The Enjoyment of Pleasure
About the Guest
What is pleasure's place in a Christian's life? Gary Thomas talks about the power of pleasure in our relationships, especially in our marriages.
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
What is pleasure’s place in a Christian’s life?
The Enjoyment of Pleasure
Bob: Do you ever find yourself feeling guilty if you are buying something nice—something that would bless your spouse or even for yourself. Here is pastor and author Gary Thomas.
Gary: I found out when we were renting a car one time—nothing makes a northwest suburban mom happier than seat warmers on a cold day. So when we were buying a new car, it wasn’t going to be a minivan; and it was going to have seat warmers. That usually goes with a higher package; and my evangelical guilt is, “How can I get the cheapest vehicle at the best rate? Any bell and whistle we will add on this, and how can I justify that one? I can be supporting this number of Compassion kids or whatnot.”
This was a chance for me to serve my heavenly Father by taking care of His daughter saying, “You know what, you have been a heroic mom. You have loved me so well as a wife. If having warm seats on a cold day makes you happy, I’m going to get you a seat warmer.” I had to get over that guilt to be willing to spend that money.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine. Especially with Christmas coming, how do we find a balance in this issue of enjoying life versus the needs of people all around the world? We are going to talk about that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I kept expecting to hear you say this week, “It is our pleasure to have Gary Thomas back with us”; but you didn’t. I thought you would fall right into that.
Gary: And it is my pleasure to be here!
Dennis: Way to go! Well, Gary Thomas joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Gary.
Gary: Thank you.
Dennis: He has written a book called Pure Pleasure. It has been pleasurable to have you on the broadcast, I would have to say.
Bob: We ought to take just a minute before we dive into talking with Gary to say, “Thank you,” to the listeners who make this program possible. They are the ones who support us and make FamilyLife Today happen each day.
Dennis: Yes. And I just want to say, “Thanks,” to the folks who give a donation to FamilyLife Today to keep us on the air. I also want to take this opportunity, not only to say, “Thanks,” but to invite you to join with us in what has become—well, Bob, a pretty significant challenge.
We had a number of families step forward and say, “You know what? We so believe in the ministry of FamilyLife and FamilyLife Today that we want to establish the largest matching grant that has ever been made possible in the month of December for FamilyLife. We want to challenge the radio audience to step up and match our gift with a dollar of their own.”
Bob: That matching gift is a little over $2 million right now. Every time a listener makes a donation—you give $25, we can go and we can draw $25 out of the matching-gift fund. Again, to get to $2 million, that is a little bit of a stretch. That is why we are asking listeners to do whatever you can do here at the end of the year and make a yearend donation to FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: And I would encourage you to go online to FamilyLifeToday.com and check out the thermometer and see how we are doing in terms of taking full advantage of that match. You will see, when you go there, we have a ways to go.
I am coming to you today to say, “Would you help us? Would you stand with us?” If you have benefitted from this broadcast—if you like what we do here on FamilyLife Today—if you believe, as we do, that the Bible does contain the blueprints for building godly marriages and families and you like what we do here, that you step up and say, “I’d like to participate in your mission. I want to be a part of your ministry. I want to do it in a generous way.” I would like to invite you to do that. I challenge you to do that. In fact, we just need your help.
Bob: You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone. We do appreciate your financial support, and we appreciate your prayers. Glad to have you on the team.
Dennis: I agree. I want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for your help.
Bob: We have been talking all this week with Gary Thomas about what pure pleasure looks like. I think a lot of us are a little gun-shy around this topic of pleasure because we live in a culture today where the pursuit of pleasure, for many people, has become the ultimate thing. It is the thing that they are pursuing as the most important part of their life.
We grew up in an era where the slogan was, “If it feels good, do it.” That is not right! It is almost like you are saying, “Well, that is kind of right: ‘If it feels good, do it.’” So how do we make sense of that?
Gary: I think the church has to get beyond being reactionary. We don’t just do it with pleasure; we do it with things like fitness. The world makes an idol out of a certain type of body type; but, as Christians, we can live from the chin up—where the only thing that matters is, “You need to agree with me intellectually.”
Rather than saying, “I don’t want to be like the world,” let’s say, “I want to be like Christ.” Christ embraced good times of relationship. He embraced good times of pleasure. Paul did the same. I think that is where we should set the agenda rather than react to someone else’s agenda, particularly with pleasure.
