The Power of Pleasure
About the Guest
Does God frown on our pleasures? Today author Gary Thomas talks with Dennis Rainey about pleasure--our God-given need for it, God’s pleasure in us, and the purpose of pleasure in a Christian’s life.
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 frown on our pleasures?
The Power of Pleasure
Gary: They’re raising the kids, paying the bills, making sure the roof isn’t leaking. They’ve stopped enjoying each other. They’ve stopped taking pleasure in each other. Then, here is what happens: you can last for awhile but eventually they start to find pleasure in someone else.
Suddenly, they’re so thirsty. It is such a rush to finally experience pleasure they make the fatal mistake. When what they really need is to enjoy times with their current spouse. They could have that same pleasure with their family without destroying their family. They’ve so become utilitarian in their marriage they don’t even connect pleasure in their marriage, and that is what ends it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Gary Thomas joins us today to talk about how we ought to understand pleasure. God’s design and purpose for it in our lives.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I have to tell you a story real quick. I taught through the book of Ecclesiastes a number of years ago. I remember studying it and teaching through it. It is not an easy book to teach because there is a lot of stuff you read in there and go, “I don’t think that is true.”
Bob: You have to understand the context of what is being said. As a part of my preparation for teaching it, I listened to a tape series on Ecclesiastes from Tommy Nelson, the pastor at Denton Bible Church. The thing that sticks out if you listen to Tommy’s series on Ecclesiastes is “Life is hard; so, eat rocky road.” That is kind of his big thesis statement. Just—
Dennis: He actually said that?
Bob: Just eat a lot of rocky road.
Dennis: I could go to his church. I could go to his church; I guarantee you.
Bob: But what he is saying is that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life and the good things that God has given us in life. I think that’s not only part of the message of the book of Ecclesiastes, but I think it is a part of what all of us need to catch a vision for.
Dennis: It goes back to who God is, what He is all about, and how He created us. We’ve got a guest who joins us again on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: A rocky road eater, right?
Dennis: He is. He is. He is also kind of a rocky writer too because he likes to stir the pot. I’ve kind of watched this about him. Gary Thomas joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Gary welcome back.
Gary: Thank you guys. Great to be back.
Dennis: You do like to stir the pot, don’t you?
Gary: Well, it is a little bit fun.
Dennis: You kind of like to poke at stuff. You’ve poked at something pretty serious this time. I will explain that to our listeners in just a moment.
I want to step in here and have a heart to heart with those who listened to our broadcast. I just need to ask them for their help. It is December; it is the time when FamilyLife is really counting on its listeners to step up and make a donation to keep FamilyLife Today on this station or keep coming to you as a podcast.
I just need to ask you if you’d step up and be a part of a matching gift that has been made to FamilyLife. In fact, Bob, it is the largest matching gift in the history of our ministry. It is so large that it is stretching our listeners to be able to make sure that we meet the matching challenge.
Bob: It is actually a little over $2,000,000. To take full advantage of that, it is a dollar for dollar match. So, when a listener makes a $20 donation, we get to take $20 out of the matching gift fund. When a listener makes a $100 donation, we get a $100 from the matching gift fund. To get all the way up to $2,000,000, we need a lot of listeners to be as generous as they can be.
Dennis: We do. So, I’m just coming to you today and saying, “Would you help us? I need your help.” I might ask if you like Bob or me. I’m just asking if you like FamilyLife Today. Do you like what we do here on this broadcast?
You believe as we do that the family today is in serious trouble, and if there has ever been a time when we needed to return to the Book and the God of the Book that you want to stand with us? You want to keep this broadcast coming to you every week day and making a difference here in this community as well as hundreds of communities around the country?
Bob: You can make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation by phone. Again, you will help us take advantage of this matching gift opportunity. We want to say thanks in advance for whatever you’re able to do. We hope you will pray for us as well and support us in that way.
Now, let me get us back to what we are going to talk about today. Maybe some of our listeners don’t know Gary Thomas although he has been with us before on FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: He has been on the faculty of Western Seminary. He and his wife Lisa and three children just have recently moved from Bellingham, WA to Houston, TX. He is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church of Houston. He has written a book called Pure Pleasure. Pure Pleasure, Gary.
Now, you know, you have to know that you are touching on something that I’m really glad you wrote about because I grew up in a little bit of community where God was a fuddy-duddy. He didn’t want you smiling too much, laughing too much. Christianity was—I hate to say this—but it really wasn’t a feel good religion.
Now, some of that was my own character as I grew up as a young man. Some of it was earned because there was a lot of finger pointing and kind of shaming people about certain things. Is that where we get some of our feelings that maybe experiencing pleasure isn’t good?
