11 Jun 2020
All pleasure was meant to point us to Jesus, the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Betcha Can’t Eat Just One: Redirecting Desire, which corresponds to this video.
11 Jun 2020
Have you ever taken the Lay’s potato chip challenge and tried to eat just one? It’s not easy! Or consider the Pringles slogan: “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Even though we know there are healthier options, those chips taste so good that we want to keep eating more.
On a more serious note, though, we often find it hard to refrain from unhealthy, non-food indulgences as well. Why? Our sinful hearts easily turn pleasurable experiences into idol worship. We encounter something good, and then we often treat that thing as ultimately fulfilling. Have you ever been given a good gift, like sex within marriage, only to use it wrongly, such as a source of pleasure only for yourself and not for your spouse? We usually don’t view pleasure as a good gift from God to be received with thanksgiving. Instead, we see it as a need or a right. The idol then has the chance to persuade your heart to continue feasting, to keep coming back for more pleasure.
Whenever you believe that life is truly found in a certain pleasure, you will continue to experience a gravitational pull in its direction. You will be torn between fighting sin and believing you can’t live without it.
But God wants us to understand life and pleasure in a very different way. Pleasure in itself is not bad. It’s a natural response to anything good that comes from God. C.S. Lewis shows us how pleasure goes awry in his book, The Screwtape Letters. Speaking from the standpoint of one demon to another, he writes, “All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent to its Maker, and least pleasurable.¹”
Pleasure in its truest essence always finds its source in God. Sexual pleasure is not the problem. The problem resides in the receptor of pleasure, our hearts. As Lewis points out, our problem is that we indulge in sexual pleasure in forbidden times, ways, and degrees. We do this because we believe sexual pleasure will bring us life, justifying in our hearts our willingness to disobey God’s commands.
So what can you do to seek deeper transformation and experience pleasure as God intended? Here are three suggestions.
Cultivate a Heart of Thankfulness
Sinful pleasure has a dreadful way of killing our enjoyment of life. We become desensitized to so many good gifts while simultaneously becoming ultra-sensitized to one specific pleasure that controls our affections, time, and energy. Start re-sensitizing yourself to simple, good pleasures in life by thanking God for the food you eat, the bed you sleep in, the relationships in your life, and so on. Of course, all of these temporal pleasures from our benevolent Father pale in comparison to the pleasure found in our union with Christ.
Pursue Pleasure as an Act of Worship
God created you for worship. And while there are clearly-defined, formal ways in which God requires his people to worship him, he created you to bring him praise and glory in unique ways as well. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, an Olympic gold medalist, said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” For Eric, running was an act of worship. Running brought him incredible joy and fulfillment. But he also refused to let running be his source of life. As the movie shows, when the pleasure of running was offered in a way that stirred Eric’s conscience, he refrained.
How has God made you to feel his pleasure? In what unique ways has he called you into worshipful activities? Whether it is painting, reading, playing sports, parenting, or cooking, acknowledge your Creator and Redeemer in those moments. The more you live before God with your pleasure, the greater power you will have to resist turning that pleasure into an idol.
Fasting as a Way of Realignment
What are those things in your life that aren’t sinful in and of themselves, but that you use in degrees that are sinful? These are things that take too much of your time, attention, and affection, showing that your heart is out of alignment. Are you over-exercising, over-eating, scrolling social media with a jealous heart, or interrupting others in conversation to make sure your own opinion is voiced? Just as a car needs a realignment if it’s veering to one side, so too our hearts need realignment. Fasting is one powerful and purposeful way to give up those activities that you know sinfully pull on your heart. I would recommend at least a week-long fast. The degree of pain and struggle you go through to give that up is indicative of the life you were deriving from it. Allow your fast to be a time of repentance and also a time of true pleasure and life, which can only come from the Life-giver.
Idols lie to us that we are foregoing enjoyment when we forsake them. But nothing could be further from the truth. Idols take your heart’s capacity to enjoy infinite pleasures at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11) and shrivel it up, so that you can only enjoy the confined, ever-shrinking space of creature-worship. Believe instead that your heavenly Father will give you “fullness of joy” in his presence.
¹C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), 44.
You can also watch the video, How Does Jesus Meet Us in Our Desires?, which corresponds to this blog.
27 Feb 2020
Idols are cruel masters that are bent on your misery. But they don’t present themselves that way. First, they convince you that your life is summed up in the attainment of a specific desire. It might be success, comfort, control, affirmation, or intimacy. Then, this idol promises you that it can meet this desire in your life. It even gives you displays of its power and invites you to taste of its delicacies. So you sign on the dotted line and agree to give your heart to this idol in exchange for its services.
The Problem with Your Idol
In the beginning, the idol seems to be fulfilling every single promise it made. It delivers quickly and efficiently. It’s there for you in the good times and the bad. It’s there to comfort you, weep with you, celebrate with you, and offer to spend the lonely nights with you.
Your love for this idol is growing quickly. The more you feed it, the more it draws you in. Over time, your life becomes consumed by it. Other things in life become distractions and obstacles in the way of going back to this idol again and again. Going one day without it feels unbearable, making your inevitable return that much more intoxicating.
