Author Gary Thomas explains how many Christians have come to associate pleasure with the evils of this world and reminds us that God actually created pleasure because He enjoys giving us good things. Gary encourages Christian families to make their homes a place of joy, especially for the children of the family. (Part 2 of 2)
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Gary Thomas: That's our heavenly Father's heart. He's providing these opportunities of joy and sheer delight. He knows what we love and if it's a healthy desire, He longs to give it. And how many of us are robbing our heavenly Father of joy, becoming over-religious saying, "Well, I'm afraid you're gonna think I love it too much, so I'm just gonna ignore it?" Rather than it leading us to worship, it leads us to a false piety and self-righteousness.
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John Fuller: That's Gary Thomas, explaining why we often misunderstand pleasure today. It's God's gift, but it's so abused. We tend to have a lot of conflicting thoughts about pleasure. He's back with us today to help us untangle this and understand it better. And this is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and if you didn't hear our program last time with Gary, get a copy when you call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim Daly: John, it is such a sensitive topic when we come around this area of pleasure, because it's … one person's pleasure is different from another person's pleasure. The Bible speaks to some of this, but not all of this. And so, how do we categorize these things? When does abuse of pleasure occur? What is the line? Where does my foot step over that line? And who do I listen to in my life to tell me that, yes, I have indeed stepped over that line? Because typically, we're blind to that pleasure, because we like pleasure as human beings. We talked about it last time and we're gonna talk about it again with Gary Thomas and Gary, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Gary: Thank you.
Jim: Gary, I've been thinkin' about what we talked about last time and I want to hit with you a couple of—
Jim: --I think harder ones.
Gary: All right.
Jim: We, in the church community and in religious communities, we can create kind of an anti-pleasure mindset because we lift it up as a form of godliness and we pride ourselves in that. We develop what I would suggest as an unhealthy pride in that, because I can refrain from doing that and you can't, I'm better than you. Is that how God keeps score?
Gary: It's not and here's what I think it results in. Rather than living in an attitude of worship and gratitude to a God who gives us so many good gifts, it exalts human self-righteousness. I think it totally sets us up for a wrong mind-set with God. When we look at the biblical witness, I think of 1 Kings, where Solomon dedicated the temple and it said, they had a party for 14 days!
Jim: I can't even think of that. (Laughter)
Gary: It kept going and going and going. And in our churches, if somebody celebrates 14 minutes, there's gonna be some pious man or woman who comes up, "Couldn't we give all of this to the poor?" Well, we should be generous and sacrificial toward the poor. But there's a time to feast. And Jesus' first miracle, let's be honest, when He created wine at the wedding, it was to keep the party going. When the wine was done, people went home. And so, Jesus said, you know what? I want this party to keep happening. Now Jesus underwent a 40-day fast. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Jesus went … got up early in the morning, so there are elements in Jesus' life when He was so strict with self-discipline, but also His first miracle kept the party going.
Jim: Now some people are gasping, Gary. Come on. I (Laughter) gotta say it. I mean, I kinda went, uh! Yeah, really? I mean, is that a sign of maybe too much rigidity, that—
Jim: --we're not—
Gary: --I think so.
Jim: --enjoying God's pleasure?
Gary: Let's go beyond the wedding. Matthew 11:19, Jesus clearly ate and drank in wealthy surroundings. Luke 15:25, now really catch your breath, He speaks of dancing in an approving manner. And so, when you look at this, they always said, "Why is He among the gluttons? Why is He among the drunkards?" Jesus didn't seem like a gloomy man, who was only hanging around gloomy people. If He was criticized by the Pharisees, it was rather more He seems to be enjoying life too much.
And Paul really gets that when he says, "Why do you live by the principles of this world, do not taste, do not touch?" You know, those aren't real godliness. And so, I think there's enough biblical witness that we can pull the church back a little way, not all the way, because a lot of what you said is true. There are pleasures that are forbidden to us, that will destroy us, but also recognize that no pleasure can destroy us just as surely.
Jim: We touched on this last time, but I want to bring it back, because many of us as parents struggle with this, because we're trying to teach our kids the right approach spiritually, to help them to grow into vibrant Christians that love the Lord, that do well vocationally and all those good things, but sometimes our homes can be all about the rules and lack the joy that should certainly be present.
What can we do to take an inventory, to make sure we're not crushing the joy out of our homes, so that when our kids go off to college or go into their vocation out of high school, that they aren't losing control all of a sudden because they've been in this forbidden fruit zone. So, how do we give them the balance that they're going to need?
