said in two different places in Psalm 35:27 and 2 Samuel 22:20, two verses that just stand out. He said, “The Lord who delights in the well being of His servant” and another place “The Lord rescued me because He delights in me.” I had this sense that God liked me because He had to or He loved me because He loves everyone. This sense that David had that He delights in me and the power that will give believers when they are willing to embrace that.
Paul tried to stress this. Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us.” Jesus in John 15:15, “I have called you friends. I no longer call you servants.” I’ve called you friends. If we could get this sense that God is our friend that He not only likes you, He delights in you. That gives you the freedom to enjoy pleasurable times.
I mean, friend is a word—somebody chooses you to be a friend. I have to love my neighbor; I don’t have to be my neighbor’s friend. When somebody is my friend, there is a sense of delight inherent in that whole idea.
Bob: You brought up something here that I think is a fascinating theme in your book. It is a theme of what we talk about every day here on FamilyLife Today. If you go to most people and say, “What has brought you pleasure recently?” Most of us will go toward sensory pleasure rather than going toward relational pleasure.
Yet, if you stop and ask people to really think about what is important in life and what they care most about, relationships are going to start to surface. There is maybe no more profound, deep soul affirming pleasure than the pleasure that we have in the joy of relationship with God and with one another.
Gary: Sociologically, there are studies that back that up. That happiness is directly related to our sense of connectedness and social relationships. I don’t know if you are referring to those or if you just intuited it; but we can do something about our sense of pleasure by connecting with people. We weren’t made in isolation.
Our God is a Trinitarian God. He made us for community. If we are not in community in some different degrees, we are not going to be happy, quite frankly.
Dennis: Back last spring there was a thunderstorm that rolled through Little Rock. It was a good one. It lasted for quite awhile. It was such a good one that—I don’t remember if it was Barbara who asked me or I asked her—we went out on a porch that we have. It is a screened in porch that has a tin roof. We sat out on the porch for two hours, and we both went to sleep.
There was something so unspeakably delightful of being nestled in there next to the bride of my youth some thirty-seven years ago and delighting in the cool breeze coming through those screens, the rumble of thunder, the pitter-patter of rain. I took great pleasure in that moment, but to your point, it was because of the connectedness. I think I would have enjoyed it by myself, but about ten percent as much.
You know what I mean? I mean—
Gary: Yes. Right.
Dennis: Just right there with her enjoying that. You tell a story of your four year old son that really illustrates a lesson that we’re to learn about how we are to respond when God gives us a good gift.
Gary: Graham reached that age where he was going to get his mom his own gift. No more just wrapping something that his dad got for her. He wanted to pick it out on his own. So, we went to the store. I just hesitate because he was settled on his mom having this piggy bank. If you know my wife, she has zero tolerance for tacky. Yet, he picked out this monstrosity of a pink, piggy bank that was a pig.
I was just like—I just couldn’t believe what she was going to do. So, he wraps it up. When Lisa opened it, she immediately knew that Graham had picked it out for her because I wouldn’t have gone there. We’re married long enough for her to know that I knew her that well. I watched as she spontaneously cried tears of joy and delight because that present she knew came from her son. It was a first present he had given her. Just the joy it gave her that Graham had picked out a present.
That’s the delight that giving a gift that makes the receiver cry and how much joy that gave to Graham when he could look at his mom see that the tears were spontaneous, genuine, and sincere. He wore this huge, beaming smile on his face. I made my mom cry. My wife’s tears of delight were all the thanks Graham needed.
I think the same way when God gives us those good gifts. Are we receiving them in a way that we are giving back to the giver? Are we saying, “No, I can’t have that or I’m not good enough for that?” How we receive a gift is really our way of giving back to the giver.
Dennis: You know it is interesting. I had friend who did a little bit of a Bible study around grace and around gift giving. He said, “You know most of us do not know how to receive a gift.” When we get something, what do we immediately feel like we need to do? Give something in return.
Recently, we took a friend a freshly baked blueberry cobbler. It was just a gesture of love to this friend. It was interesting within a week he showed back up on our doorstep with a peach cobbler.
It was like it wasn’t enough to just receive it and to take delight that someone loved you enough to give you a gift and to say “I love you.” I want to enjoy this. I want to tell you Barbara’s blueberry cobbler is very close to peanut butter and chocolate in terms of being worshipful. It is delicious.
Bob: We are finding where you—let’s see rain on the roof, peanut butter and chocolate, and Barbara’s cobbler. We have now found out where the pleasure sensors are in your life, I think.
Dennis: I think God wants us to receive those gifts from Him and to acknowledge them and instead of trying to earn another one just say, “Thank you. Thank you, God. I delight in that gift.” Sometimes, it really is difficult to receive that kind of grace, that kind of gift that is unmerited. Isn’t it?
Gary: It is. There is a provocative question I ask sometimes. I can see groups jump when I ask it; but I say, “Do you view this world primarily as a prostitute or as a mother?” By that I mean do you see that God created a world that acts as a prostitute trying to lures us away from everything that we know that is good and true and right or as a mother that is nurturing our faith, enriching us?
