The Disciplines of Abstinence: Solitude, Silence, Fasting

Dallas Willard Part 6 of 13

A series of talks Dallas gave for African Enterprise on his first trip to South Africa in 1985. He works through some of the material that became The Spirit of the Disciplines.

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Dallas:  This is the concept now and I want to reiterate it as strong as possible tying it in with what we’ve been through about disciplines in general and I say here, the disciplines for the spiritual life are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken by the already reborn individual.

We are not saying that you can’t do anything before that but this is what we are talking about. This is the person who has received life now and it is to be developed with such strength as we may have available or as graciously meets our efforts in the act. See, I want to include both the side, “my strength” and then what I have met with of “God’s strength” in the act of practice or exercise unto Godliness to bring the personality and total being ever more fully into effective cooperation with the Divine order. [1:05]

Now, remember that I have indicated that a spiritual person is one who in large measure has integrated their whole self, their whole personality into this Divine order. These are no longer babes in Christ; they are people who are interacting with the reality of God’s Kingdom at many levels of their self.

This then has the effect that we are more and more enabled to live in a power which is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself as we yield ourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, that are members as instruments of righteousness unto God for He who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal—notice, not your immortal bodies; that comes later—but your mortal body. It is your mortal body that is to be quickened into a new realm of existence of power and holiness because of the relationship, which it has to God through His spirit, which dwells in us. Now, that if you wish is the intention or the concept of a spiritual discipline. (Romans 8:11) [2:24]

Now, what we want to do is come to the extension or list of spiritual disciplines. There really is nothing that I would want to argue for as a complete list of these disciplines. There are many things, which could serve as disciplines.

In other parts of the world and in other parts of history, there have been a lot of practices—some of which I mentioned—and I wouldn’t recommend as spiritual disciplines; like wearing a metal harness around you and a hair shirt over you or hanging from a kind of metal harness as some of the Irish saints did. I suppose the Irish saints were among the most zealous users of these kinds of instruments of torture. [3:10]

Flagellation was a very common thing. If you see a picture of St. Benedict—you may know the Rule of St. Benedict and in art, when St. Benedict is pictured you can always identify him because he’s got a bundle of switches. He has a bundle of switches and actually, St. Benedict was very benign with all of this but flagellation became a terrible thing and self-flagellation especially: so much so that the phrase “the discipline” was actually used to refer to the whip, which was used in flagellation.

So, now there are all of those things and I am not talking about those. There are some other things, which might be regarded at least as closer to it. For example, there is the practice of peregrinatio or voluntary exile, which was instituted by St. Brendan of Ireland in the 5th Century, I believe it was and was widely practiced for many centuries. A person would go into voluntary exile as a way of disciplining themselves as pilgrims. The scripture says, does it not, that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world. [4:29]

I mention watching—more familiarly today, we know things like journal keeping. I often recommend to people in the congregations to which I teach in southern California that an excellent discipline for them would be for them to go to do their shopping in the central city—in Watts, if you know that term and in downtown LA where the poor people shop.

It’s very interesting to get them out of their shell of self satisfaction and often smugness that they have to go to shop at a supermarket where poor people have to shop and learn that they have to pay twice as much for half as much. And learn that, for example they can’t get any bread except that awful white stuff that has nothing in it but air and water and some kind of food coloring. They call that bread and there is no selection and the milk is half sour, right? [5:29]

You see, if we are going to put ourselves in position with people, then we can take exercises like that and we will know how to love them better and know them better.

Well, I don’t want to suggest that there is anything like an exhaustive list as I say. I want now to come to discussion of the list which you find here on your sheet—the Disciplines of Abstinence and the Disciplines of Engagement and I am going to begin this morning to talk about the Disciplines of Abstinence and although Jim gave us a wonderful discussion of solitude last night in a historical way, I’d like to go over it in a little more systematic and practical way today. [6:19}

Let’s begin with the Discipline of Solitude. In the discipline of solitude, we purposively abstain from interaction with other human beings. We purposively abstain from interaction with other human beings—denying ourselves companionship and all that comes from our conscious interaction with others. We close ourselves away. We go to the ocean. We go into our room. We go to the desert; the wilderness, the mountains or an interesting way of experiencing solitude is to let yourself drift into the anonymity of the urban crowd.  It’s a marvelous solitude if you go into the masses and the cities and elsewhere where you are not known.