Dennis: You had something occur with your son that is kind of a picture of you experiencing pleasure in a family. I think this is a great illustration because we can talk about pleasure in a theological sense, but we need to bring it down where people are living.
Your son, evidently, got some of the genes that Bob and I didn’t, which is the “running gene.” He was trying out for the Washington State High School track meet? His junior year, something happened. Share the story because it is a great illustration.
Gary: It was actually cross-country. What it was—he got my genes where he enjoys distance running; but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give him very quick genes.
We have to make up with sweat and effort what we don’t have in natural gifting. He had been to State with the team, but he really wanted to qualify as an individual in his senior year. Just seeing him be so disciplined and then seeing him when that day came up and all that went before it and watching him come out.
You know, they go into the woods—it is cross country—it is not the best spectator sport, right? They take off, they might go in the woods and you miss them for five or six minutes and then they come back out.
I am just counting the numbers as they come back out of the woods. He comes out—I’m thinking, “He has qualified. You know, he can do it if he can hold it.” He doesn’t have the fastest finish—again, because he has his father’s and mother’s genes—but he got out onto the track where they finish and he was actually pulling away from the people behind him because there was no way this was going to be taken away from him.
That moment—for my wife and I, when we just looked at each other—we remembered the time the year before when he had a huge sinus explosion and was literally in the Emergency Room 36 hours before this very race—what had happened over the course of the year, and we looked at each other. There were tears of joy on our faces that he did it!
It was such a year-long quest for him to try to get to State on his own. That is a moment my wife and I will never be able to share with anyone else. It knit us together. It knit us there as a family; we were there to see Graham do it. He came back and we were hugging each other. We were happy!
It certainly was a physical effort but the spiritual joy in that moment was immense for our family. It is one of those moments my wife and I look back on—I’ll never share that with another woman. She will never share that with another man. Some might say, “Would you have been just as happy if he didn’t qualify for State?” That is the Christian-thing to do.
I just want to say, “This wasn’t a test of my piety. Can’t I just thank God that I am so grateful that a young man gave it his best—it worked out. We thanked God. We were proud of Graham. We shared that joy and we could just say, “Lord, You are a good God.” That has built our family together—experiencing that together.
Dennis: One thing as you were telling that story, I was just thinking, those who get a divorce end up dividing those memories. They lose the shared experience of having been there together—looking at some accomplishment of their child.
Now, that is not what you had in mind when you write in your book how God gives us pleasure to keep us out of the bad. I’m thinking that God gives us shared experiences—family memories—I tried to list a number of things that brought me pure pleasure in my lifetime. I went into a whole category, as I listed them, of family vacations and family experiences.
In a very real sense, those shared memories brought Barbara and me together. They don’t keep us together because it is our pledge and our promise that keep us together, but it is the fruit of staying together.
Gary: There is a story I tell that I see the men salivate when they hear what this wife did. A very hard-working man gets up early—has an early shift—gets home about 2 PM. He comes home one March, and he loves to watch March Madness, the NCAA college basketball championships. I know a lot of wives dread those weekends, but it is wonderful the gift she gave her husband. He came home; she had cooked his favorite snack; she had put a chair right in front of the television with his favorite drink...
Dennis: What time was it?
Gary: It was in the afternoon on a Thursday. The tournament was just starting. She said, “You have been working so hard; we depend on you so much. Today, tell me if your drinks go empty; tell me if you are out of the snacks. I just really want you to enjoy yourself this weekend.” He is just crowing about this. He is just beaming. These other guys are just salivating.
Just by saying, “I know you take great pleasure in this; I want to give you this pleasure.” The way that can build up a marriage because it is so easy for us to look at what our spouse isn’t giving us or look at him through the lenses of expectation or just, quite frankly, to forget how much this person offers to you because we take for granted what they do give us and become blinded to it. Just to take time out to say, “How can I really become a servant of my wife’s joy?” For women, “How can I be a servant of my husband’s joy?”
Most of us know, “What would our spouse really enjoy?” We can’t do this every day. We can’t do it every week, but shouldn’t there be a point—at least once a month—where we say, “How do I really give my spouse pleasure?”
“How do I really give pleasure to my child?”—instead of just saying, “Have you cleaned your room?” “Have you gotten in trouble with this?” “Have you done your homework?” “Hey, can we go do this?” or “Can I get you a bowl of this?” or “Can I bake this for you?” The power of pleasure to renew those relationships really can’t be overstated.
