I read a magazine article recently about "putting off happiness." The author shared how she often chose a cheaper or simpler food item simply because she couldn't get past the prices on the menu. And she was usually left craving more for passing up what she really wanted.
Now I am not advocating selfish or irresponsible spending, but I do wonder--how often do we as Christians pass up a pleasure for the wrong reasons? Not out of necessity, discipline, or obedience but out of fear, pride, or self-righteousness.
Do we bypass dining out for fear that though we have money this week who knows what will happen next week? Do we make decisions out of fear that we won't have enough fill-in-your-favorite-blank here down the road if we enjoy God's gifts today? And even if the wise choice is to abstain, are we forgoing out of wisdom and good stewardship or out of a heart of distrust in God's provision?
Do we abstain from dessert, music, art, fiction, or rest out of a sense of legalism or pride? Does it make us feel more holy to spend an evening cleaning and serving rather than going to an art museum or reading a great piece of fiction? Do we turn away from the piece of chocolate because we'll feel a sense of control at doing so? Do we forfeit TV or movies for the appearance of holiness?
The Apostle Paul wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful" (1 Cor. 6:12). So I am not suggesting we abuse our freedom, but I do believe that we often avoid God's provisions of food, art, and rest out of a false martyrdom or a sense of others' expectations.
These are gifts for our enjoyment from and under Christ. And He is the point. "The point is not what you abstain from but pursuing the beauty of Christ."*
The next time you find yourself gazing longingly at the slice of chocolate cheesecake, ask yourself, "What will help me love Jesus and His beauty more? In the short term and the long term?" The answer may be to opt against the short term gratification out of a desire to honor God with your body and a choice not to seek satisfaction in your food. At another time, you may choose to eat the dessert out of a celebration that God made it, knows you love chocolate cheesecake, and gave you the opportunity to savor it well. If this is the case, then eat it in the grace of God and thank Him for it.
Regardless of which decision you make, even if it's the same one you would've chosen otherwise, your mind will be focused on Christ and motivated to pursue Him. And not held captive to pride of fear. This is true freedom.
For an in-depth treatment on the place of pleasure in a Christian's life, I recommend: Gary Thomas' Pure Pleasure (Zondervan, 2009).
*Quote from "Following Jesus," a sermon by Sean Cordell. Treasuring Christ Church. September 12, 2010.