Now, solitude—we want to be careful and understand that this is not just rest. Rest is a discipline too by the way. That’s what the Sabbath is all about. One of the most grievous sins in terms of harm done is the breaking of the Sabbath. Rest is a discipline and some of us need to take rest as a discipline. [7:51]

It isn’t also just refreshment from nature. One of the problems if we go to the mountains or the ocean is that we will not experience solitude because we will be there enjoying nature and there is nothing wrong with that. That too can be a discipline. That can be a strengthening and good thing; that’s not the same as solitude.

In solitude, we are experiencing our removal from day to day-human existence—that usual course of activity, which locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a fallen world. And nothing but solitude can allow the development of freedom from the ingrain behaviors—the symbolic interactions—the sociologists might call them, which hinder our integration into the order of God. [9:01]

When we are with people, we are like—almost like cogs in a machine. Our cogs are being pulled by the cogs on the other wheels and there is much that is wrong in our interactions, dear friends—even in such a fine group as this. There is much that is wrong and as we pursue the disciplines, we find much that is wrong in our hearts and in our interactions between us and other people and when we move aside those habits of interaction are brought to a halt. It’s very important. It’s very important.

You know, I enjoy reading the studies of psychologists and physiologists. They are often quite amusing and often quite profound. You know that it takes twenty times the amount of amphetamine to kill a mouse alone as it does if it is in a group. See, twenty times. Amphetamine is what we call an “upper,” you know? It’s an “upper.” Mice in a group will kill themselves by jumping around. They just go off like popcorn, you know? [Snaps his fingers] They will kill themselves on 1/20th of what it takes to kill a mouse alone. And if you have got a bunch of mice that are going off like popcorn and you throw a mouse in that hasn’t a bit of amphetamine in them, it will kill it in just a few minutes because it will start going off just like all the rest of them and pretty soon, it’s system will blow up and break down and it will be dead—just as dead as the rest of them. [10:56]

Now, these things are not altogether irrelevant to our daily existence. You see, when there are other people—Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher has this amazing analysis-a very profound analysis of “the other” and what “the other” does when “the other” enters my world. When I am alone, my world looks one way and when “the other” comes into my world, the entire world begins to distort and shift. I am suddenly conscious of how everything looks to that other person as well as conscious of how it looks to me and I am above all conscious of how I look to that other person. And those distortions that affect our world are by in large reflections of a fallen way of existing and that can only be escaped by simply bringing ourselves out of the picture.

In solitude, we find the psychic distance, the perspective from which we can see the created things that hang on us and harry us and bother us—that oppress us away from the calm life of eternity. [12:23]

Thomas Merton has written, “That is the only reason why I desire solitude—to be lost to all created things, to die to them and to the knowledge of them, for they remind me of my distance from You.

. . . that you are far from them, even though you are in them. . .  You have made them and Your presence sustains their being, and they hide You from me. And I would live alone, and out of them—O beata solitudo!” Oh, beautiful solitude! [13:00]

We need a cell to go to—a comfortable cell. Don’t make it a hard cell. That’s one of the worst things about so much in the early monasticism is they made their cells so utterly miserable. They tortured themselves. Many times as monasticism developed, their cells turned out to be much, hardly larger than a trunk and they would make themselves get in these tortuous boxes and stay there, you see? But, that’s because they didn’t understand what they were doing, if I may put it bluntly. We need a comfortable place where we can go and be alone and there withdraw from all of the things that keep us from relating to God because we are locked into interactions with other people. [13:52]

And yet of course, being alone also helps us see things, doesn’t it? You know the hymn, “the things of the early grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” Do you know that hymn? A beautiful hymn, isn’t it? [Hymn Name: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus] Actually, a very good way of putting what is called, “the cloud of unknowing” in one of our great spiritual classics—“the cloud of unknowing.”

