Sometimes as believers we drift into thinking that God only delights in us constantly worshipping and serving Him. We assume that if something we are doing is not directly ministry related or serving-oriented that it cannot be good. This is the mindset that leads to monasticism and can lead to a dry, dead Christianity because it is devoid of Joy. But is this actually the way that God wants us to live? Must everything we do be limited to service or ministry? To answer that question, we must look at what the bible says about pleasure.
God's view or pleasure
A key verse about pleasure that we must begin with is found in 1 Timothy 6:17. The context of this passage is dealing with the Rich in the church. They are commanded not to be proud or to trust in their riches. Rather, they are commanded to trust in God because He is the source of all good things in our lives. The phrase under consideration is "who giveth us richly all things to enjoy." Notice the purpose behind the things that God has given us: to enjoy. God desires for us to enjoy the things that He has given us. A mindset of asceticism is at its root ingratitude toward the one who gave them to us.
Also included in this verse is the idea that God gives us these things richly. Richly means abundantly. God pours out all these good things in our lives like a flood not a tiny trickle. A good illustration of the heart of God can be found in the joy that parents experience on Christmas when their children are opening their presents. For the most part, Christmas can be a hectic season for parents with all the cooking, family coming in, wrapping, hiding, buying ect. But in the end, it is all worth it to see the joy in your kids eyes when they get that one present that they have been longing for. This is how God feels about us. Zephaniah 3:17 shows us the heart of God:
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty;
He will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy;
He will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
The bible teaches us that joyfulness which comes from pleasure is good for us. Proverbs 15:13: A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.
The Purpose of Pleasure
So what is the purpose of pleasure or the good things in our lives? Is it to give it all away? It is to serve God better? Is it to provide for our family? All of these reasons are good reasons and part of the picture but they are not the entire picture or the only legitimate reason for pleasure in our lives. Proverbs 24:13-14 gives us a glimpse into the purpose behind the gifts that God gives us.
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good;
And the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste:
14 So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul:
When thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward,
And thy expectation shall not be cut off.
In this verse, Solomon is giving some practical advice or wisdom to his son. This verse is framed as a command. The word eat is an imperative. He isn't suggesting his son follow this course of action. He isn't begging that his son eat as a pushover parent begin their child to eat their peas. He is commanding his son to eat honey. Why should he eat honey? The reason he should eat honey is because it is good. Good here is the generic Hebrew word for good, but it can also be translated as pleasant. Good can refer to morality, but how is eating honey a moral action. It can also be good because it is valuable. This is still less likely as an interpretation for the use of the word good in this verse. In the context, you are to eat honey because it is tasty and delicious. It brings pleasure. Notice the synonymous parallelism between lines 1 and 2. Honey and honey comb are clearly synonymous. The second part of each line 1) because it is good and 2) which is sweet to thy taste are also synonymous. Solomon is commanding his son to eat honey because it tastes good and brings pleasure.
Verse 14 expands on why we are to enjoy pleasure. Eating honey creates in us a delight in things that are sweat and good. As we learn to desire good things, we are directed to look past those things to find delight in God. Specifically in this verse eating honey is pleasurable just like wisdom is to us. Wisdom is the mind of God. Ultimately, pleasure is intended to point us to God.
Psalm 37:4 says that we are to delight ourselves in the Lord. Our greatest joy is found in God Himself. All the pleasures of life are to point us to God. As a believer, I can enjoy a hike through the woods by myself because I can give God glory and rejoice in Him for the beauty of his created world. I can also find joy in rest because God is the one who gives me rest. All the mundane things of life can be enjoyed to the glory of God.
In High School, I did CIT at the Wilds of the Rockies in Colorado. Anyone who has ever attended the Wilds knows that their key verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Every action that we perform, every joy that we have is intended to bring glory to God. As we saw in Zephaniah, God delights or finds joy in us when we are happy. In fact, this verse says that God sings over us. As John Piper has memorialized by a subtle change to the Westminster Confession of the faith in answer to the question, "What is the chief end of man?"
The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
God finds His joy and glory in what is best for us and what is best for us is God. It is a natural outflow of any real relationship that you will enjoy being around the other person. When they give you things or spend time with you, it draws you closer to that person. Such is pleasure, where its ultimate purpose is to draw us closer to God in gratitude for what He has given us.
The Danger of Pleasure
Simply put, the danger of pleasure is allowing it to not fulfill its mission. Sometimes we lose focus on the purpose of pleasure and pursue pleasure just because it makes us feel good. Sometimes we elevate pleasure above God and it becomes an idol. So the danger of pleasure is first, when we pursue pleasure without God being the end. This results in finding pleasure in things that God has forbidden or is displeased by. Secondly, the danger of pleasure is making it a God in our lives. This results in us always looking for a good time, but never having any time for God, His word, or prayer. 2 Timothy 3:4 says that in the last days, men will be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. It is important to evaluate our pursuits to see if we are making them more important to us than God is. Some signs that we have elevated pleasure above God could be:
1. Skipping church to attend a ballgame or other activitiy
2. Avoiding the people of God because we would rather just spend time doing our thing
3. Skipping devotions but spending plenty of time watching TV or playing video games
4. Serving God becomes inconvenient
Much more could be written on this topic but that would require a much longer post.
So can a Christian enjoy themselves or find rest in recreation? Yes, God has given us all these things to enjoy. Let's keep in mind that all these things are intended to point us to God, and to glorify Him. Bask in your relationship with the Lord and enjoy the things that He has given, but never let them take His place.
For a deeper discussion on the pleasures of Religion check out this article by Jonathan Edward.