Simplifying our Pleasure

By Josh Porter, Gavin Bennett, and Casey McDonald

Begin with Prayer (5 minutes)

Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting. Have somebody lead a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time together.

Debrief in Triads (5–10 minutes)

  1. What’s the process of simplifying or de-owning your possessions been like, if you’ve started?
  2. Have you found any areas where you’re able to be more generous, either by diverting a current expense or another way?

Read this Overview (5 minutes)

The Simplicity of Pleasure, or Sobriety, is the practice of examining our hearts and noting how excess pleasure keeps us from fully following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit. We remember that pleasure was part of God’s original design, but also that when our loves are misordered, we lose sight of a key truth: God alone can satisfy us, and he wants to. 

From cover to cover, the Bible teaches us that the way one pursues and attains intimacy with God (and spiritual formation, healing, wisdom, maturity, and spiritual insight) is through sobriety. We find that any intoxicated state is specifically called out as a barrierto God, and leads to a lack of both wisdom and good judgment. The New Testament consistently upholds sobriety as the way that disciples of Jesus are unique (1 Thes. 5), the very means by which we set our minds on Jesus (1 Peter 1 & 4). Sobriety is how we resist the devil (1 Peter 5).

Indulging in an excess of pleasure can keep us from experiencing the Kingdom of God, God’s in-breaking rule and reign in the here and now. Operating in “the flesh” prevents us from operating in the Spirit and from experiencing the goodness of God and flourishing in our lives, our families, and our communities (see Gal. 5).

Simplicity of possessions moves us to contentment; simplicity of speech moves our attention onto others; simplicity of finances moves us to generosity. Simplicity of pleasure brings all these together by decluttering our minds and souls, moving us to become active channels of the Holy Spirit. Excess can sabotage the potential of our apprenticeship to Jesus.

In this week’s Practice, we’ll explore what if anything in our life needs simplifying or restricting.

Discuss the coming week’s Practice (10 minutes)

Narrowing the channels of pleasure (that is, saying “no” to excess and “yes” to sober-mindedness) is not a way of limiting who we are. It is the way we will embrace the full scope of our potential to be empowered by God’s Spirit, and to step into our God-given calling. God does not call us to sobriety as a way of keeping us from joy and peace, but as a way of protecting and enhancing our joy and peace.

This week, our Practice is to begin recognizing and naming the excess of pleasure in our life and to take a step, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, towards the simplicity of pleasure.

  • Take a deep breath and welcome the Holy Spirit to speak. This conversation may be challenging, so make sure that you give yourself time and space to do it thoughtfully.
  • Read through Galatians 5v16–21. As you read, ask: Are there excesses in my life that need simplifying? What are they?

Some examples may be:

  • Relationships (avoiding being alone, constantly seeking approval, etc.)
  • Sexuality (porn, sleeping around, neglecting spousal relationship, etc.)
  • Substances (alcohol, weed, prescription drug misuse, etc.)
  • Technology (phone, internet, Netflix, etc.)
  • Work (too much too often, overfocus on productivity, etc.)
  • Appearance (social media, shopping, etc.)
  • Rest (excessive “self care,” avoiding relationships via isolation, etc.)

None of the categories are inherently bad (though most of the parenthetical examples aren’t included in Christian sobriety). 

  • Next, ask: What need is this excess or pleasure meeting in me? And how may the Holy Spirit want to meet that need instead?
  • Next, ask: What will I do about it? 
  • Spend some time engaging the Holy Spirit and listening to God. Likely the answer to this question will be complex and multidimensional. That’s okay. Don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, start with the question: What is the first step towards simplicity? Maybe it’s a conversation with someone; maybe it’s deleting an app; maybe it’s changing your schedule. Remember that it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads us to change course (Rom. 2v3–4). What is the first step to take?
  • Next, ask: Who will I ask to hold me accountable?
  • The journey to Simplicity of Pleasure may be a long one. As with all Practices of Jesus, don’t go it alone. Who could be someone you could share this journey with? Perhaps a friend or pastor, maybe a counselor or spouse. Take a minute and reflect on who it is. Then before ending the Practice, reach out to them.
  • Note: for some, the excess of pleasure has ceased to feel like a choice, and has moved into the space of addiction. If that’s you, please know healing and freedom are possible. Consider reaching out to a counselor, joining a 423Communities group (if you are struggling with sexual addiction), or seeking a substance use support group in your area. 
  • Finally, spend some time abiding with the Spirit in gratitude. Pray and ask God for strength to trust his goodness. Ask God to open your eyes and heart to the pleasure that is yours in Jesus. 

Remember that simplifying and limiting pleasure is a disciplined gesture that says, “the way I order my decisions and days and priorities will reflect my love of Jesus and his calling on my life.” As you begin to explore this concept, remember to start small: where you are, not where you think you should be.

Work through these questions together as a Community (15–20 mins)

  1. What stood out to you in Josh’s teaching about the simplicity of pleasure? Was anything challenging or surprising?
  2. Is restricting yourself from some pleasurable things (such as alcohol or another indulgence) something you’ve thought about or done before? What feelings or thoughts come up as we talk about this?
  3. What do you most hope to gain through the Practice of sobriety, or simplifying our pleasures (e.g. a sound mind, discernment, wisdom, etc.)?

Close in Prayer (10–15 min)