The other side of that is, and it’s important not to lose it—the things of this earth become strangely clear in the light of His glory and grace—we are able to see things as they are and sometimes this is unbearable. It is very hard. [14:42]

Now, this is where we come to something that is fundamentally important in our understanding of solitude and it is one of those aspects that are taught to us by the experience of Jesus when He went into solitude—He met the Devil. And that happens over and over in the stories, which we receive from those who are following Christ in solitude.

Certainly, St. Anthony—his experience with Satan was a terrible, terrible thing. There is an almost humorous passage in his life by St. Athanasius where after his experience is over and he is enjoying sweet fellowship with His Lord, he says to the Lord, “Why didn’t you come when I needed you?” And the Lord says, “I wanted to see. I wanted to see your effort. I wanted to see what you would do. I was here all the time but I wanted to see what you would do.” And that’s a very important insight. Many times, the evils that we find are too much for us. [15:54]

I want to read a beautiful statement. This also is on your Bibliography. This is a History of Christian Spirituality by Louis Bouyer. It is a marvelous statement about what happens when we go into solitude in relationship to—you see, one of the effects of those ordinary interactions with people is to keep the depths of our own soul hidden and then when we go into solitude, we discover what is in our soul.

“In solitude or solitude alone allows man to discover, and so to face, all of the obscure forces that he bears within himself. The man who does not know how to be alone, does not know either (and secretly does not wish to know) what conflicts there are in the depths of his heart, conflicts which he feels that he is incapable of untangling, even of touching. Solitude is a terrible trial, for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities.” [17:09]

You know one of the most terrible punishments in prison is solitary confinement and this is why it is punishment. “It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us . . .” and as the tradition that we are examining of the ancient fathers of the desert here, affirms solitude discloses

“ . . . Solitude discloses the fact that these abysses are haunted: it is not only the depths of our own soul, unknown to us, that we discover, but the obscure powers that are as it were lurking there, whose slaves we must inevitably remain so long as we are not aware of them. In truth, this awareness would destroy us, if it were not illuminated by the light of faith. Only Christ can open out to us with impunity the mystery of iniquity because He alone in us today as for us in the past can confront it successfully.” That’s page 313 of this first volume of the History of Spirituality. [18:14}

Then when we go into solitude, we see another thing, which we must be prepared for because it is a very difficult thing and it also looks to the root of many of our difficulties because when we go into solitude, it will be at the cost and the pain of our friends and our families. We must always remember that if you decide to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are going to cost your family and your friends a lot. And you must be compassionate on that.

See, that’s a part of what is said when Jesus says if you would follow me, you must hate your father and your mother and so on. (Luke 14:26) And I of course reiterate that He doesn’t mean we are to hate them but in comparison to the love, which we hold for Jesus and His discipleship; and of course, we know that what we are doing is the only thing that will truly love them but we have to be prepared to understand that we will hurt them. [19:04]

A very wise author in California named Jessamyn West has this to say just about what is required to be a writer. “It is not easy,” she says, “to be a solitary unless you are born ruthless. Every solitary repudiates someone.” And you see, your friends and your family, they are not ready to step into the silences of eternity. They like, probably, those comfortable interactions, which sustain our illusions of completeness as much as they can and allow us not to realize the utter dependence upon God and they will be hurt and it will cost them something. We must be very careful to understand that and be considerate of them. [19:58]

Among the Disciplines of Abstinence, solitude is generally I believe the most fundamental in the beginnings of the spiritual life. If you cannot be alone, it will be difficult to make progress in anything. For example, fasting and silence, which we will discuss. It’s very difficult. It takes a real artist to fast without being alone.

Being silent without being alone is impossible. You know if you try to be silent when you are in the midst of people, they will be mad at you in five minutes. And if you want silence when you are in the midst of people, you just can’t get it. So, you see, solitude is really fundamental. This factual priority of solitude is I believe the sound root of monastic asceticism. [21:04]

Monasticism, by the way, sometimes it helps to—monasticism is just alone-ism or only-ism. See? Monasticism just—monas or one—monas theism—one God. Monasticism, its just alone—alone-ism and the monks understood this. Indeed, monk itself comes from this same derivation and locked into the interaction with human beings that make up our fallen social world, it is all but impossible to go in grace, as we should.

