Ecc. 8:15-17; 9:7-10
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite preachers is John Piper, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. A lot of my thinking on missions comes from him, especially the primacy of glorifying God as the purpose of missions activity. You can see his Wikipedia article here. Probably his most controversial teaching is what he calls “Christian Hedonism.” Today’s passages are a great springboard for the concept.
First, as always, we need some clarification. Strictly speaking, this is quite different from traditional hedonism--the belief (usually demonstrated by one’s lifestyle) that pleasure should be the highest aim in life. That would mean we’re holding something (pleasure) as more important than God, and that would mean idolatry.
But what it means is that we seek our pleasure in God himself, and not be content with anything less. The Westminster Catechism, a standard for Christians for centuries, says that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Piper would amend that slightly: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Another quote from him: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." In this line of thought he’s echoing some big names in Christian theology: Blasé Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, and C. S. Lewis.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Lewis: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And I’m going to go a step further with this. Neither Piper nor any of the teachers listed above would tell you that pleasure is a bad thing. Last year we talked about the fact that the physical world God created is good. But if we focus on our relationship with him, then not only can we enjoy the Lord's presence, we can also truly enjoy the simple pleasures in life which he blesses us with. By this I’m referring to such things as eating good food, sharing intimate time with your wife, having a fun time with friends, etc. You don’t need exotic vacations or to seek the next thrill if you can find pleasure in the simple things.
And the great thing about this is that if you actually succeed at this, then you can actually be like Paul and learn “to be content whatever the circumstances.” If God decides to bless you materially, then you can enjoy his blessings (and be generous with them) and not fall into idolatry. If he decides to provide for you at a less prosperous level (eating lots of Mac and Cheese), then you can be content with that and still enjoy whatever pleasures life still affords. Sunsets, the smell of flowers, listening to good music, holding your wife’s hand and other simple delights can be pretty satisfying.
Our Father’s not like Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, only doling out blessings with the utmost reluctance. He loves to bless his children, and only holds back because it’s in our best interests. Focus on finding your pleasure in him. If you do, you’ll be amazed how much brighter this world is.
Father, you're so quick to bless your children, and you delight in giving us good things. Give me a heart of gratitude and contentment. Whatever else I have in life, you’re more than enough.