Abstinence and Fasting: What’s the difference?

Abstinence Concept.Abstinence and fasting are very often considered the same practice. The difference between the two may be, in some ways, small, but they are different practices and God may nudge you to do one or both in the days ahead.

Abstinence is the practice of not partaking of a certain food or practice. For example, the Jewish folks abstain from eating non-kosher foods. They don’t fast pork, they abstain from eating pork. Many folks mistake the practice of abstaining from television with a notion of fasting television. When one does not partake of a certain thing, it is considered abstaining.

Fasting, on the other hand, is the practice of going without food for a determined amount of time. Millions of Christians practice fasting by not eating breakfast or lunch and only eating their evening meal. For several years I fasted from Tuesday evening until after our Wednesday evening church service. My fast began after Tuesday evening dinner and ended with a Wednesday evening meal.

It is possible to abstain without fasting, fast without abstaining, or to both fast and abstain. During Lent it is my best guess that most people both fast and abstain.

Historically, the three most common abstinence items are 1. Alcohol, 2. Sex, 3. Meat.

Today, as you continue in abstinence and fasting, consider those things from which Jesus abstained. In a sense, He abstained from His Divine prerogatives. He abstained from omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and became “limited” to being an embryo in Mary’s womb. Alcohol, sex, and meat are tremendous things from which to abstain, yet are there more important issues for us today?

One of the hardest abstinence issues for westerners is the abstaining from use and abuse of power. We have our rights and our power base and we are going to use it no matter what. Maybe today God is inviting you to abstain from using and abusing your power.

Maybe even more challenging is the call to abstain from using your voice. The practice of silence is often very difficult for folks of our generation. Hearing and speaking are the constant norm. If God invites you to abstain from speaking, are you willing to accept the invite?

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