Gary: I think so. Christians tend to be suspicious of pleasure at best and outright hostile to it at worst. When you are writing a book, you’ll often go on to Amazon to check out the names, the titles; so, that if somebody else has that title. When you put in “pure pleasure” in any search engine—
Bob: We all know where you’ll end up.
Gary: There was an ache in my heart that we have completely given pleasure over to the other side, if I could speak that way. People assume pleasure is something illicit, something that offends God. Yet, we serve a God who created pleasure, who created bodies that are uniquely gifted to receive pleasure of all kinds.
With sight: be stunned by architecture, looking at a mountain. Hearing: some people are so in tune with intricacies of music. Smell, touch. God created our bodies to receive pleasure, and we act as if pleasure is something God is against.
Dennis: What do you think God was up to when He decided, “You know what? I’m just going to create these human beings with enormous capacities to experience pleasure.” What was He thinking?
I mean, you’ve got the Bible; you’ve been studying this. Speak if you would, if you can, I know it is a little dangerous to speak on behalf of God here, but what do the Scriptures reveal here?
Gary: Embracing pleasure from a biblical perspective, seeing it as something that God created, and that God endorses and is enthusiastic about has done three things for me.
The first thing and the main thing to answer your question is it has turned me into a much more vigorous worshipper, and a much more frequent worshipper. Instead of always looking at “Oh, that’s got too many calories”, it is “Lord you made chocolate, you made taste buds; and when they come together, you know, sometimes it is amazing.”
Dennis: Are you saying chocolate can turn your heart toward God?
Gary: Well, when you reckon that He created taste, He created the fact that we can have it.
Dennis: Go ahead and say it, Gary. You are saying yes, chocolate can turn your heart toward God.
Gary: I often said that whoever created the M&M blizzard must have been a Christian. I think it takes the Holy Spirit to come up with that kind of inspiration.
Dennis: Okay, that is one. So, it allows us to worship God in a greater dimension.
Gary: Right. In all ways, we can recognize them as gifts of God. The second thing it does, I think, it serves relationships and marriage and parenting. When I talk to so many couples that are falling apart—you guys probably hear this all the time—“I love you, but I’m no longer in love with you.” I can’t tell you how many spouses will send me e-mails that, that’s what they’ve heard.
In most cases, their marriage has become utilitarian. They’re raising the kids, paying the bills, making sure the roof isn’t leaking. They’ve stopped enjoying each other. They’ve stopped taking pleasure in each other. Then, here is what happens: you can last for awhile, you can coast, you can do that; but eventually they start to find pleasure in someone else: somebody at the office, somebody connects with them through Facebook.
Suddenly, they are so thirsty. It is such a rush to finally experience pleasure; they make the fatal mistake of assuming that what they need is this pleasure. When what they really need is to enjoy times with their current spouse. They could have that some pleasure with their family without destroying their family. They have so become utilitarian in their marriage; they don’t even connect pleasure and their marriage. That is what ends it.
Bob: I think it is one of the reasons why in marital counseling often a counselor will say, “Tell me about when you were dating.” There is an attempt to go back and link up the experience of pleasure that most of us had when we were dating before it became utilitarian and say, “Look there was pleasure between the two of you. There was joy in the midst of this. This person hasn’t changed that much; it is just that the circumstances in life have changed. There is still pleasure to be found there.”
Gary: This is a real temptation in parenting because our kids can start to feel like projects. Projects are something that you launch. When we are not taking time to enjoy them, then our kids treat us utilitarian. Have you as a family been as conscientious about how do we enjoy our weekend together as much as how do we have devotions together, are we going to church together, are we making sure the beds are made?
Dennis: Yes. All the check off stuff, all the chores. You just lose the delight of having children and being caught up in the moment.
Okay, so you’ve said pleasure is for the purpose of worship, it is for the purpose of relationships, what is the third?
Gary: I think it builds our personal integrity. We become more vulnerable to illicit pleasure when our souls aren’t filled with godly pleasure or pure pleasure as I put it.
I had an experience in one of my first trips to Houston that taught me this. I went out for an afternoon run because I spoke in the morning and the evening. I flew in from Seattle which is never very hot, never very humid. Decided I was going to go for a six mile run which in Seattle is no big deal. Would never even think about carrying water, but this was 95 degrees, 90 percent humidity. So, I set off.
After fifteen minutes, I couldn’t believe how thirsty I could get; I pass a half drunk bottle of Coke lying in the ditch and actually pause. No, that is too gross. I’ve got to move on. It amazed me that I would even consider because I was that thirsty. After thirty minutes, I was thinking this is life threatening. I saw a woman in front of her house with a hose coiled up in front of it. I walked up and said, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not from here. Didn’t realize how thirsty I could get. Can I take a drink from your hose?” She said, “Sure.”