Dennis: For a number of years I challenged men, when I have had a chance to speak to them, and said, “Do you know what your wife’s three greatest needs are?” You have men who go, “No!” I say, “You know what, just ask her.” Don’t tell her Dennis Rainey told you to ask her, “What your greatest needs are?”
I think, what you are talking about here is a new category. Instead of asking what your wife’s greatest needs are, step back and say, “What would bring your wife the greatest pleasure?” Think of three things—three ways you as her husband can bring her delight.
For Barbara, it would be somehow giving her some time to be able to do water colors or her oil paintings. Give her a workshop; give her some time off to go do that. That completely fills her tank. She delights in those times. Barbara, I hope you are not listening to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Is there something coming? Is that what you are trying to say?
Dennis: Well, there might be.
Gary: It took me a while to get over some of the guilt in offering my wife some of those pleasures. A classic case is when my wife was done with minivans. We had had this trusty work horse of a minivan for years. Didn’t have much money when we bought it so it had manual windows—none of the bells or whistles, but it had been a great car.
I could just tell my wife was done with it. We were past the car-seat age; she was done with minivans. When we were looking at finally replacing that vehicle because traveling so much, I didn’t want to have a car that might break down when I was out of town. I wanted something that was reliable. I found out when we were renting a car one time—nothing makes a northwest suburban mom happier than seat warmers on a cold day. She loved it; she thought it was so great.
So when we were buying a new car, it wasn’t going to be a minivan; and it was going to have seat warmers. That usually goes with a higher package; and my evangelical guilt is, “How can I get the cheapest vehicle at the best rate? Any bell and whistle we will add on this, and how can I justify that one? I can be supporting this number of Compassion kids or whatnot.”
Boy, we want to do all of that. This was just a chance for me to serve my heavenly Father by taking care of His daughter saying, “You know what, you have been a heroic mom. You have loved me so well as a wife. You pour yourself out for your family. If having warm seats on a cold day makes you happy, I’m going to get you a seat warmer.” I had to get over that guilt to be willing to spend that money.
Bob: Talk to me about that guilt because I’ll feel it at times, too. We just replaced carpeting in our home—we had carpeting that was thread-bare—there were nails sticking through and it was stained and groaty.
Dennis: Nails sticking through?
Bob: Yes. There were nails sticking through the carpet.
Dennis: Well, it was time for you to replace the carpet.
Bob: That is what I thought, too.
Yet, you look at that and you look at the expense of replacing carpet and you think, “Okay, what could this money go toward to advance the Kingdom? How many people don’t have a roof over their head, and I am getting new carpet.”
Tell me how I deal with that in a way—you know, some people will just go and take vows of poverty and live their lives—that is their response. How do we understand that biblically?
Gary: First, I am really glad you deal with that. I think there are some wonderful things with that. I think every Christian should wrestle with that. We can take this to the point where we are deaf to God’s cries to care sacrificially for the poor and the proclamation of the Gospel, but I like John Calvin’s warning that there is a point where we can take it so far—it distorts our view of God and it becomes an imprisonment in our thinking.
He says that a person says, “I can’t have fine dishes; well then, I shouldn’t have any dishes at all.” “Instead of having meat, I should only have beans; but then maybe I should just have bread. I don’t want first-day bread when I can get day-old bread.” You can get to the point where you can’t embrace anything God would offer.
Yet, when you look in the Old Testament—about God’s desire to lead Israel into a land of milk and honey—a passage in Deuteronomy tells them to set aside a portion of their tithe to get whatever their heart desires—good food, even strong drink—it says—“and eat it there in the presence of the Lord, rejoicing in Him.”
There is a fine line. For me—when I was talking about personal pleasure—when I became serious about Starbucks, I dropped my membership at United Airlines’ Red Carpet Club. I am trying to trade dollar for dollar.
I am saying, “You don’t have to do either”; but I do think we could say there are sacrifices we need to make. I take Calvin’s warning as a friend because I think I have that obsessive quality that could take it too far. Quite frankly, I really don’t care about my carpeting. My letting it go, as I would let it go, doesn’t serve my wife who really does care about the carpeting. It matters to her. It is not a sacrifice for me to live with worn carpeting—I don’t even notice it.