The Bible presents a world in both lights. At times, it can be a place of temptation. At times, it can be a place of nurture and delight. The problem is that we’ve gone so far to the other way in looking at the world that we act as if God created the world as a moral obstacle course. As if He set it up, can you say “No” often enough; can you not touch; can you not taste; can you not go there? As if we have this antagonistic view of God that He’s always primarily testing our piety.
So, what happens is that people turn the gifts of God into a test of piety. I see young mothers do this. They are so overwhelmed by the experience of giving birth to their first child, and they are nursing that child. They come up to me, “Gary, is it possible to love my baby more than I love God?” The first thing I want to say, “Bless you for your sensitivity. It shows a spiritual maturity. You don’t want to put anything before the Lord.”
Here is what is going on physiologically. This is where we see God’s brilliance as a Creator. When a woman is nursing her child, her brain is releasing oxytocin. That oxytocin is also going back from the baby into her. Oxytocin is a neurochemical: loyal, bonding, feelings of affirmation and warmth. Here is why I think God is so brilliant. He knows that child is going to radically upset this young mother’s life.
So, God as a brilliant engineer and Creator that He is says I’m going to create a neurochemical called oxytocin. When she nurses this child—if it a hungry child—seven eight times a day, they are going to literally re-bond by His design. So, when she’s reading the book of Ezekiel, she is not going to get the same neurochemical pop.
When she is singing “Shine Jesus, Shine” for the fifteenth time, it is not going to be—it doesn’t mean she loves God less. It is just she can step back and say, “Lord, You are a brilliant Creator. You hit this one out of the park.” Really appreciate that feeling of intimacy and warmth, recognizing God isn’t threatened by her love for her child. He wants her to see it as His gift of kindness. So, I want to say to her, “It is not a test of your piety. It is a call to worship.”
Dennis: I keep hearing you say, Gary, repeatedly, “It is our perspective of who God is that really determines our ability to enjoy what He has given us.” If we see God as this mean, Heavenly Father who doesn’t want us to enjoy too much, “Wipe that smile off your face kid. You’ve had two laughs today, and three is excessive. You can’t have that many,” God is not that kind of God. He is a God who gives us good gifts to enjoy.
One of the passages that has really ministered to me when I try to kind of slip back into the legalistic side of this going, “What can you enjoy? What can’t you enjoy?” You call it false religious piety. I think that is a good statement. It is Galatians 5:1 which says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”
Bob: If you are going to read that, read verse thirteen too. You’ve got to go down and read verse thirteen, too.
Dennis: Well, I have got to look it up because I wasn’t reading it, I was quoting it. It says, “You were called to freedom, Brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; but through love, serve one another.” So, what you are wanting to make sure folks don’t use their freedom as license.
Bob: That is right. You don’t say, “I’m free in Christ so I can do whatever.” There—still God’s saying don’t use it as an opportunity to indulge the flesh. It has got to be about what I’ve created it for. Again, this is what I keep hearing you say, “Our enjoyment of pleasure needs to point us back to the One who is the Creator of life and pleasure and who put us in a place to experience joy and pleasure.”
We should not shy away from that. We should be grateful to God for that, but at the same time, that is not the ultimate purpose of life. The enjoyment of pleasure is not the fundamental purpose of life, but it is a part of what God’s given us as we enjoy life here on earth.
I really think this is a good subject for people to meditate on, to spend some time really pondering and thinking carefully about it. Of course, that is why you wrote the book Pure Pleasure which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
I want to encourage listeners to get a copy of Gary’s book. It is called Pure Pleasure. You can order a copy from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call us at 1-800-FL-Today. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call -800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word today. We will make arrangements to get a copy of Gary’s book out to you.
Now, real quickly I want to remind our regular listeners of what Dennis talked about at the beginning of today’s program, the matching gift opportunity that has been made available to us here during the month of December. We had some friends of the ministry get together and say, “We’d like to provide a matching gift as a way to encourage FamilyLife Today listeners to help support the ministry.”
Particularly, those of you who are regular listeners, you’ve listened for awhile and maybe you’ve never made a donation to FamilyLife Today. They are hoping that this matching gift challenge will encourage you to call or go online and make a twenty dollar donation, or a fifty dollar donation, or a hundred, five hundred, or thousand, or whatever you are able to do. Make a donation to help support the ministry.
When you do, they are going to match your donation dollar for dollar. The matching gift fund is up in an excess of two million dollars at this point. Actually, there has been some money added to it in recent days. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation or you can call 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word today. Let me say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do in helping to support the ministry.
We hope that you can be back with us tomorrow. Gary Thomas is going to be here again. We are going to talk about enjoying life and enjoying nice things when we know that there are people in other parts of the world who are struggling and who don’t have maybe enough to eat. How do we deal with that? We are going to talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be here with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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