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The Spiritual Discipline of Restraint

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls – Proverbs 25:28

A city without wall is like a house without doors, open to everyone and everything. You can’t keep anyone out or anything in.

Cities, houses and countries all need boundaries to be able to function. We, as humans, but particularly as Christians, need boundaries to not only avoid temptation but foster intimacy with God.

Social Boundaries

While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew them all. He did not need any testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man. John 2:23,24

I am not saying you should not trust people but rather do no entrust yourself to people. Only Jesus knew Jesus’ purpose and had to live that out. Peter wanted to make him king. Some theologians believe the reason Judas sold Jesus out was to force Jesus’ hand to go full Messiah and deal with the Roman occupation.

Jesus often retreated to lonely places, which is in and of itself an act of boundary building. Jesus did not allow the overwhelming pressure to be needed/wanted to direct his social or spiritual life.

Sahar Andrade of Forbes magazine gives a few reasons why we lower, eliminate or never build boundaries,

“Not being able to set healthy boundaries can be related to common issues like

  • low self-esteem
  • needing approval from others
  • learned helplessness
  • fear of being rejected or criticized.”

Jesus had none of these flaws but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t tempted by them.

The fruit of prayer, reading scripture, memorizing scripture and worship is to understand our identity in Christ so others, culture or world, do not build it for us.

Andrade also offers a few benefits of building boundaries,

• You effectively listen and see other points of view while still respecting your own.

• You practice self-respect by standing your ground.

• You avoid future conflicts and resentment.

• You set reasonable consequences for violating your boundaries.

Don’t apologize for having boundaries because the benefits outweigh the consequences.

Spiritual Boundaries

Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life Proverbs 4:23

Set boundaries and then make them convictions.

Consider the movie Chariots of Fire, a true story about olympian Eric Liddell who was also a Christian who would not race on Sunday.

Setting boundaries does not have to be a dramatic pronouncement like Gandalf telling the Balrog, “You shall not pass”.

Walls are built over time, brick by brick, prayer by prayer as you build your identity in Christ. Saying no and drawing lines becomes easier over time and as you discover the joy boundaries bring over time.

Pro Tip: Everyone has the same amount of days and time. How you fill it is your choice because if you do not fill your calendar, someone else will.

Self Control is innate and Spirit-Led

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control I Timothy 1:7

properly, safe-minded, issuing in prudent (“sensible”) behavior that “fits” a situation, i.e. aptly acting out God’s will by doing what He calls sound reasoning

God has given us the innate ability to read the room. We have an inkling of how we should behave in any given situation and this matures with time.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:23

egkráteia (“in the sphere of” and /krátos, “dominion, mastery”) – properly, dominion within, i.e. “self-control” – proceeding out from within oneself, but not by oneself.

For the believer, /egkráteia (“self-control, Spirit-control”) can only be accomplished by the power of the Lord.

Your time in the shadows allows the Holy Spirit to call out your immature behavior and transform immature reactions to mature responses.

Restraint: The difference between reacting and responding

The world we live in has given up on restraint in favor of their freedom and their rights, but I would say, just because you have the right to say it doesn’t mean you should.

Believers (the Church) must show restraint when it comes to how they interact with those who do not know Christ regardless of their personal feelings or righteous indignation.

No one has to scream or put their truth IN ALL CAPS. Truth can be spoken softly and still be heard.

We must always be on our guard when it comes to our words both spoken and written.

I agree with Peter when he says,

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live in freedom, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Treat everyone with high regard: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.… I Peter 2:15-17

I agree with Paul when he says,

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

Although these words are directed towards those who are free from The Law and the slavery of sin, they could easily be directed towards Christians who seem to value the constitution over scripture. Yes, you’re free, by the grace of God, but don’t use your freedom to create new laws that enslaves yourself and/or others.

Jesus showed restraint

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:52-54

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Matthew 27:11–14

Not responding can be more powerful than responding.

You cannot take up every offense otherwise you will be mired in chaos and deplete your spiritual and emotional energy.

Restraint will reward you

Patti Reagan’s op-ed on Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex’s tell all book Spare offers these closing lines of advice that I think serves us all,

Silence gives you room, it gives you distance, and it lets you look at your experiences more completely, without the temptation to even the score. Sometime in the years ahead, Harry may look back as I did and wish he could unspeak what he has said.

I’ve learned something else about truth: Not every truth has to be told to the entire world. People are always going to be curious about famous families, and often the stories from those families can resonate with others, give them insight into their own situations, even transcend time since fame flutters at the edges of eternity.

But not everything needs to be shared, a truth that silence can teach. Harry seems to have operated on the dictum that “Silence is not an option.” I would, respectfully, suggest to him that it is.

We live in a world where restraint is frowned upon. The mantra is “Say what you want, whenever you want to whomever you want and let you feelings be damned. My Truth, my voice is what matters.”

The only way to combat the narcissist in all of us is with restrain, with self control.

Let me repeat the verse I started this post with,

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls – Proverbs 25:28

A city with walls, is like a life without boundaries. People will come and go without respect for your time, your energy or your talent. A city without walls is quickly overtaken by the hoards. A life without boundaries does not belong to you but everyone and that is no life at all.

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