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The pursuit of pleasure

July 5, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

In case you missed it, this past Monday, Joey Chestnut successfully defended his title at the Hot Dog Eating World Championships at the original Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island in New York. Chestnut successfully devoured 62 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes by dipping his hot dogs in juice to moisten them before shoving them into his mouth.

I will now pause to allow your stomach to settle.

In many ways, the Hot Dog Eating World Championships are a great picture of what has become the American way of life. I can still remember as a child how fascinated I was by all-you-can-eat buffets, shopping sprees, and anything that promised me that I could have all that my eyes (or stomach) desired. How cool it would be, I thought, to have ten minutes to go through Toys R Us, grabbing all of the toys I could fit into my cart! How awesome to go to a restaurant where I could fill my plate with every kind of pie, ice cream, pudding, and sweet treat I desired!

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.”

I have a confession to make. Lately, I have been feeling like a glutton. Now, I realize I don’t look like a glutton. After all, I weigh roughly the same as I did when I was in high school, many years ago. But lately I have felt myself slipping into a frame of mind described by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:10 – “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” If I want it, I will eat it. And then go back for seconds. And I’m feeling the temptation in other areas as well. If I want it, and it’s within my reach, then I will take it, whether or not it is truly good for me.

Maybe you’re asking, “What’s so wrong about that?” After all, we work hard so that we can have the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it. TV on demand. Whatever we want to buy, just a click away. And when you read Ecclesiastes 2:10, you see that Solomon admits that his heart took delight in all of his work. His words tell us what we know to be true, that there is great pleasure to be had in an ice cream sundae, or the purchase of fine clothes, or some other sensual delight. But Solomon goes on to say that when he stepped back and surveyed his pursuit of pleasure, he realized that he had gained nothing, that he was simply chasing the wind, pursuing something that he could never catch.

As followers of Jesus, we need to guard against the mindset Solomon discusses in Ecclesiastes 2:10: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” The temptation of pleasure, of having whatever we want whenever we want it, is strong, and promises us a life of neverending happiness. But, as Solomon said, it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. True happiness continues to lie just outside our grasp. Just one more dessert. One more shopping spree. One more sensual delight. Pleasure promises a lot, but does not fully satisfy us.

Do you find yourself living as Solomon, denying yourself nothing your eyes desire, refusing your heart no pleasure? Listen and heed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2). Put down that sundae, put away your credit card, and do what the Psalmist exhorts: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

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