If you push yourself too hard or deny yourself healthy pleasures for too long, you can suffer a breakdown spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. So give yourself regular breaks to engage in pleasurable activities that refresh you. If you're busy enjoying life in healthy ways, you'll be far less attracted to illicit pleasures than you would be if you deprived yourself.

Figure out what you most enjoy

Consider what types of activities give you true and lasting pleasure. What renews your sense of joy in life? What inspires you so much that it helps you live a faithful life? Make a list of the activities that come to mind. Then consider how you can start pursuing those activities as often as possible within your current schedule.

Control your pleasures so they won't control you

If you've developed a sense of entitlement to certain pleasures you enjoy regularly, they may have an unhealthy hold on your life. They also become unhealthy when you feel obsessive, impulsive, or compulsive about them, or they devour other activities in your life or lead you to bizarre behavior. Plan to fast from them for a period of time. Then, after taking a break, you can return to those activities free to continue to enjoy them. Make sure that you're always submitting to God - who is greater than any pleasure - rather than just following where your pleasures lead.

Count the cost

Pray for the wisdom to be able to discern when it's worthwhile to pay for an expensive pleasure (such as a family vacation that will strengthen your relationships) and when it's not. Be willing to make financial sacrifices in other ways so you can responsibly afford the pleasure that you most value. For example, if you particularly enjoy wearing expensive clothes, you can better afford them if you save money from eating at home rather than out at restaurants often.

Enjoy time with your family

Try to make the time you have with your family as enjoyable as possible. Let your kids relax in your presence and have fun with you regularly. Go out on dates with your spouse and enjoy sexual intimacy together.

Find "pockets of pleasure" in the midst of difficult circumstances

Don't give up on pleasure when you're stuck dealing with tough circumstances, such as a chronic illness or prolonged season of unemployment. Look for pleasurable activities where you can so you can retain joy in your life despite your situation.

Enjoy humor

Don't deny yourself the pleasure of laughing often at life's funny moments. Doing so will bring joy into your life each day.

Adapted from Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?, copyright 2009 by Gary L. Thomas.  Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.zondervan.com
Gary Thomas is a writer and founder of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality. He is the author of several books, including
Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Holy Available, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith.

Original publication date: November 13, 2009