Try fasting or prayer or service or giving or even celebration without withdrawal or preparation through withdrawal and you will soon be thrown into despair by your efforts and very likely, you will abandon the quest all together. [22:07]

You see, this is why I say if we are going to be disciples, we must not only want to be like Jesus, we must make our plans and rearrange our affairs so that we can succeed. And this may mean that you will in your house find a separate room, which you will make comfortable and you will have an understanding with your family about certain times when you can go there and be alone for long periods of time. That may be impossible. It may be very difficult but we must find the time to be alone.

The desert, the closet is the primary place of strength for the beginner as it was for Christ and as it was for Paul. After Christ was baptized, he was led up into the wilderness to be tempted. He had to be prepared for that temptation. [22:55]

As a child, I used the think the wilderness was an awful place and so just trying in my way, you know, we all think God is tries to make it as hard on us as He can, that He was just making it harder. But no, that was the place of Jesus’ strength—in the wilderness. If the Devil had come upon Him while He was trying to help His mother prepare a banquet or something, He might well have found it much more difficult to respond to Him; but in the wilderness, He had the place of strength.

When Paul was converted, he went into Arabia. He went into the desert and he stayed there for a while. Then he came back and then another long period of seclusion in his hometown of Tarsus. There it is possible to have silence, to be still and know that Jehovah is God. Be still and know. Why be still? Because otherwise, you don’t stand a chance of knowing that He is God.  (Psalms 46:10) There we can set the Lord before our mind in such a way that we stay centered upon Him. Our hearts fixed and established in trust. As Psalms 112:7-8 says even when we have returned to the office or the shop or the home. [24:10]

Thomas a Kempis, who distilled more of what was and is best in the monastic calling than any other has this to say—

“If you withdraw yourself from empty talk and idol circuits and from vanities and hearings of tidings, thou shalt find time and sufficient and convenient time to have sweet meditations. The great holy men where they might, fled men’s fellowship and chose to live to God in secret places. One said, ‘as oft times as I go among men, I come back less a man.’ That is to say, ‘less holy.’ This we find by experience. No man appeareth safely away from home but he that loveth gladly to abide at home. The cell well continued waxeth sweet and the cell badly kept engendereth weariness. If in the beginning of thy conversation—beginning of thy converesion, thou keep thy cell and dwell well therein, it shall be to the afterwards as dear and well beloved friend and most pleasant solace. In silence and quiet, the devout soul profiteth and learneth the secrets of the scriptures. There he findeth the floods of tears wherewith every night he may wash and cleanse himself that he may be the more familiar to His creator the more he withdraw from the secular noise. Leave vain things to the vain. Take heed to things that God commandeth thee. Shut thy door upon the in chorale to thee, Jesus thy love. Dwell with him in thy cell for thou shalt not find elsewhere so great a peace. If thou hadst not gone out or heard the news, thou wouldnst have better have abided in peace and since it delighted thee sometimes to hear new tidings, it behooveth thee following this that thou shalt dis-suffer disturbance of heart.” [26:07]

Henry David Thoreau, the American writer, saw how even our secular existence withers from the lack of a hidden and inward life. In his essay, Life Without Principle, he remarks,

“When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper or been told by his neighbor and for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper or been out to tea and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence has not heard from himself for a long while.”  [Laughter]

Thoreau closes this marvelous passage with the statement—“Read not The Times, real the eternities.” [27:07]

Let’s think about silence now. Silence is a discipline. It is a twofold discipline and we need to distinguish the two kinds of silence. First of all, there is silence in the sense of hearing nothing. We don’t hear anything. That’s freedom from sounds whether noise or music or words. Sounds strike deeply into our souls. We are told that the last of the senses to go when a person is dying is the sense of hearing. So, we leave our television, our radio, our recording devices, our telephone turned off or unplugged. We close off the street noise as much as possible and we do not speak. We try to find how quiet we can make our world and we make whatever sensible arrangements are necessary to that end.

