There is something that many non Christians claim not to understand about Christians, and that is their decision to deny themselves some things that are pleasurable. The irony is that often these same people will chose to do the very same thing.
Many people in pursuit of better physical health or a slimmer body will often deny themselves certain foods or ingredients. They will even go so far as to remove those temptations completely from their homes. They know that proximity often leads to a downfall as one bite will often lead to many more. Individuals trying to quit smoking will often do the same with cigarettes.
Therefore, these individuals realize that denying themselves in certain areas is, in the end, not a bad thing at all. It is a good thing. And while the process is not always easy or painless, it brings them a certain peace and joy to know that their obedience to their diet or cessation plan is bringing about positive physical, mental, and emotional results.
In the very same way, good spiritual health (which also affects physical, mental, and emotional health -- Psalm 32:3) requires denial as well. Each of us may have practices or thoughts in our lives that are not pleasing to God, that God expressly sees as sin. And though these thoughts and practices may bring us temporal pleasure, in the end they will not bring us permanent joy and will damage our relationship with God because to purposely continue in them is to be willfully disobedient.
Just as for the dieter, the process is rarely easy. Being obedient to God’s will often requires loss and can be painful. But God has promised to be with us through the journey (Deuteronomy 31:6), and, through Jesus, has experienced those very same temptations we face and so can both empathize with us (Hebrews 4:15) and help us (I Corinthians 10:13).
God offers those who trust Him and are obedient to Him peace as well, but a different kind of peace than the world offers, a peace which “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:6) and is “perfect” (Isaiah 26:3). God’s peace never fails. Worldly peace can be shattered by a word or a look as we have seen both in our personal lives and in the failure of international peace agreements. But the peace God provides endures.
Wesley Hill in his book Washed and Waiting talks about the pain that often accompanies God’s desire to purify us from sin through our obedience. He says, “ . . . God isn’t tame or safe. True, he is merciful, but his mercy has sharp edges. God judges sin and transforms sinners in a way that often feels as if it is ripping apart our deepest selves" (128).
But he follows this statement by providing encouragement to all who are struggling with denial, when he says, “. . . . even on our loneliest roads, when the valleys are so shadowed that day feels like night, God is watching, rejoicing over every inch gained, gazing down as the Author who cares about every twist in his story” (128).
So I pray that we all stay the course, so that not only will we experience perfect peace and everlasting joy while on earth––despite the pain--but also that when we come face to face with God, we will hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2010. Print.