We humans naturally pursue what is pleasurable. We were created with innate longings for joy and enjoyment and spend our lifetimes capturing it wherever we can. That longing is a good thing, planted by our Creator to draw us like a magnet toward the fountain of pleasure that is found in Him.
The problem is that sin has distorted things and we’re constantly getting drawn into poisoned pleasures that lead to death. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, the mind set on satisfying the cravings of the flesh is death. The earthly pleasures found in sex, food, entertainment, days off, observing the beauties of nature, and the like ultimately all fall short. We consume them and walk away needing more. The pleasures and joys of this earth aren’t full. We need more than what they offer.
Where pleasure is found
In Psalm 16 David gives an answer to the pleasure-seeking ache that every human has. He writes,
“You make know to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
– Psalm 16:11
Where are we to find the joy and enjoyment that we need? In the presence of God.
Almost every Christian I know would agree with this in general, but in practice we tend to function as if we don’t quite believe what David’s saying here. Note that it’s not in the Bible that David says joy is found. It’s not in church. It’s not in quiet times. It’s in God’s presence. That means that if we’re in God’s presence we can have joy and pleasure.
The question is, where is God’s presence? If we want joy and pleasure and it’s experienced by being close to God, then we must know where God is and go there.
The Apostle Paul states what echoes throughout the Psalms and the rest of Scripture when he declares God, “is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). God is present throughout all the earth. He fills his creation as the waters fill the sea. As David wrote in another Psalm,
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
– Psalm 139:7-10
Long story short, God’s presence is everywhere. You can’t get away from it.
This truth has amazing implications for our search for joy. If it is both true that God is present in all places and that in his presence there is total joy and pleasure, that means we can walk in constant fullness of joy, regardless of our location or situation. In the midst of family conflict we can have joy. In the midst of moving to a new city and knowing no one we can have joy. When nothing goes according to plan we can be pleased, because God is present and in his presence is pleasure forevermore.
How to get there
In another Psalm we read,
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
– Psalm 100:4
Want to get into God’s presence where there is pleasure and joy unending? The way to get there is is thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving gets you through the gates, praise into the courts of his presence. If we want pleasure and joy we must put praise and thanksgiving as high priorities in our lives.
When you’re feeling dissatisfied with life is your response to start thanking God for all the good he’s given you? When you’re stressed and joyless do you turn on the praise by declaring to God his glorious character and promises? God is present in all places and at all times, and we can encounter that presence in a real, mind-and-emotion-impacting way through thanksgiving and praise.
If you’re struggling to grasp joy and find pleasure in God or in life, set aside regular time to worship. Read the Scriptures and respond with verbal, out-loud declaration of thanks when you read something good. Write out a list of what you’re thankful for in this moment. Turn on worship music and soak in the lyrics. Inevitably you’ll find that as you do so your heart and Spirit rises to the joy and pleasure that is found in the presence of God. And that, my friends, will make all the difference.