Unspiritual Disciplines: Moderation

I’ve been listening to some podcasts recently about spiritual disciplines, about which I’ll blog on once I’ve read up on them and given them a go. For context and reference, Richard Foster identifies these spiritual disciplines – four inward; meditation, prayer, fasting, study, four outward; simplicity, solitude, submission, service (nice alliteration), and four corporate; confession, worship, guidance, celebration)

However, thinking about these disciplines got me thinking “if these enable spiritual growth, what similar concepts, disciplines or practices do the opposite?” Specifically, are there things that are eminently worldly sensible, but are of little value in God’s kingdom?

I think the concept and practice of moderation is one such ‘unspiritual discipline’ (not really the antithesis of spiritual discipline, and not even really a discipline, but it’s a catchy title eh?).

Moderation (which dictionary.com defines as the quality of being moderate; restraint; avoidance of extremes or excesses; temperance) seems a sensible idea. Don’t drink too much, restrain from sleeping around, don’t be on the edges of society. In other words, be safe, temper everything you do so you can be ‘normal’. I think there are two problems with this:

1. Moderation, in itself, acknowledges there are extremes to be restrained from. I think it’s a pretty small step away from temptation – whichever way that swings. Depending on your moral compass, and using drinking as the example again, drinking ‘in moderation’ you could be tempted to go teetotal, or to drink loads. You may even feel guilty about it.

2.Jesus wasn’t moderate. He was anything but moderate! This was the guy who said ““If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” I know I’m coming back to it again, but check out the end of Matthew 6 for how Jesus says we should live:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34

Replace ‘What shall we eat’  with ‘how much should I eat/drink’ etc – is that a valid substitution? If you don’t think it is, please leave a comment. In fact, I think if you tried to apply moderation to the Kingdom of God, the resultant life might end up looking something like that described in Revelation 3:15-17:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Honestly, I believe the concept is that out of kilter to the kingdom of God. More verses that I think back this up: Ephesians 4:17-32, Galations 5, Matthew 5: 13-16.

To conclude, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t display the same behaviour that moderation may lead to (consider this in terms of temper or, again, drinking), but rather that the driver behind those behaviours should never be the supposition that being moderate is a virtue. If you’re a follower of Christ, you don’t have to worry about what’s good – you’ve already got the best.



~ by jgebrown on 30 November 2010.

5 Responses to “Unspiritual Disciplines: Moderation”

  1. This is awesome Josh. Great food for thought. Loving the juxtaposition of spiritual and unspiritual disciplines.It’s so revealing. Moderation is a discipline to which we are taught and conditioned to adhere.

    Nailed it when you said if you “apply moderation to the Kingdom of God, the resultant life might end up looking something like that described in Revelation 3:15-17:”. Can’t help thinking that this is a stunningly accurate description of the western church!?

    Got a couple of cool King links:

    and of course the old classic from his letter from Jail in Birmingham.

    “But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

  2. To look for rules by which to interpret Jesus’ message is the antithesis of Jesus’ message; he says as much in his condemnation of those who follow ‘the rules’ rather than showing compassion. To see what is needed, where we are, today, and to do something about it rather than cross the road, is, for me at least, more to the heart of what I should be. To be honest with yourself, to admit your failings, yet demonstrate compassion, is a reality. I think Jesus came to set people free, and it’s us that have built an empire of interpretation and a burden of doctrine. Charlie Chaplin famously came third in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition; where do you think Jesus would come in a WWJD competition….

    • Absolutely! When I was talking about this with someone yesterday, he reminded me that Jesus was considered and tried as a heretic and a terrorist. It’s us who have made it into a religion – if Jesus was around today I’m sure he’d get kicked out of most churches.

  3. Not everyone can be a superhero, but we can all do what we can; care for those around us, speak up, vote (now that’s a biggie).

    We don’t need a plan for these things – just a will to do it. And we don’t need to make a massive, life-changing commitment, just do more than you did if you can.

    I found out that actually doing is in itself the reward (I hear the Council of Trent being quoted as I write this…). All I would ask is that we all demonstrate a little more compassion and a little less religiosity, that we act from the heart and not the brain, that we learn, and practice, Jesus’ primary message.

    There’s no right answer; there is however a true freedom (and joy) that comes from service. To do is to be, as Sinatra says. Either him or Socrates.

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