Abstaining From Alcohol: My Teetotaling Month

alcohol-abuse1by John Ellis

Roughly eight months before the Holy Spirit broke my will and gave me the gift of repentance and saving faith in Jesus, I stood on a downtown street at 2:00 in the morning, attempting to break the side window of a car. The girl I was seeing at the time, was sprawled out on the hood screaming obscenities at our friend inside the car who was laughing hysterically. We were all drunk. I wasn’t so drunk as to not realize that it was a terrible idea for my friend to drive, hence my attempts to break the window. Thankfully, the event ended without any further excitement. But by the end of it all, I was done; fed up with my friends and my lifestyle.

The previous twelve months had been marked by emotional, material, and world-view upheaval in my life. Twelve months earlier, I had been evicted from my apartment and forced to return to Florida. The subsequent months saw my drug use increase, blind partying, and a complete acceptance of intentionally selfish hedonism. During a cross-country road trip, my atheist world-view had felt the beginning of its death rattle. Coupled with a crumbling of my leftist ideology in the face of apparent hypocrisy, my shaken faith in atheism caused me to stop caring about anyone and anything. That early morning on the street was one of my final stumbles into the black abyss of despair that eventually led to my intellectual yet unhappy acknowledgment of the existence of God. Self-destruction was the only thing that made sense to me during that time.

All that to say, I intimately know the destructive power of alcohol. I have experienced it, and I have seen it suffocate others. During that time of my life, a co-worker had his right leg ripped off while riding his motorcycle drunk; siting behind him, his girlfriend died at the scene. My co-workers and I processed the news by getting drunk.

Those anecdotes are just a couple out of many in my memory’s storehouse. I could easily pad my word-count by including example after example of pathetic, dangerous, or tragic interactions with alcohol. While standing on the street that early morning, I was as disgusted by alcohol as the most adamant old-school fundamentalist teetotaler.

However, while understanding better than most the potentially devastating cost of alcohol, I do not allow myself to be ruled by sin. By God’s grace, my responses to alcohol are not stricter or more prohibitive than God’s Word. For those who are expecting an anti-alcohol screed, you’ve clicked on the wrong link. I’m the guy who wrote this, after all[1].

Alcohol is a kind gift from God. The misuse of it by many does not abrogate the fact that one of God’s many physical blessings to those made in His Image is the process of fermentation and the delicious, refreshing beverages that ensue. All good things in this life point us to the unspeakable goodness of the blessings that our Father has in store for His children upon the return of King Jesus. Alcohol is no exception.

Like most good things, though, alcohol can turn our affections away from the Creator and towards the created. Instead of allowing God’s good gift of alcohol to cause us to long for the return of King Jesus, we can be tempted to become satisfied with the temporal. In extreme instances, we begin worshipping alcohol and allow it to rule our lives. In light of the potential for abuse and idol-worship attached to alcohol, I’ve decided, by God’s grace, to abstain from alcohol for the month of February.

The concept is not original to me. I was introduced to it while reading The Big Fight: Christian Men VS The World, Flesh & Devil. The short book is a helpful primer for men seeking Biblical answers/solutions to common struggles. The chapters are short, winsome, and packed full of practical Biblical counsel. Each chapter includes a series of reflection questions and suggestions for a Bible study directly related to the chapter’s specific topic. All starting with the letter “G,” chapters include: “Guilt,” “Glare” (screen time), and, of course, “Grog.”

The chapter “Grog” was written by Tim Thornborough, the Editorial Director of the Good Book Company, the publishing company behind The Big Fight. In the seven-page chapter, Thornborough does a good job of presenting both the dangers and blessing of alcohol in fair and measured ways. Without demonizing alcohol, he shows great understanding in his brief treatment of the dangerous potential inherent in alcohol. Likewise, without turning a gift of God into a god, Thornborough accurately presents alcohol as “something that we can and should delight in as Christians.”[2]

Under the heading “Dependency,” Thornborough cautions that even though, “We may not get drunk, … we can get dependent on drink in ways that are unhealthy – both physically and spiriturally.”[3] A few paragraphs later, he adds, “I plan to go teetotal for at least a month every year, just to check how I’m doing in this area [emphasis kept].”[4]

I must admit, when I first read Tim Thornborough’s commitment, I rolled my eyes just a bit at what I viewed was an unnecessary self-sacrifice. However, and to my surprise, by the time I had finished the short chapter, roughly three minutes later, I found myself contemplating embracing Thornborough’s season of abstention.

Like Thornborough, checking my dependency is definitely a large part of my decision, if not the largest part. Dependency is a tricky thing. Unlike many vague-ish circumstances, the Justice Potter quote doesn’t work for dependency. If we knew if when we saw it, dependency would have far less of a hold on many of us because we could guard against it (not just talking about alcohol here, for the record). To that end, my decision to abstain from alcohol for a month will provide an opportunity for me to see how I respond, both mentally and emotionally[5]. I do not want anything to steal my affections from my Savior, and I want to make sure that alcohol hasn’t done so.

Another reason for my abstention is so that I can continue to remain above reproach regarding alcohol. I’m not an Elder in my church, but the Holy Spirit convicted me years ago that I should desire to meet the qualifications to be an Elder listed in I Timothy 3, as should all Christians. Because of things like my personality, knowledge of alcohol, and overall personal aesthetic sometimes I fear that some people incorrectly view me primarily as a libertine, or at least with libertine tendencies. By God’s grace, I am not. Discussions with people about my beliefs in regards to music that is appropriate in worship services often puts that notion to rest[6].