I turn on the faucet and who knows how long that water had been sitting in the hose, but put it up to my mouth and take in the most bacteria encrusted rubbery tasting water you could imagine. All the while, this voice in the back of my head saying, “Gary, you are so going to regret this. Three hours from now the gastrointestinal distress you are going to bring into your life is excruciating.”
Here is thing: I didn’t care. I was so thirsty. I said, “You know what? I know I am likely to get sick. I need to stop this thirst now. I could fault myself now with a full bottle of water in front of me. Why would I even think of drinking something so gross? Or I could say, “Why did I let myself get in that situation where I was so thirsty, I was tempted by something that should have been repugnant to me?”
When I applied that to sin, I realized that a lot of us we let our relationships die, we let our enjoyment and pleasure in life die. So, we can coast for awhile—
Dennis: We get bored, don’t we?
Gary: Yes. We do.
Dennis: We are looking for something exciting and look around. There is plenty of it around.
Gary: That’s right.
Dennis: The interesting thing is if we don’t find pleasure in doing it God’s way, we then as you’ve just said rightly, we move it over to doing it the world’s way. Therein lies the danger. It is not that pleasure is wrong, but there are wrong kinds of pleasure.
Bob: I’m thinking back to my freshman year of college when I took a class that was called—I think it was called Contemporary Moral Issues. I thought it was going to be like high school where you just read something out of the paper and wrote essays. I thought this will be a breeze. It was really Freshman Philosophy. They just didn’t want to call it Philosophy 101.
So, we are reading all of these ancient philosophers. I’m going, “Where are the contemporary moral issues in this?” I remember that is where I learned about Hedonism. I learned about Jeremy Bentham and his Hedonistic Calculus and how the ultimate goal in life is the pursuit of pleasure. That is what Hedonism says. Are you saying Bentham was right?
Gary: No. The pursuit of life is enjoying God, but pleasure helps me understand God. Here is what I think we have to do. It teaches me to worship God the Creator. As Christians, we like to acknowledge God the Redeemer; so, we do redemptive kinds of things. We will read the Bible, we will sing worship songs, we want to share our faith.
When we recognize God as Creator and enjoy the things of the earth that He created us to enjoy in the way He created us to enjoy them—as you were mentioning before, Dennis—I think that can become a form of worship. When we recognize that God is for us and so He has given us many good things, pleasure helps me to enjoy God.
Ultimately, I am pursuing God. It is just God happens to be a kind God, a generous God, a God of pleasure. So, pleasure is always the fruit of pursuing God because if God isn’t the end. This is where I think Bentham was wrong. If God isn’t the end, my pleasures will ultimately become my slave masters and my misery.
Bob: They’ll be an idol that you’ll be in pursuit of rather than leading you to the God we should be worshipping.
Gary: They will destroy me rather than build me up.
Dennis: Okay, I’m enjoying listening to you guys talk about this philosopher I’ve never heard of at all, but here is my practical question. I like peanut butter and chocolate. Now I don’t eat it very often. How is it that I—
Bob: You like that Haagen-Dazs Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter?
Dennis: Oh my goodness.
Bob: Yes. That is pretty good too.
Dennis: Peanut butter and chocolate, I’m just telling—I’m just glad I heard it first here on FamilyLife Today that Gary Thomas believes that peanut butter and chocolate is worshipful.
Bob: Can be. Can be worshipful.
Dennis: Leads us to God.
Bob: It can also be gluttonous. Right?
Dennis: It can. That is the point, Gary. Here I am. I wish I was perfect. I wish I approached life and, you know, issues like this with a perfect balance. So, the next time I pull up in front of Haagen-Dazs at the airport or where ever I may decide to partake of a scoop, I maybe—
Bob: Or two.
Dennis: Maybe—I haven’t had one in a long time; so, it is going to be two scoops, okay? My point is how do we maintain the balance here of the enjoying that peanut butter and chocolate ice cream—I’m not wanting to trivialize your point.
I think it is very important because whether it is peanut butter and ice cream or sexual pleasures with your spouse or enjoying a sunset or touch, whatever the pleasure is that God gives you, the temptation to turn into something wrong into that idol Bob is talking about is always there.
Gary: Yes. It is shocking when you look at the life of Jesus and the explicit words of the apostle Paul that they really do side with, if I could use this, the libertarians. Paul explicitly says do not taste do not touch doesn’t work. It lacks any value to restrain sensual indulgence.
Jesus, there is evidence that He was called a glutton and a drunkard. We know He was never drunk, we know He was not a glutton. Obviously, though, He was having a good time. He was probably laughing which is why they assumed He was partying. So, I think we’ve got to recognize there are those times in life we can enjoy without guilt those things.
That is where we have to, I believe, be open to the Spirit’s leading that. The problem with pleasures is that because they’re so powerful, because God did such a good job creating us to really enjoy certain pleasures; we are sort of walking along a ridge where you’ve got to keep a little bit of earth between you and the edge of the cliff because it can pull us off. Virtually every pleasure that God has used, Satan will use for the opposite end to pull us away.