One of the most violent things we have to face in our world is the telephone and you will need to pray that God will give you liberty to pull the plug out of the wall. The mails are still running. That will be enough to trouble you. But I’ve seen many people who thought that you had a moral obligation to answer the telephone. You will have to struggle with that. Now, I understand of course that many of you are in pastoral situations and places of ministry and you do have to answer that telephone. I understand that. I share that role in many respects myself but there must be times when you are out of reach of the telephone. Blessed is the family that can be silent together. Blessed are the brothers and sisters in Christ who can be silent together. [29:31]

Most of us are so wired up to sound that if everything gets quiet, we almost go out of our skulls and now, of course, in the United States—I’ve been so happy not to see it here—they have those blasted Sony Walkman, as they call them. [Laughter] Oh, they are here too? Mercy! Everyone is going down the street with maybe, you know, this stuff pouring in their head, pouring in their head totally cut off from their world.

Silence! And again, silence you see is necessary in order for us to see ourselves, and others as we are—to see our world as it is. So, we probably will need solitude and this is just one illustration of how all of these disciplines hang together. You cannot practice one alone. You will have to have some combination of them in order that you will have a personal program of spiritual growth. [30:41]

Silence prepares us to hear the gentle God whose only Son would not strive, nor cry, neither could you hear His voice above the street noise. (Matthew 12:19) And who tells us that in quietness and trust is your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)

Henry Nouwen has said, “Silence is the way to make solitude a reality.” And as Jim pointed out last night, he has this wonderful conception—Nouwen does—as silence as the “portable cell” and it becomes a portable cell for us as we become adept at not chattering for reassurance while inhaling the piercing silences of eternity.  [31:37]

That brings us to the other side of silence, which is not talking. This is one of the most important disciplines because it really does enter into our whole way of approaching our world. If we had time this morning, we could spend a lot of time in the book of Proverbs and the book of James talking about words.

The book of Proverbs tells us that in a multitude of words, there is not lacking sin. (Proverbs 10:19) The book of James tells us that if a man can bridle his tongue, he is perfect. (James 3:2) He also tells us that the tongue is impossible for any man to tame. (James 3:8)  And that’s true. That’s why—by the way, bridling doesn’t just mean to stop it; that means to direct it. [32:34]

And the first thing you want to do when you are breaking in a horse is you want to teach him how to stop. Otherwise, getting off is hard. [Laughter] You see? So, you want to teach him how to stop. Then you can worry about making him go to the left and the right, as the case may be. And the tongue has to be stopped and the way we learn to bridle our tongue is to stop it. Just stop it! But, it is extremely hard. This is mainly because our tongue is the means by which we constantly adjust appearances and check how we are appearing to others. If you will watch yourself, when you talk to people in the normal process of intercourse, you will see that you are trying to influence the way you appear. Hmmm? And to commit that to God is a great victory.  And to be able to just say, “Well, I won’t do that” and to be silent and let people think what they will. Let them think what they will. It is very hard. [33:58]

Remember, Jesus said don’t swear. “Let your yea be yea; and your nay, (be) nay.” (James 5:12) In other words, just say things the way they are.

Do you have automobile salesmen in this country? Are they crazy? [Laughter] I just wonder if they are crazy here. They are the craziest people in North America. I mean they are an absolute phenomenon. [Laughter] We have this man in Los Angeles, Cal Worthington and he has his dog, Spot and sometimes his dog Spot turns out to be a monkey; sometimes turns out to be an elephant; he’s even had a hippopotamus, and a snake and a rooster and he gives you this big long line of bologna. It has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going to happen to you if you buy a car from him. See? Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing at all! In fact, I think that they mainly try to make you think that they are idiots so you will suppose that you are smarter than they are. Right?

But, I don’t need to tell you who is smarter because old Cal Worthington, he owns several big ranches around the west and he flies around in his private airplane and then he comes back and spends a few minutes in front of that camera with his dog Spot which might be a ladybug or a butterfly and these people just stream in and buy these cars and that poor idiot! [Laughter] Now, he’s controlling his appearance, you see? He’s controlling his appearance.  [35:39]

And, it’s one of the greatest disciplines because you know; we have to get off of men, as George Fox would say. “We have to get off of our dependence on men.” And we have to quit controlling our appearance. We have to let people just see us for what we are. Just be what we are. And say, “God made me like this” and you know, the only basis for self-esteem is God’s love for us. That’s the only basis for self-esteem.

