The Problem With Pleasure
You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:3
Just after I got out of Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor. I wasn’t called to be a youth pastor, didn’t really want to be a youth pastor and did not intend to stay a youth pastor, but my denomination required me to have a ministry position before I could receive my ministerial credentials. So, at the expense of a nice group of kids in a small church in California, I pursued the position for the sheer ego-pleasure of being called “Pastor Jim” and by doing so, removed God and His love from the process.
Sure, I knew God called me to be a minister. But I’m amazed at the deceptive lengths I went to get what I wanted, even taking a position I knew I wasn’t suited for and by doing so, killing the chance another real youth pastor may have had at ministering to those kids. I wanted something and I fought and killed for the pleasure of the pleasure. Oh Lord, please forgive me.
But this attitude is not new. James is writing to a group of Christians (1:1) who seem to be doing everything but acting like Christ. They’re fighting and quarreling among themselves because they want stuff they don’t have and they’re willing to scheme and kill to get it (4:2). And if they don’t get what they want right away, they find ways to make war with those who had their precious stuff and take it away. Did I mention James is writing to Christians? Then if that didn’t work, they actually resorted to prayer (4:3) as a last ditch effort to get the stuff they think they must have to live the good life.
Did I mention James is writing to Christians? No, not a group of Christians in a major city in the United States who are in the middle of a church split (although he could be!), but Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Middle East almost two thousand years ago. It seems not much has changed in the last two millennia.
I think Annie Dillard has tagged most of us. How many times have we seen something nice and, sensing the pleasure we could receive from having it, turned the beauty of God’s creation into a battlefield of selfishness where the victims are people in our own church family? We wanted that church position more than our relationship with people and politicked to get it (that was me). We desired material goods instead of God and pursued the thing with more passion than we pursued God (me again). We sought the thing simply for the pleasure it could bring, as if pleasure were a tangible item one could hold and stroke to ensure the warm fuzzy feelings never went away (me once more, but the fuzzy feelings eventually left).
I’ve been there big time, and I know some of you have been there, too. Fortunately, we serve a God who desires to reconcile us with His pleasure and purpose. Now I take the time and ask the Lord if the pleasure I seek is pleasing to Him. If it is, great. If it isn’t, then I know it isn’t worth killing myself, and others, to have.