Having lived part of my adult life in utter darkness and misery, I love rejoicing in my salvation. I love grilling rich meats. I love listening to beautiful music very loudly[7]. I love swapping stories and laughing with brothers and sisters in Christ. I love my salvation, and I love Jesus. And, part of that involves loving beer. However, I don’t ever want my good to be spoken of as evil. Having been raised by strict, fundamentalist parents, I am well aware that no actions short of denouncing all forms of alcohol as evil will ever placate some. But, I pray that by devoting a month to abstaining from alcohol in order to test my heart will help cause those watching to praise God for the desire that the Holy Spirit has given me to honor Him above all else.

The final reason[8] why I’ve decided to follow Thornborough’s lead and abstain from alcohol for a month is because I do not want to take God’s good gift of alcohol for granted. The inverse of my stated desire may help it to make sense.

A few years ago, a Christian brother told me that he only drinks alcohol during the Easter season. He made that decision in order to help his own heart glory in and be thankful for the glorious fact of our risen Savior; he wanted to do something to make Easter tangibly special in his life. I’ve always admired his decision. On a small scale, having a teetotaling month provides me the opportunity to recognize and praise God for the good gift that is alcohol. It’s easy to sinfully take God’s blessings for granted. By God’s grace, I will continue to rejoice in God and the blessings He heaps on my head.

One final explanation before closing. Why February? Well, simply put, I read The Big Fight in January, and thinking through the best months in which to do this, January was the cream that rose to the top.

December and November to a lesser degree are times of feasting and celebration. Extended periods of, well, anything sows the seeds of complacency that can sprout into the listless fruit of turning the glorious into the mundane. Pausing for a season and reflecting on how God’s good gifts demonstrate His love for His children seems to work best on the heels of an almost hedonistic embrace of those good gifts. Abstaining from alcohol during January seems like a great time for me to make an extra effort to praise God for His goodness. However, since January is almost over this year, February seemed like the next best option. Put it off too long, and I run the risk of forgetting about it. By God’s grace, I will make the abstention of alcohol a January tradition starting in 2018. In 2017, however, February must do.

It’s important to remember that, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”[9] My decision to abstain from alcohol during the month of February is not a referendum on the decisions of others. Choosing to enjoy alcohol seven days a week, twelve months a year in full faith before God does not indicate an inferior level of spiritual commitment. In fact, it may very well indicate a stronger level of spiritual commitment. Acting in full faith before God in these matters is what’s important, and only God (and the individual) knows the motives of the heart. My teetotaling month could very well be the prideful reflection of a heart that longs to stand on the Temple steps and thank God that I’m not like the sinners around me; however, I pray that it’s not.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] The title of the article is unfortunate, to say the least. Sadly, I can’t remember if the title was my idea or my editors. If mine, I sincerely regret the unhelpful and possibly untruthful title.

[2] Tim Thornborough, “Grog,” in The Big Fight: Christian Men VS The World, Flesh & Devil, ed. Tim Thornborough and Richard Perkins (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2012), 88.

[3] Tim Thornborough, “Grog” in The Big Fight, 90.

[4] Tim Thornborough, “Grog” in The Big Fight, 90.

[5] A brief word about addiction/dependency – several years ago, I was a lead facilitator in a theatre-based substance abuse program that went into 8th grades. One of the thing the program stressed was that emotional or mental addiction was, in some ways, worse than physical addiction. The lineup of substances that aren’t physically addictive yet wreak havoc in the lives of those who are dependent on it is long. We would remind the students that Oprah had whole shows about things like shopping addiction, which, obviously, is not physically addictive.

[6] People think that I’m kidding when I tell them that I believe that electric guitars and drum kits are unhelpful tools in the worship service.

[7] When my wife doesn’t ask me to turn my stereo system down.

[8] *possibly the final reason. I’m sure that I can think of some others. In other words, I reserve the right to expand my list when having future conversations about this.

[9] I Samuel 16:7, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 517-518.

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3 thoughts on “Abstaining From Alcohol: My Teetotaling Month

  1. Hi John, sorry for intruding in your life this way, but I think it’s not very wise or healthy to start with abstaining completely from alcoholic drinks. Rather start with putting a limit on what and when you drink. It’s a more humble project but much kinder for your body and mind. God bless !

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    • How much do you think I drink?

      Yes, there is a level of physical dependency on alcohol that requires a “stepping down” approach to abstention. But, for starters, I ain’t there, not even close. Not even remotely close. In fact, I’m not physically dependent on alcohol. But that takes me back to my original question, “How much do you think I drink?”

      Secondly, I’m not abstaining for health reasons or because I’ve found that I need it, on any level. As my article states, I am humbly submitting myself to a season of abstention in part to make sure that that’s true (not being dependent – physically or emotionally). Honestly, if I believed that I’ll find that I am dependent, then the title wouldn’t included the words “teetotaling month.” Instead, it would read “teetotaling life.” And, at some point in March, I will happily pour myself a pint of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and praise God for the gift of beer.

      Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what’s behind your comment. No doubt, concern for me is involved, and for that I thank you.

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  2. […] I’ve become a big fan of The Good Book Company, and not just because Tim Thornborough retweets me. The English publishing company has several very practical books for those who desire to pursue holiness in faithful obedience. Like Why Christ Came, I’ve written about The Big Fight elsewhere. You can read it at the link provided here. […]

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