Who is He that condemneth? Christ died for me. (Romans 8:34) Now, there is something to be proud about—that Christ died for me. Hmmm? Nothing can separate me from the love of God. That’s the basis of self-esteem. We love him because he first loved us and in that we are able to love ourselves and to love others because we are accepted in the beloved. (1 John 4:19) You see?  Oh, to get free of the channels and the chains of controlling our appearance by our language. [36:49]

Then of course, not only so, we try to control others and above all, we try to elicit a favorable judgment from others and we are constantly putting out feelers for reassurance. It is so hard. You see we need reassurance. I don’t mean to knock that but we need not to be dependent on it.  It needs to be given and we need to reassure one another and we need to express that love which is without condition. But, we need to be independent of that reassurance to the extent that we are not constantly trying to manipulate it and manage it. [37:34]

Let me give you just a few more or words here from Kempis.

“He has great tranquility of heart who cares neither for the praises nor the fault-finding of men. He will be easily content and pacified whose conscience is pure. You are not holier if you are praised, nor the more worthless if you are found fault with. What you are, that you are; neither by words can you be made greater than what you are in the sight of God. If you consider what you are within, you will not care what men say of you. Man looks on the countenance but God on the heart. Man considers the deeds but God weighs the intention. To be always doing well and to esteem oneself lightly is the sign of a humble soul.”

We need to practice not talking so that we will be able to control our tongue. [38:54]

I wanted to talk some about fasting and let me just begin it and we will finish it next time. Fasting is one of those places where we often try to begin our spiritual disciplines and sometimes, it does not work well and I think it usually doesn’t work well because we do not have solitude and silence in which to practice it.

I think what I want to do this morning is just to get you to thinking about it by looking at Matthew, chapter 6 for just a moment and seeing how Jesus taught us to fast and then we will leave that for you to meditate on as we for the next day and then we will come back to it. [39:51]

Now, the first thing I do need to say here is that Matthew 6:16—the first thing I need to say here is that it is just an obvious and clear thing that Jesus assumed we would fast.

It’s interesting—Richard Foster says in his book on fasting—if you’ve read it, you may recall that for the last hundred years or so practically no books had appeared in English on fasting up until about the 60’s and that’s true because fasting disappeared. Among the last to fast among the Protestant Christians were the Methodists. The Methodists, I believe were the last to have systematic fasts. [40:32]

There were also—the Anglicans also had some fast days but in the United States, I don’t think it was very widely practiced. They often did something like fasting during lent but it just simply disappeared. And in my own circles, I will tell you frankly, as a Baptist, you were definitely “suspect” if you said anything about fasting. I mean, really; it was a serious matter. You could be talked to by the elder, and the deacons; and if you persisted, you could be alienated and put out of the fellowship and certainly not trusted as a pastor. [41:12]

It’s just as clear as can be if you look at the Gospels and you look at the Acts and you look at the letters of Paul that fasting was assumed to be a part. See, one of the problems in talking about these things is that someone might say this, “Well, look if this is all so important, why didn’t Jesus and Paul write a book on celebration of discipline?” That’s a good question and there is a good answer. There was no need for it. It was assumed. It wasn’t just assumed among the Christians; I mean, it was a part of the wisdom which mankind had gathered through at least several millennia of experience that you had to fast and you had to do other things to exercise yourself if you were going to reach even moral fulfillment, much less religious fulfillment and so that’s a good question and that’s good answer. I hope you will remember it. They didn’t write a book on that because there was no point. I mean—everyone assumed it.

And Jesus says here, “Moreover when ye fast, . . .” (Matthew 6:16) He didn’t say, “if you fast; it says when you fast.” Don’t be like “the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:” where “they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when you fast,” anoint your head, “and wash your face. That thou (you) not appear unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which seeth in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18) [42:43]

Now, one of the things we have to keep in mind here is that Jesus in His teaching addresses generalizations that are false and He does not teach in complete generalizations itself. You always have to remember that. He is correcting here the teaching that when you fasted, you made your self miserable so people would be sure to appreciate what you were doing. They say, “Oh, this is a wonderful man; this is a wonderful woman—look how they have fasted.” Well, Jesus said that’s what they wanted and they got it. They have their reward. Fasting is not that. [43:16]

“When we fast, above all, we are learning that “man lives not by bread alone but by every world that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) The primary purpose of fasting is to teach us that the speaking Word of God in our souls is a substance: and my way of putting that is to say that all fasting is feasting.  Jesus said I have meat to eat ye know not of (John 4:32) and he was not speaking pretty words.