That is where we need accountability; that is where we need Scripture; that is where I said, “If you really want to delve into pleasures, that is when you have to delve into God.” God preserves our pleasures. The problem is most people think God is the enemy of pleasure. I think God preserves pleasure because whenever I see somebody involved in pleasure without God, it becomes misery.
Dennis: You are ultimately saying that God can take delight in us. He takes great pleasure in us because He created us to enjoy what He has created. Interestingly, Gary, I was just listening to you there.
Apart of what attracted me to become a follower of Jesus Christ was finally realizing that God is a God of creation and the creation of pleasure, enjoyed life when He was here. Jesus did actually smile. He laughed with the disciples. He was a man of grace and mercy. Yes. He was accustomed to sorrow because He bore the burden of our sin. He was the Savior who enjoyed life as He lived it.
As a young man growing up, that is what I wanted to experience. Today, we’ve got some young people leaving the church; I have to wonder if this isn’t one of the reasons why they are leaving. They are not seeing us present God as god who is a God of great delight, a God who takes pleasure in His people.
Gary: That is what my twenty year old son would say. When he read Pure Pleasure, he said, “Dad, this is what guys and girls my age need to hear. We grow up hearing: ‘Don’t do this. Don’t look at that. Don’t touch this. Don’t taste that. Don’t say this.’” He said, “This is a new thing for me to hear that God is taking pleasure in my pleasure.”
Bob: I have to tell you anytime I hear the word pleasure, my mind goes immediately goes to Psalm 16:11. The last verse of that Psalm says, “You make known to me the path of life in Your presence there is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures evermore.” How could we think God is against pleasure when in His presence is the promise of eternal pleasure?
I remember a mutual friend of ours Dan Allender. We had finished a meal one time, and it was a great meal. He just said, “You know, every time I eat a great meal; I think of how great Heaven is going to be.” The pleasures of life are a foretaste of the pleasure that we will someday—. He says, “As good as that meal was, it will be dog food compared to what we will have in Heaven.” That does kind of make you look forward to the pleasures that are at His right hand forevermore.
Dennis: In fact, I don’t know if it is just kind of seasoning with age, Gary; but Barbara and I have been empty-nesters for a few years now, and I feel like I’m kind of getting my arms around this a bit. I think the reason I can finally grasp it is because life is not nearly as cluttered.
I’m not complaining about the childhood years, the child rearing years, and all the demands, but you know what it was just a challenge. It was a challenge from sun up to sun down. We fell asleep in bed exhausted, praying about the things that were troubles of the day, or the things we were anticipating tomorrow. Yet, it is good to take a step back and just <exhale>. Just relax for a moment and realize what Bob was just talking about from Psalm 16.
God made us. He made us to delight in Him. We can kind of understand that but also in the things He’s created. It might be good, right now, if a listener to FamilyLife Today went out and bought a pint of peanut butter and chocolate and worshipped God.
Bob: Rocky road would be okay too if you would rather have that.
Dennis: Rocky road’s okay if that is what—
Bob: If that is what it takes.
Dennis: You know, Bob, if that is what it takes. I heard it first from Gary Thomas on FamilyLife Today. A Baptist preacher who said worship can occur when you eat chocolate.
Bob: I hope you’ve not just tempted anybody to sin against their own conscious, but I hope the rest of the folks—. I just wonder if we will look back at this day and go, “What happened with ice cream sales that day? Did you see they just went through the roof at the grocery store that day?”
We do not have any ice cream at our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We do have copies of Gary’s book which is called Pure Pleasure. We want to encourage you to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy.
Again, the title of the book is Pure Pleasure and the author is our guest Gary Thomas. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book. Or call us toll free at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, I have not seen the latest numbers but I think we still have a ways to go in the matching gift challenge that Dennis talked about at the beginning of today’s program. We have had some friends of the ministry who got together and said, “We want to encourage FamilyLife Today listeners to help support the program.”
So, they have pledged to match every donation that we receive during the month of December on a dollar per dollar basis up to a total of—actually, it is now more than $2,000,000 that they have pledged to that matching gift fund. As it turns out, that number has been growing a little bit here during the month of December.
If you can help us with a donation this month, whether it is $20, $50, or $100, or whatever it is; your donation is going to be matched dollar for dollar. You’ll help us take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity. It will be a great encouragement to us.
If you would consider making a yearend donation, you can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make your donation over the phone. I will just say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do. We appreciate your support, and we appreciate your prayers too. We are grateful that you listen to FamilyLife Today.
We want to encourage you to be back tomorrow. Gary Thomas is going to be here. We are going to continue to talk about enjoying life and how that fits into our understanding of God and His purposes for us. I hope you can be back for that.
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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