Don Goulding - Blog

True Pleasure

Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

In Germany, an acquaintance showed me his new BMW he’d picked up that day. An unspoken spark jumped the cultural barriers, because we both appreciated a beautiful automobile. We walked around the sleek, black trophy with the awe reserved for cathedrals. He opened the door and invited me to sit inside, and even drive if I wanted. The smell of new car and leather was seductive, and I imagined he would name it after a swank German actress. The doors closed with a precisely fitting thud.

Let’s go back over this moment of car ecstasy with the objective eyes of a nontemporal being. Our joy over the aerodynamic lines was nothing more than biochemical traces in our brain neurons left by previous encounters with automobiles in which we were told, “This is a nice car.” The exciting aroma was the outgassing of construction materials, primarily toluene and trimethylbenzene, transmitted to our sensory nose hairs. My imaginary personification of an inanimate object was responsible for ascribing gender to the apparatus. The satisfying door closure resulted from displaced air molecules creating sonic waves that vibrated our eardrums.

Often my pleasures and comforts are just so many reactions of chemistry. To grow up into Christ means I begin to delight in pleasures that are eternal, like love and peace. As a spiritual being, I can live above the base physical elements. I need to own fewer belongings but possess greater kindness, to acquire more faithfulness before a larger estate.

How beautiful and fulfilling it is to have a portfolio of goodness, mercy, and service, and to give monetary reserves to charity. Some would say that’s an irresponsible life. I say it is reckless to live for that which produces a momentary chemical stimulus, and forgo investments into eternal love and its many dividends.

Prayer: Everlasting God, set my mind on true pleasures.

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Calling Places

Deep calls to deep

in the roar of your waterfalls;

all your waves and breakers

have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,

at night his song is with me—

a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalms 42:7, 8) (NIV)

On a beach in the South Pacific, I stare at the clouds. Thirty shades of orange ignite the billows rising from the sea. The sky matures from orange to red so gradually the change is only noticed when I turn away for a time. In the middle of the layered display, way off toward the horizon, one cloud takes center stage. It hums with butterscotch radiance.

What’s in that place of burning light and color? Does the epicenter of that beauty attract angelic songs and twirling seraphim? I wish I could enter the exact location.

High resolution photos of the Sombrero Galaxy reveal a disk of light set against black velvet garnished with diamonds. The galaxy’s center is a mass of light too bright to make out the source. Swirling around the nucleus are 800 billion white suns, looking like so many grains of bleached flour.

What’s in the middle of the 50,000 light-year wide Sombrero Galaxy? I know my body would incinerate, but what would my spirit find in that place where so much creation fills time and space?

From the frothing waves under an emerald waterfall, to the muted serenity of a baby inside the womb, there are places that call to my being.

“Here is the nucleus of life,” they say, “in this seat you can experience the essence of creation.” 

These are my “calling places.” They urge me into their core to fathom existence. And yet, they’re unapproachable, viewed only from afar.

We are made for life in the full. Our God wants us to crave life until we force our way past decay, and to his throne. He created us for union with himself and constructed a way, through Christ, to achieve our goal. The “calling places” of the present era serve to remind us that, until we leave the body and unite with God, we are outside of the life that is yet to come.

Prayer: God of my life, from the depths you call me to yourself.

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Minimal Maximumist

Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“There’s one coming toward you. Get it.” 

I pointed into warm, calf-deep water at a parrot fish as it darted from one clump of rocks to another. Polynesians joined me in herding our prey toward a woman with a machete. Her job was to club the fish. Children squealed and laughed, as they carted each dinner catch to the boat.

For two months, I was privileged to live in a Fijian village for language immersion. Communal lawns separated the two dozen houses, and ran down to the beach, where palms leaned over a turquoise reef. Fish, gardens, and coconuts sustained life.

More than the local language, I learned about contentment. At first, I was fidgety and doubted I’d stay long. There was no electricity, indoor plumbing, or even a store. What did these people do with themselves for sixteen hours each day?

I forced myself to learn the rhythm of the village, to do what they did, when they did it. Each morning, before sunrise, we heard the lali drum—a hollowed log beat with two sticks that made a flat, thunking sound. It was the call to wake and begin personal devotions. Soon after, women started fires in their outdoor kitchens, children washed their faces and donned their school uniforms, and men collected a few papaya or breadfruit.

Throughout the day, one task led to another, but there was never a hurry. Wringing the wash out, weaving a grass matt, or herding parrot fish—everything was done while chatting and laughing, and almost always in a group. What these people didn’t have was furniture, electronics, or cars. What they did have was community, natural food, and serenity. They lived content, refreshingly immune of the ambition to own more or achieve a higher status.

Missionaries have more to learn than they have to teach—at least this one does. I needed the islanders to teach me a slower lifestyle, and freedom from mania over my next toy or experience.

Prayer: Generous Father, let me rest content in your salvation today.

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