The word of God is a substance and when Jesus said that “man shall not live by bread alone”(Matthew 4:4) and indeed quoted the Old Testament “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” He was not talking poetry.  He was explaining that we have a real substance in God that is available to us and that it is related to our stomachs. All fasting is feasting. [44:19]

Jesus was not asking us to fake it and appear pleasant when we were miserable.  The assumption is that we would be so nourished that we would find strength in fasting and learn how to rise above those whom Paul describes as “their God is their belly.” (Philippines 3:19) That is the highest thing in their life was their belly. If that wasn’t being appeased, all of life went to pieces.  And we know that our belly, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians, I believe, it is, meats for the belly and belly for the meats, but God will destroy both it and man.” (1 Corinthians 6:13) That’s not the important thing.

And fasting is feasting on God and it is turning away from the normal sustenance of food in order to find this is the sustenance, which comes from the speaking of God in our enlivened personality as we live in the Kingdom of God. [45:24]

Now, may God bless these thinking’s to your heart today and we will come

back and start up on fasting again next time. We are going to stop now and have a time of questions and we will try to finish up here in a few minutes so we can stay on the schedule but we have some time now for questions and there may be existing questions which I wanted to deal with because some of the folks are not going to be able to stay on through subsequent days and these were questions which seem to be of considerable importance. [45:55]

Let me try to address the first one rather quickly because it doesn’t have a long answer. This concerns the book of Hebrews and the 6th chapter. The question that arose out of the discussion which we had yesterday I believe it was—Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance . . . “ and so on. And the question was as I recall, you will correct me I trust if I don’t get the question right. What is this “more” which we go on to? Is that right? Let me just put it to you this way.

The key word in the book of Hebrews is the word perfect or perfection; and what we go on to is learning what that perfection is. And if you will take the occurrences of the word perfect or perfection in the book of Hebrews, you will find exactly what the “more” is but let me give you a few passage just to hang on to. [47:02]

Hebrews 7:19—“ . . . the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did: by (the) which we draw nigh unto God.” The more which lies beyond those foundations which it mentions consists of drawing nigh unto God and taking on His character as we live in relationship to the risen, ascended intercessor in such a way that the law of God becomes written on our hearts.

Look at verse 25—“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto Him (unto God and) by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” This perfect high priest, which is able to do what the law could not do, is so able to work with us and save us to the uttermost that we will have the law of God written in our hearts. [48:08]

Hebrews, verse 10 of chapter 8—“For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” And this is quoting from Ezekiel 11:19 and Jeremiah 31:39 (I think this is actually Jeremiah 31:33.) [48:39]

What this is saying is that because there is now a new and living way into the holy of holies and we have a relationship to Christ who has gone within the veil. That veil which hung there, as (Hebrews) verse 8 of chapter 9 says, “the way into the holiest of all was not yet (made) manifest” under the old law. Now that veil has been rent, we have a connection with Jesus Christ who lives in our hearts and as He lives in our hearts, He brings us to the place to where the natural and the normal thing to do is what the law says to do. The natural and the normal thing to do is what the law says to do.

The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. That is “the more” to which we go on and actually, I think it is most fully seen in what I will return to in the last session that we will have together where I shall talk about the saints ruling the earth with God or ruling with God. That fullness of life which would enable us to be what we should be as human beings, both individually and corporate is precisely the perfection to which we are to grow unto under the high priesthood—the non-Jewish high priesthood of Melchizedek—a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Because he’s non-Jewish, he’s over all mankind; he lives forever, has nether beginning or end and is able to save to the uttermost.

