Practicing the Better: Sabbath #4

The restoration sabbath also includes the re-establishment of rhythm–the pace of grace we noted a few posts back.  It is the rhythm of engagement and abstinence, working and resting.

Dallas Willard took the principle I gleaned from Susan Muto and turned it into practice.  He did it in his book, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines,’ where he showed how the classic spiritual disciplines are given to us by God to establish and maintain the sacred rhythm. [1]

Up to that time, I had largely thought of the disciplines (means of grace) as a collection of formative things to do.  I learned from Richard Foster that we must not be driven by the false notion that we should practice all of the disciplines all the time with equal devotion.  Foster taught me that selection is part of the picture. In his words, “The disciplines enable us to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.” A holy pick-and -choose discernment process is part of the story.

But it was Willard who took me to the next step by showing how the disciplines are organized to establish the rhythm of abstinence and engagement. [2]. I carry this pattern in my Bible to this day:

Engagement–worship, prayer, meditation, study, service, celebration, confession, submission, and fellowship.

Abstinence–solitude, silence, fasting, simplicity, chastity, and confidentiality.

Disciplines of engagement enable us to work for God. Disciplines of abstinence enable us to rest in God. Working and resting are equally important. Both are part of the disciplined life.  They are the rhythm of the spiritual life. Sabbath restores our ability to see this and commit ourselves to the practice of it–part of what it means to practice the better.

[1] Dallas Willard, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’ (1988).

[2] It was Richard Foster who told me about Willard’s book, and told me it was Willard who also showed him how the disciplines create the rhythm.  In effect, Richard said to me, “If you have my book and Dallas’ book, you have a complete picture of the spiritual disciplines–mine showing the nature of them and his showing the pattern.”

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in Practicing the Better. Bookmark the permalink.