Gary: What you've described is what I would call "utilitarianism" in the home and it destroys marriages and it destroys parent-child relationships. By "utilitarian," what I mean is this. We treat our kids like projects. We want 'em to become Christians. We want 'em to be well-educated. We want 'em to get a good job. We want 'em to be behaved. But if we just treat our kids like projects, when they become teenagers, we become ATM machines and taxi drivers. Take me where I want to go. Hand over enough money and don't ask me any questions, because then they treat us like projects. We haven't really built a relationship of enjoyment.
And when husbands and wives treat each other in [an] utilitarian manner, did you get this done? Did you get that done? Did you pick up this? Did you finish that? Also the relationship begins to break down. We need to see ourselves as servants of our family's joy. How can I serve your joy? I remember getting to visit Kevin Leman, who I know is a friend of this—
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Gary: --program, many times over. He kinda had a split family, we could put it that way--three older kids and two younger kids--and I was there when they were all together and all so happy and joy filled. And my family was a lot younger at the time. I said, "Kevin, how do you build a family like this. so that when they're adults, they want to really enjoy each other?' And he said, "Gary, the problem with so many homes today is, home is about work. They're not enjoying each other and they have to go outside the home to play. They go outside to enjoy sports or other practices. So why would they think of home when they're adults as a place to come to, to play?"
Gary: He said, "You've got to value that sense of family play when they're young, so that when they're older and now out of the home, they want to come back to home and think of it as a place of pleasure."
Gary: If you're building a home where your spouse feels like he or she is always on a leash and your kids feel like they're always trying to measure up, once they no longer have to be there, they won't want to be there. And so, I think, ultimately you're serving your long-term joy in life when you build a home that understands a person's legitimate need for biblical pure pleasure and you try to serve that need.
Jim: Gary, you're hitting on a nerve, I think, for so many Christian homes right now that have not done it that way. And you don't want to wait until they're not comin' home after they've left the home to go, "Oh, I blew it." What are some regular routine things that you can do to make sure you're not emphasizing too many of the rules at the expense of having peace and joy?
Gary: There is a phenomenon on the Internet and on Facebook of parents getting their babies to laugh. And (Laughter) don't you love that? And how hard parents will work to get their babies [to laugh]; when your kids first start gigglin', you just love it. I would say to the parents, don't lose that. This week, if your kid hasn't laughed with your family this week, how can we make that happen? What do they enjoy? What can we do as a family, an appropriate comedy, something that we just enjoy, games or whatnot.
But if you don't remember the last time your family has laughed together, you've gotten out of balance. So, and Laughter is such a healing thing. It's being made in the image of God. Animals don't laugh. That's a sign of humanity created in the image of God, so, get 'em to laugh. And sometimes getting a pet is a good way to get people to laugh. You get another baby. I mean, people just laugh around babies. They just do, 'cause they do something … when a kid does something, instead of, you know, quick go get a broom, it's get a camera. Laugh at each other. Ask the kids to set up plays, but just recognize, we're gonna hold you to account if you step out of the lines, but we also want to recognize, we need to laugh together as a family. So, I would make Laughter a big thing.
Jim: Let me ask you this in terms of our own spiritual journey. When you look at the Pharisees and the Scribes, they were great on the rules. I mean, they took the joy out of everything, it sounds like. People admired them because they could live through their discipline up to a certain standard and they appeared to live it well. And that brought, I guess, a certain awe to them, to where they had power in the culture. Yet, at the same time, Jesus came along and said, you're empty. You're white-washed tombs. You've got it all on the outside, but you don't even understand the heart of God.
And as I thought about that for me, the Lord wants to see that joy. It's true of our salvation. When we become Christians, we don't do the right thing because it's a law or it's a requirement. We do it out of our love for God. That's what shapes our behavior to not want to have an affair or to fall into temptations that the Lord tells us not to fall into. We want to respond in kind to the Lord because He loved us so much, we're in turn, going to show our love by living a life that honors Him. Is that fair? Is that a better way of describing how that relationship should work?
Gary: Absolutely. What you're talking about, I think, is building a life with a satisfied soul and I think that's a good thing, that our kids and people outside of our family would recognize, they take great joy in the Lord. And that's why I think intentionally pursuing appropriate pleasures is important. Let me give a classical case. If you watch a movie that you're not sure you should watch and midway say, "I really shouldn't be watching this" and then you finish it and you come away with that, "Uh."