Bob: I do think, as I read through the Scriptures, God gives blessing. He goes to Solomon, “Here’s a bunch of money; and enjoy!” It is not so much, “Here is money. Let me see how you handle it and decide whether I think you are worthy or not.” It really has to do with where our heart is and how that directs our lives, don’t you think?
Gary: I do. I think we have to live with the tension. I think that is part of living in community. I think sometimes we need to say, “Am I getting unbalanced here?” because I don’t want to lose that sense of, “Am I living—not just generously toward the Gospel—but at times sacrificially?”
On the other hand, sometimes a small group might say, “You guys really need to take a vacation.” Without guilt, you need to get away. You might need to spend a few dollars, but do that.
I think, when I look back on our family life, I think I let evangelical guilt steal some of those moments. We didn’t have the kind of vacations I have seen other families have that I wished we would have because, “We are not going to be one of those families that have a second home or splurge for the expensive vacations.”
I remember one summer, when we realized we were getting close to being empty-nesters; I cashed in some frequent-flyer mileage. We went to Hawaii—just being together for two weeks. I had to put an ocean between us because we knew if we were home—what we always would do—the kids would call or text, “Hey, can I just go out for a couple of hours?” and it is hard to say, “No,”—so putting an ocean between us and everybody we know.
Looking back, we were buying family time and family memories. I think that honored God. I think at times we went too far the other way. As a family, when you are spending money to buy time together—if that is how you look at it—I think that is a good investment. If a second home in the mountains gives you lifetime memories of your family together on regular weekends, I think that could be a very God-honoring choice.
Dennis: Gary, I think it is really interesting that believers or followers of Christ should be the most content—we should be the most satisfied—we should be the most pleasant, fun-loving people—quite honestly in the midst of challenges that we face. Many times we aren’t. I think it is this internal struggle that you are talking about that we need help in. It really is traced back to our view of God.
“Did God create us to enjoy pleasure?” “Is He a God who delights in us when we enjoy His creation?” The answer is, “Absolutely! It is absolutely the truth.”
I think of Romans 8 where it says, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” A God who loves us and delights in us really does want us to enjoy our children, enjoy our spouse, take great delight and pleasure in our grandchildren. God is not a fuddy-duddy. He is a God who gives good gifts to His children.
Personally, I have to admit, when I picked your book up, I thought, “Now, what is Gary Thomas doing writing a book on Pure Pleasure?” The subtitle, I think, really helps unpack what you are after. You just hit it on it here. Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good? You know, that is not in the Scripture word for word; but the meaning of that question you ask is, “I think God does want us to feel good and not feel bad about what He has given us.”
You have helped us here on the broadcast. I just appreciate you coming and joining us. I hope you come back again soon and join us on FamilyLife Today. You are a good preacher, a good writer, and a good friend.
Gary: Thank you. I am honored. It is always a delight to be with you guys. Thank you for the opportunity.
Bob: I think, for a lot of our listeners, this has been a helpful, good course-correction as you think about life, enjoyment, pleasure, and why we are here. “What it is like to live in radical obedience to Christ and does pleasure fit into that?” I think you have helped us examine that a little more carefully and biblically.
We want to encourage listeners—we have copies of Gary’s book, Pure Pleasure, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll-free: 1-800-FLTODAY is the number. (1-800-“F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “TODAY”; 1-800-358-6329) Get in touch with us, and we will make arrangements to get a copy of Gary’s book sent to you.
Now, we are just about the halfway point through the month of December; and we are very appreciative. We have had a lot of our listeners who have gotten in touch with us over the last couple of weeks. They heard about the matching-gift challenge that Dennis talked about at the beginning of today’s program.
We had friends of the ministry who came and offered to match every donation that we receive during the month of December on a dollar-for-dollar basis. When you make a donation of $20, $30, $50, $100, $500, or $1,000 to support FamilyLife Today, they are going to double that donation up to a total of now a little more than $2 million that has been pledged to the matching-gift fund.
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We hope to hear from you between now and the end of the year. In fact, we want to encourage you not to put it off. If you can make the donation today, then either go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Let me say, “Thanks,” in advance for whatever you are able to do in support of this ministry.
I want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow. We are going to introduce you to a couple that have been hanging out at the mall a lot lately. They haven’t been shopping. They have a unique ministry going on in their local mall. They will be here to share about it with us tomorrow. I hope you can be here.
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.
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