Defining Abstinence: Self-emptying

Part two of a series on Simplicity and Sacrifice – catch up here.

“Do you know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

The Christian life is similar to athletic training. It involves a two-sided strategy of doing things that improve athletic performance while avoiding (or abstaining from) things that degrade performance. Athletes will abstain from certain foods, risky activities in other sports, and events that conflict with their exercise and rest plans. Paul uses the metaphor of a runner in the previous passage. It is clear that he led a “simple” life. One uncluttered with things, activities, and events that (although okay) would turn out to be detrimental to his life goals.

Part of “Christian training” is controlling the desires that come naturally to us. In many cases, they are inherently okay, but can be an enemy of the best. They can crowd out our goals, cloud our motives, or become addictive. Desires like food, sex, fun, praise, influence, and popularity are okay unless we become slaves to them. Fasting is one way to refocus our attention on God.

Anything that we go to in place of God for comfort in a time of need has become an idol to us. It is when you go to any of them first in a time of need that they have ceased to be good for you.

In her book Soul FeastMarjorie Thompson calls the habit of simplicity and abstaining “self-emptying.”

But isn’t that, well, draining? Where does sacrifice fit into a life of joy?

Jan Johnson writes in Simplicity and Fasting (Spiritual Disciplines Bible Studies):

“But the death to self is difficult! train us to relinquish what we want. But when done as God leads, they do not need to make us miserable. teach us to truly enjoy each blessing of creation as it comes–enjoying one simple luscious grape at a time, being grateful for a car that runs well, getting us from one place to the next.

We learn to love the world God loves without running on the fuel it runs on–unlimited amounts and varieties of food, media and words.”

Discipleship Challenge:

Pause and pray for guidance as you reflect on the excesses in your life. Then complete the following exercise.

Examine your motives for saying “yes” to too many things. Think of three times you said “yes” in the last three days. Ask these questions about these times:

  • Is there something you are trying to prove?
  • Someone you are trying to impress?
  • Is it God’s will or yours you are following?

Stay tuned for part three: When to Exercise Abstinence. Or download your free copy of Simplicity and Sacrifice today!

What are you reading now? Rachel Young edition

“Right now, I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m also in the middle of Canoeing the Mountains by Todd Bolsinger, and it’s really blessing me. It’s about adaptive leadership — how do you lead in uncharted territory? I think it’s a helpful perspective for our staff and elders. I’ve asked my leadership team to read it too.”

Rachel Young, Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX

#StartWithaSmile at for your holiday gifts and Amazon donates to Ascending Leaders.

DiscipleshipDare: Fasting to Feast on Joy

Whether it’s the gloom of early winter, the speed with which the sun seems to flee below the horizon, or the bittersweet memory of happy times spent with lost loved ones, the holiday season leading up to Christmas is for some a time of sorrow or melancholy.

In recent years, the growing pressure to de-commercialize the family Christmas experience, while a noble and worthy cause, has piled on guilt and anxiety as we try to do everything just right.
For the next month, we dare you to identify what is keeping you from Christ in Christmas and to make a decision to fast from it.

Is it fear, overwhelm, worry over finances, the stress of holiday overeating, a sense of loneliness? Much like our physical need for food, all of these are natural and some are unavoidable. But the answer to that question is probably getting in the way of a relationship of greater intimacy with God. When you are confronted by the urge to give in to the emotion, action, or thought pattern, understand that personal will power is not a healthy solution during a spiritual fast.

Trying harder isn’t the answer.

Instead, bring it God with words similar to this: “Father, I’m experiencing (fill in the blank) right now. I believe this is in response to a deeper longing for something only your presence can fulfill. I implore you to meet this need. I trust in you.”

Then walk away from the thing from which you’re abstaining, whether it’s physical or emotional. You could cement your strong sense of God’s provision by meditating briefly on a Psalm from God’s Word, or spending a few minutes in your advent reading for the day.*

*Adapted from Simplicity and Sacrifice: Embracing More with Less (FREE download right now!)

Resources for Advent

For more Advent resource suggestions, follow us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing our personal favorites and books for each stage of faith!

#StartWithaSmile at for your holiday gifts and Amazon donates to Ascending Leaders, at no extra cost to you!

Follow us

© 2022 – Ascending Leaders – All rights reserved.


for Additional Scholarship

Your Cart

Cart is empty.