Jim: Why'd I do that?
Gary: Yeah. If you watch an inspirational movie or a fun movie and it's appropriate and everybody's laughing, you come away and you feel lighter and happier and satisfied. For me, it's a Saturday morning. I could sit there and play Solitaire on my computer and eat potato chips (Laughter), I'm gonna feel like one thing afterwards. If I go for a run in a scenic place and I really enjoy it, I have an entirely different feeling. And so, I think we have an obligation to our kids and to the world at large, to live satisfied lives with good pleasure. I think that attracts people.
Jim: Gary, when you look at that Scripture about Mary and Martha, there seemed to be something going on there. We don't have full disclosure, but Martha was not happy with Mary, 'cause she wasn't helpin' out. She was into getting the tasks done and you know, somebody had to clean up after the party. I mean, it's great that God has thrown this party, but now somebody's gotta clean it up and gee, Lord, Mary's not helpin' me. Unpack that a little bit. What's the right thinking there? What's goin' on? Somebody does have to clean up after the party.
Gary: For the most committed Christian women, if you put to a vote what one Scripture can we remove from the Bible (Laughter), don't you think that Mary and Martha might be at the top? But it is so profound. And let me say this to the women, 'cause it's about women. We're going back to John 15:15, when Jesus said, "I no longer call you servants; I call you friends."
Jesus needs servants. He calls us to pray for workers to go out into the field, but He wants us to delight in Him. And when our attitude is devoid of pleasure, when we recognize that we're doing something only out of duty, we've really stepped in the Martha world instead of the Mary world. And I think we need to step back and say, "How do I recapture that, so that I have this attitude of satisfaction and joy?" If we're not serving with joy, we're not serving in a Christian way. And I think that's really the balance there. We're called to serve, but we need those moments of pleasure, so that we're serving with joy, so that it's a pleasure to serve. And think, we've all had that. When somebody serves you with joy and somebody serves you with resentment, it's not the same thing at all. It's not even close. So, let's build up hearts, not that won't serve--God bless you for serving--but that serve with joy.
Jim: Let me just add to that, the distinction is what you just said. It's … the task is not the issue. I mean, we often … we don't like the task we have to do, but it's the attitude in which we do it with, and that's something you can control completely. And it would've been different, I think, if Martha would've said, "Okay, that was great. I'm gonna go clean up some stuff. Does anybody want to help me?" I mean, that's a totally different attitude, isn't it?
Gary: It is. When my wife does so many things that she does, attitude is 90 percent of what she does. Seriously, the way she'll put down a cup of tea she made for me, it makes all the difference. And I think it's true for our heavenly Father, as well, not just what we do, but why we do it, how we do it and the attitude with which it's done.
Jim: Well, and the Scripture says that His heart takes delight when we turn toward Him. You talk in your book, Pure Pleasure about ferns, something you picked up while you were in Hawaii, I think. What was that analogy about?
Gary: We were on a family hike up on a crest and the guide said, "I just want you to know; you're all standing next to the most dangerous plant in Hawaii." Everybody took three steps back." It's not dangerous because it's poisonous. That's what we all thought. He goes, "It's dangerous because it grows only on steep inclines." And it gives you the sense that something is there. And what happens is, that people step on it. There's nothing there and they fall down a really steep cliff and die. So, the fern isn't poisonous in itself; it's just masking that you're right next to a fall.
And I found there are areas in life where it's not poisonous, but we're set up for a real sinful fall when we're next to it, things like loneliness. It's not a sin to be lonely, but if we put up with loneliness for too long, we ultimately find that lonely people do things that people who don't feel lonely often won't, to find that intimacy, to meet that heart need. It's dangerous not to try to pursue relationships if we're lonely.
Tiredness is another spiritual fern. I find the more tired I get, if I'm not taking that time to rest, I'm set up to do things I wouldn't be inclined to do if I had a full night's rest. Charles Spurgeon was so practical. He said, "So many Christian ills could be solved with a good night of sleep." We look for the spiritual thing, but the reality is we just need a good night of sleep. And so, it's recognizing that it's okay to be occasionally tired. Everybody is. It's okay to be occasionally lonely. Everybody is. But when that pervasively defines who you are, that's when you're set up for a fall that could be very disastrous in your life.
Let's take the next few minutes; let's talk about how we set healthy boundaries when it comes to these areas of pleasure, because that's so critical for us to be vulnerable, to input. How do you go about opening up that kind of discussion and setting those boundaries in a healthy way?