[50:20]

 

That means, all the way, folks—anything there needs saving—that’s the uttermost. The uttermost is where there is nothing beyond that. Everything that needs to be saved gets saved. He is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. Why? Because “He ever liveth to make intercession for” him. (Hebrews 7:25) That high priest, that living high priest, which has entered into the veil and we in relationship to Him, that’s the secret of the path to perfection. And if you are worried about that word “perfection,” well, it’s a good word to worry about but it just means completion in this sense and it means that we are simply going to be what God wants us to be. [51:04]

Now, the other question was a much more difficult and involved one and that had to do with spirits and I think probably I’d better ask—Les? You are the one who raised that I think, wasn’t it? Could you ask it again? So, I can try to make sure I’m as much on target as possible.

Question:  You made reference yesterday to the way in which our body hinders us from expressing the new life and the power of God and habits particularly, which do that. Now, to what degree is that habit of self and to what degree is it caused or created by an evil spirit? [51:47]

Dallas: Yeah, well. Let me answer that in general terms, which may need qualification but I think perhaps it’s so important to make the point that I’ll not worry about the qualifications.

Only very indirectly will those habits be the affect of a specific spirit—only very indirectly. What you see in the effects of spirit possession are not habits. They’re particular behaviors, which are more directly caused by the presence of the possessing spirit. Habits are things, which are embedded in the character of the person and indeed in their bodies. [52:40]

The spirit does not work—the evil spirit does not work in that way. The characteristic mark of the evil spirit is a manifestation which is out of character—is out of character.  I use that familiar English phrase and sometimes this takes extreme forms like voices, which couldn’t possibly be the voice of the person who is talking or you will see expressions on the face or other types of astonishing behavior, which really is out of character.

So, I am inclined to think in that case, Les that really we need to look in another area for the causation. I think that’s important because when we are praying and trying to work with the Spirit of God to overcome evil, we always have to deal with it specifically and if we misunderstand it we simply wont’ be able to deal with it. If you try to deal—as many people in our times do—if you try to deal with bad habits by casting out demons, you will simply get no where. You have to deal with bad habits in another way. [53:43]

And so, now then, the deeper personality disorders that sometimes blend in and out of mental illness, as we might call it, it requires a lot of discernment to pick out what is going on there and sometimes, you have deep character disorders which cause bizarre behavior. And I think you need a lot of experience and a lot of help before you start in trying to deal with those to see whether or not possession may be involved. But, I think generally you want to follow that mark of “out of character” as an indication of possession and recognize that there are many, many possibilities. [54:30]

A human personality is an astonishing thing—just an astonishing thing—and it has a lot of powers of evil that we normally don’t suspect. So, it would require great discernment in the particular case and you should go very cautiously. And I urge everyone, if you think you are dealing with possession, that you go very slowly and prayerfully and that you always take someone with you. Never go alone and try to deal with possession.

You may know that there is now a man by the name of (Scott) Peck who has written a book called, The People of the LieThe People of the Lie (Full title is People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil)—and this man is a trained psychoanalyst and he is also a believer.

Now, I use that word believer because I don’t want to be pinned down to saying just where he stands but he has had an experience of conversion that seems very significant. And I’m not trying to authenticate him or not, but he at least regards himself as a Christian and in dealing with certain types of people in his professional work, he has come to recognize cases of possession and these he calls, “people of the lie” and he does that because of the way that the person possessed always tries to stay away from the truth and the greater the truth, the harder they try to stay away from it. That’s why they try to stay away from Jesus as Lord more than anything else.  They stay away from that one but I don’t know if that book is available in this country but you might want to look at it. It’s very useful I believe in working into this area. [56:29]

Now, the church needs to be dealing with this and they need to be not dealing with it in the various superficial and sometimes, silly way that they do. Excuse me, but you know it’s so. It is often just silly the way people try to deal with these kinds of things. The Biblical pattern helps us see what a serious matter it is but I think it also helps us to see that we should be prepared to deal with it and that we can deal with it. And indeed, once you are clear about what you are doing, you are perfectly safe and you will be effective in dealing with it if you learn how to work in the Name of Jesus in dealing with these kinds of things and if your faith has not raised to that point, you need to pray about it and thoughtfully ask God to lead you into it because it’s a very real problem.

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Mission series