This is when you start to question your agreement with this idol. The cost of this pleasure wasn’t spelled out for you in the initial contract. You start to notice that other things in life have lost their value. You don’t enjoy them the way you used to. Your relationships with others may have become awkward, transactional, and strained. Over time, you’ve become more and more isolated, and, eventually, you’re left alone—just you and your idol.
The Struggle with Your Idol
Upon realizing that you have made a terrible mistake, you try to get out of this contract. But this idol has already sealed and notarized it. You beg and plead with it to let you go, but it shouts all the more that it will never leave you. It even threatens you and those you love. It tells you that if you try to get help from others, you’ll be endangering your family and even your own life. Right after threatening you, it woos you back with smooth and enticing words.
Finally, one day, you think you’ve found a way to escape this idol’s grip. If this idol offered you such powerful fulfillment in life, maybe Jesus can do the same for you. So you pray that Jesus will meet you in the same way this idol did, maybe even better. That Jesus will give you comfort, intimacy, control, and affirmation. But Jesus doesn’t answer you the way this idol did. The idol said, “You can walk by sight and feel good whenever you want.” Jesus says, “Walk by faith, and trust me when trials come your way.” After a while, you grow frustrated with Jesus, that he’s not helping you the way you want. He seems distant and unable to give you what makes you happy. In anger and unbelief, you willingly return to your idol, hopeless for anything better in your life.
As you stay with your idol, one thing is very clear to you: This idol hasn’t satisfied you. It’s just filled you with junk that tasted sweet but left you bitter. It promised real life but only delivered powerful counterfeits. Your life is now marked by unsatisfied longings that are temporarily mitigated by your idol.
You feel stuck, and it seems that Jesus is either unwilling or unable to free you from your misery.
Freedom from Your Idol
But then Jesus comes to you and offers you a pathway out of your despair. He tells you there is a way to be freed from the tyranny of this idol and its false promises. He exposes the lie that brought you in to begin with: That life can be found outside of the Life-giver. It is the hook of believing that life can be found in living for comfort, intimacy, control, security, and affirmation.
As long as you continue to believe that lie, your hope of escaping this cruel master is vain.
Jesus tells you to repent of coming to him merely to use him as a means of giving you your idolatrous desires. He reminds you of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You had put your desires for other things before desiring him. You thought that in them was found the wellspring of life.
Jesus reminds you,
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8).
Your heart is pierced by his words. You see clearly how you’ve been spurning his offer of himself in order to cling to your idols. And you hear his invitation as a real way forward out of your misery, but your idol retorts with a strong counterargument. It says, “If you give your heart to Jesus, he’s calling you to give up good things and desire him only. Do you really want to give up your comfort, your security, your control?”
Jesus knows your weak faith and the ease at which your idol is able to convince you of its lies. And so, tenderly, with a heart of compassion, he tells you, “You’re not giving up your desires; you’re giving them over to me. You’re giving your whole life to me. In so doing, I will give you myself. And when I give you myself, all of your desires with which I created you find their ultimate satisfaction in me. When you are satisfied in me, you are truly free.”
In tears, you cry out, “Lord, I want to be satisfied in you, but that’s not happening in my life. I’ve tried, and you haven’t shown up for me.”
“My beloved child,” Jesus says, “You’ve been coming to me on the basis of your feelings, your experience, and your doubts. You haven’t been coming to me in faith in my promises to you. You’ve been coming to me demanding that I meet you on your terms. You haven’t been coming to me in trust, submitting to my perfect will for your life. You’ve wanted me to serve you so that you can be lord of your life. I want you to know a peace that comes from offering yourself to me daily as a living sacrifice, because you trust that I am sufficient for every need you have, and I will be faithful to every promise I have ever made to you. You thought that I existed for you. But you exist for me. You exist to glorify my name.”
With these words, your shackles come undone and fall to the floor as you see the path of joy and freedom set before you. Freedom is not in having your desires met in your timing and your ways. Freedom comes from repenting of your idolatry and entrusting your whole life to your first love, to the one for whom you were created.
The Death of Your Idol
Your idol has been dealt a death blow, but with its dying breath, it lunges at you with a sword of doubt saying, “You might want this freedom, you might even desire to worship Jesus alone, but you’ll fail, and you’ll come crawling back to me. Your repentance won’t be perfect.”
With confident humility you respond, “You’re right. I won’t be perfect. Even in my best moments, my love for Jesus will fall short of his supreme value. But my hope is not in my righteousness. My hope rests in being united to my Savior, who bore my sin of idolatry on the cross and has given me his perfect righteousness, so that I can come to him freely and ask for help from his infinite storehouse of grace.”
Jesus welcomes you into his arms and declares with amazing love, “You are my portion, and I am yours!” Jesus is not a genie or a powerful new way to get what you really want in the way you want it. Jesus Christ is the one who bore all the guilt of your sinful humanity and gives you nothing less than his own indestructible life—he himself is our reward. He doesn’t serve our desires; he reshapes them by his death and resurrection and guarantees them to us by joining us eternally to himself.