Gary: One, don't be afraid to explore what gives you pure pleasure. That's the first thing. But I use "pure" intentionally, like that example I gave after a good inspiring movie or a not-so-good movie or a good activity or a hurtful activity. You want that sense of, what really satisfies you at that soul level? Recognize that you need that and be willing to find out what that is. And it might be you need to get away with the kids and solve a Sudoku puzzle. It might be that you get away and you create something, whether you're knitting or you're painting or you're taking photographs or you're writing or you're singing or whatever that is.
What I'm asking you to do is to be like your own spiritual physician. A doctor, medical doctor recognizes an ill and says, "You need an antibiotic. You need a painkiller. You need a surgery, but he's prescribing, this is what you need. We need to understand we can't exist only on works, only on duty, only on discipline. So, give yourself permission before the Lord. What gives you the most pleasure in the sense that you come away satisfied, closer to God with a sense of who you are and who God created you to be? What gives you great joy? Identify some of those things.
I've talked to people who are very ill and they talked about that. When you're recovering from a serious illness, for one woman, she said, "You know what? Going out to the pasture, petting my horses and then just watching them and feeding them something, it takes me away from where I am. Another woman was saying, "There's something about being around her cat." For some people, it's going out, taking a walk up onto a ridge, seeing the sunset. Just find what that appropriate pleasure is and recognize, you need to reserve some time to do that.
But then secondly, recognize what am I responsible for? I have a certain amount of hours where I've gotta raise my kids. I've gotta earn some money. I've gotta be a spouse to whoever I'm married to. Or if I'm single, look for a spouse or honor my parents or be a good friend or whatever that is. And then it's, how much time reasonably do I have? And a lot of that is an art more than a science. You've gotta recognize, at times you can become imbalanced. If you like college football, that can be seasonal. But again, if you like every sport, then it can become a problem, if you're spending four or five hours every Saturday on that kind of passive entertainment, you're gonna start to feel it in your soul.
Jim: Well, what's the difference between living in pleasure and living for pleasure?
Gary: That's a key difference. Living for pleasure makes pleasure the end game. That's what I live for. That's what I just can't wait to get to. Living in pleasure is allowing pleasure to be a servant that builds you up. Living in pleasure helps me to be a better father. It doesn't compete with me being a father. It helps me be a better husband. It doesn't compete with me being a husband. It helps me be a better servant of God. It doesn't compete with me being a servant of God.
If I live for pleasure, that's pulling me away from being a husband. I don't want to enjoy something with my wife, I want to do something else. It pulls me away from my kids. Rather than laughing with my kids, I go off and have to laugh by myself.
Jim: What would be some examples of that, so we can hook onto it?
Gary: I think a classic example is when you're a father, you have to recognize, particularly of young kids, you have to recognize that your time is limited. I mean, that's a seasonal thing, raising kids, but you don't have a lot of extra time. I didn't train for marathons when my kids were really young. I didn't go off very often and play a five-hour round of golf during prime time on Saturday. Now you might get up early and go for a run. You might get up early before your kids are awake and play a round of golf. But recognize, my pleasure needs to help me fulfill my role as a father and as a husband. So, you learn to take pleasure in things that serve your relationships and serve your responsibilities, instead of take you away.
You're not gonna be watching a lot of movies that you can't watch with your kids. You probably just don't have time to do that. If your kids learn to play golf, then you can enjoy golf and do that (Laughter). But it's recognizing that I have a limited amount of time for pleasure, so I've gotta learn to take pleasure in things that build up my family. And here's the thing. Pleasures are like food. You cultivate your thirst. You can learn to enjoy certain things the more you give yourself into 'em. And so, you may have to say, for this season, I'm not gonna do that.
I remember talking to a guy. Money wasn't an issue in his life. He was a member of a country club, but a young guy, but he said, "You know what, Gary? At this season in my life, I know until my kids can play golf, that's not something I'm gonna be doing. I want to be there for 'em. I think they'll probably take up golf and when they do, I'm gonna do that with them, but for now, that's something I'm willing to put aside." I think that's a guy who got it.
Jim: What about moms? What are some of the temptations they have when it comes to the pleasure issue?
Gary: They need to get away, I think from a time when they're in charge of everything. And the wise husband is going to preserve that time for his wife. He knows that she needs some times where she's not a wife. She's not a mom. She's not an employee. She's not a boss. She can do things that she can enjoy, but like for a dad and a husband, it's going to be limited.
