When Less Means More of God:

Rebuilding Your Life Through the Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence

By Esther Liu


One day I found myself wandering into the living room, exhausted in heart and soul. I picked up this familiar poem1 and read the first two passages:

Lord, What Can I Believe?
Oh God, I am so fragile!
My dreams get broken
My relationships get broken
My heart gets broken
My body gets broken
What can I believe?
Except that you will not despise a broken heart
That broken people shall yet dream dreams
And that the lame shall leap for joy
The blind see, the deaf hear

This poem directed my thoughts immediately to the heart cry of one of my students who took the class to deal with his past. He said, “I am tired…tired of my brokenness. I want to be put back together. I want to be whole again.”

In my previous articles, we have journeyed together through our past wounds, pains and hurts that many experience in a sinful and fallen world. We have wrestled with the command of God to forgive those who have wounded us deeply. It’s time to begin the process of “putting the pieces together again” through hope, trust and rebuilding.

There are three spiritual disciplines in particular have prepared my heart to start this process. Let’s begin with the dictionary’s definition of discipline: to develop behavior by instruction and practice—training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.

After years of practicing piano, my son can play a number of familiar tunes without looking at the music or keyboard—all the while laughing and talking with his friends. The discipline he had developed of practicing those particular songs took over his fingers when the situation demanded it. It’s called “finger memory.”

Spiritual discipline works in a similar way. If we practice the discipline of silence on a regular basis, then words do not come out so hastily in anger or slip out when we’re not watching our tongues. If we practice the spiritual discipline of prayer regularly, then prayer rises spontaneously, even when we’re distracted by the world. In a true sense, spiritual discipline is an activity that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. Have you tried to control your tongue in anger, or pray unceasingly for your enemy lately?

I’ve discovered in my process for rebuilding that you can create a “plan” for hearty Christ-likeness by making these spiritual disciplines a regular part of your life with Jesus. It’s a way to use the body to aid the will! We put on the new person of Christ by regular activities that are within our power, and we become what we could not be by direct effort. In fact, if we follow Jesus in what he did when he wasn’t ministering or teaching, we’ll find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was “on the spot.” I don’t believe that Jesus ever walked around asking or thinking: WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? He acted and reacted simply out of who he was.

The three spiritual disciplines that can help you accomplish this are found in the category of the Discipline of Abstinence2. The common thread of these disciplines is that each takes away something vitally important to our humanity. When the most basic human needs and desires are purposely taken away (i.e. to eat, to communicate, and to associate with others in a community), one is forced to turn inward in self-reflection and upward to God. Here are the three disciplines:

1. Fasting — To refrain in some significant degree from food and, perhaps, all drink, other than water. Fasting is the affirmation and experience of another world (Deut. 8:1-6, Matt. 4:4, John 4:32) where we indeed live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. It teaches us how to be strong and cheerful under circumstances of deprivation, like the weaned child of Psalm 131:2. It also “humble our souls” (Deut 8:3, Ps. 35:11, and 2 Chron. 7:14).

2. Solitude — To purposely step back from human relationships for a lengthy period of time, in isolation or anonymity, to make room for God in our lives (Matt. 4:1-2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 9:38, etc.). In practicing this discipline, we find that we can live without others and they can live without us. The world does not rest on our shoulders. We have time to focus on God and to clear the storms from our lives. A place is also made for the practice of other disciplines (such as silence and fasting), which cannot usually be learned or practiced— except in solitude. Solitude is, in many ways, the primary spiritual discipline. In solitude, we can find God.

3. Silence — Here is a short description about the DVD, “Noise,” which I highly recommend you watch before practicing the discipline of silence. “Why is silence so hard to deal with? Why is it so much easier for us to live our lives with a lot of things going on all the time than to just be in silence? We’re constantly surrounded with ‘voices’ that are influencing us on how to think, feel, and behave. Movies, music, TV, Internet, cell phones, and a never-ending barrage of advertising. There’s always something going on. Always noise in our lives. But maybe there’s a connection between the amount of noise in our lives and our inability to hear God. If God sometimes feels distant to us, maybe it’s not because he’s not talking to us, but simply because we aren’t really listening.”

You can practice two forms of silence:

• To be in quiet, eliminate sound (experience perfect silence or only “nature noise” such as winds in trees, birds singing, etc.)
• To refrain from speaking. This discipline allows us to trust God as He is our voice...we don’t have to have the last word. This is a great practice for busy people in a world so polluted with sounds that we no longer hear.

In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to be alone (solitude), without food (fasting), and without human contact and communication (silence). Why did he do this right after his baptism, clearly led by the Holy Spirit, and right before his public ministry? And notice how his three and one-half years of public ministry were punctuated with periods of solitude and silence. There was a purpose behind it all for him. Every time he came out of solitude and silence, his mission became clearer about his next step and actions on earth.

My prayer and hope is that as we practice these spiritual disciplines, we’ll experience the same intimate time and relationship with God, hear the same guiding and encouraging words, rest in the same perfect love and peace, get renewed by the same presence of the Holy Spirit, and come out humbled, determined and empowered.


1 Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayer for the Battles (Augusburg Book, 2005), p58
2 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of Disciplines-Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York; Harper Collins,1988), pp156-168.



Esther Liu, M.S., M. Div., D. M., has been a pastor and minister of Christian Formation for the past 15+ years. Her calling in life is to “make people uncomfortable.” She has been married for 22 years with two wonderful children. When she is not out challenging people to grow and to be more like Christ, she enjoys reading good books, taking long walk with her husband, and water rafting down in some class V rapid in CA rivers.


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