Disciplines of Abstinence

by | Dec 10, 2012 | 2012, Musings | 0 comments

I have a great deal of respect for the faculty at Talbot Theological Seminary. (The fact that it took me 11 years to complete their 3 year master’s program perhaps endeared me to them.) In their latest newsletter Michelle Lee-Barnewall, an associate professor of biblical studies commented on Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of Disciplines.

In his book, Willard differentiates between disciplines of engagement and disciplines of abstinence. Things like fasting, solitude silence and frugality would be indicative of disciplines of abstinence. Things like study, worship, service, prayer and fellowship would be considered disciplines of engagement.

Observing those differences, Michelle makes the point that when we honestly examine our own spiritual lives, we have a tendency to focus more on disciplines of engagement rather than disciplines of abstinence.

And I think she is right. In our modern world, getting things done is equivocated with success. We accomplish, we produce, we engage. Too often that mind set translates into our spiritual lives. When we are more actively engaged in service or prayer or reading or corporate worship, we feel more spiritual.

But this might be a good week to think seriously about the benefits of the disciplines of abstinence. This holiday season is a good time to consider how the absence of “stuff” (even “spiritual stuff”) might serve us well.

Consider the value of things like silence and solitude. Eliminating the constant din of life’s background “noises,” would allow us a special space and time for God to meet with us. His voice might be clearer. His message might be more compelling. And our response in adoration might come more quickly.

And consider the value of fasting. Doing without something for a period of time can help us appreciate it more. Although we usually think of a fast as the absence of food, a fast can involve just about anything. We can “fast” from television, sports, music, facebook or anything else in our normal routines. We could focus on a destructive behavior or nasty habit we would like to break. We could give attention to poor attitudes. Clearing our proverbial “calendars” can give us amazing perspective.

We all love to feel “productive,” even in our spiritual lives. Striving to do more just seems right. But maybe this week we need to give some time and attention to doing much, much less!

By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel


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