And the pleasures are so diverse. Maybe she wants some time on Pinterest, you know. And maybe she wants some time to go out and have a great conversation with her friends at coffee. Maybe it's time where the husband knows that he needs to have a certain amount of dark chocolate in the house at any given time (Laughter) because … but it just shows her that he's thinking of her.
Gary: And guys, I would say this. What gives your wife pleasure is one of the best ways to her heart. If you find out, if you study her, what gives her genuine pleasure in a healthy way and you make it one of your life aims to preserve that pleasure, to serve that pleasure, you're gonna have an entirely different wife. She's gonna be more into you. She's gonna have more energy and be more into the kids. And in all aspects of marriage and every man knows what I mean, "in all aspects of marriage," you're actually serving your own interest very well when you take care of her pleasure; she's far more inclined to also take care of yours.
Jim: Gary, you're saying something there that's so important for us to grab as husbands particularly, is studying your wife--that's Song of Solomon stuff right there—and understanding her. What's an example of how you've applied that, just to put you on the spot?
Gary: Lisa and I were traveling one time and we rented a car that had seat warmers. And I found that nothing can make a middle-aged woman happier sometimes (Laughter) on a cold day than having seat warmers. My wife hates being cold. And so, I realized when it was time to buy a new car, that seat warmers were a non-negotiable. We were up in Washington State at the time in Seattle and it's a climate where you often need seat warmers. And there was a time as a new husband, I would've been a little bit more religious than this, if I could say it. I would've said, "Look, if might cost us another $500 to have the type of car that would have seat warmers." Is that a good way to spend God's money?
But when I realized that Lisa is God's daughter, when I realized the pleasure it gives her, I realized, you know what, Gary? Get over that Evangelical guilt. Serve your wife and buy her a car with seat warmers. And the thing is, I don't think that displeased God. I think instead, it said, "You know what, Gary? You're taking care of My daughter. She's workin' so hard taking care of your kids. She serves you. She's servin' Me. She's busy in the neighborhood. Thank you for giving My daughter a few moments of pleasure, when you can go out, warm up her car and put the seat warmers on, just a little moment of pleasure." I think God looks at that as a really good worshipful thing to do and I realize, you know what? It's possible to worship God by buying your wife a certain kind of car.
Jim: Hey, you know what, John? I was just thinkin' here at the end of the program. It'd be great for people to post at the Focus website different things that they've done to bless their spouse. I'd love—
John: I like that idea.
Jim: --to see those and it'd probably give me a few ideas (Chuckling) that I can use, as well. But should we do somethin' like that?
John: I think that's a great idea. Just go to the Focus on the Family Facebook page and tell us those things that you might do, where you're a student of your spouse and you're doing something to bring pleasure to them that honors God.
Jim: And you know, what? It's been so very good, Gary to have you with us. You always bring deep thoughts and things for us to think about. Your book, Pure Pleasure is again, one of those examples of where we need to think beyond the superficial and go deeper. Thank you so much for bein' with us on "Focus on the Family."
Gary: Thank you, Jim and let me just end by saying, one of the things that gives me so much pleasure in this world is knowing that a ministry like Focus on the Family exists. Seeing the good that comes out of it, hearing the testimonies, knowing the deep ministry that goes on, I believe you're bringing great pleasure to our heavenly Father and you bring great pleasure to me, that you've built and shepherded an organization that is doing so much good in this world. So, thank you.
Jim: Well, that's very kind.
John: That really is, Gary and thanks. That's a compliment to God's people who have prayed for and support this ministry through the years. We really want to help families grow stronger and become that solid foundation for a thriving society. And I'll say thanks to you, our generous friends, who provide the funding and that prayer support that we need to build healthier marriages and empower parents to be good fathers and mothers and to give families the spiritual encouragement they need to grow closer to God.
And we've said it before, but let me just repeat this. We depend on you to keep this family ministry going and so, I'll invite you to send a generous gift to Focus on the Family today. We really appreciate your support and you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you make a generous gift to Focus on the Family of any amount today, we'll send a complimentary copy of Gary's book, Pure Pleasure for you or perhaps to pass along to someone. It's a wonderful resource that will make you think more deeply, as Jim said, about how we approach God and if we do with a sense of obligation or delight? And it'll help you learn to serve your spouse and children with greater joy.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. If you're having any rocky roads as you parent your adult child, we'll have some real practical ways to smooth things out and to encourage you as a mom or a dad. That's tomorrow, when we'll once again, help your family thrive.
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Gary ThomasView Bio
Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children.