In Eternal Living, a new book reflecting on the life and teachings of Dallas Willard (who died in 2013), Richard Foster, his very good friend of forty years, writes, “[Dallas] possessed in his person a spiritual formation into Christlikeness that was simply astonishing to all who were around him. . . . He exhibited a substantively transformed life. Dallas was simply soaked in the presence of the living Christ” (italics mine).
I’m sure that all apprentices of Jesus would love to be recognized as someone “soaked in the presence of the living Christ!” How does that soaking happen? One answer to that question lies in another quote from Eternal Living by Steve L. Porter: “Wow, look what God can do in and through a person who is utterly abandoned to him.”
Dallas Willard surrendered his life to the Jesus and devoted that life to becoming more like him. He believed that the Holy Spirit empowered him through the spiritual disciples to accomplish that task. He practiced the spiritual disciplines seriously, and, as he matured, people who didn’t know he was a Christian (such as students at the University of Southern California where he taught) commented on how different he was – full of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience, authenticity, and self-control.
I believe that we can learn as much from how Dallas practiced those disciples as from the fact that he practiced them. He always taught that the spiritual disciplines are not added to our lives as an extra duty but arise from the living of those lives. As Nathan Foster says in his new book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint, spiritual disciplines can be crafted by simply thinking differently about what you are already doing. Here are some suggestion for ending a “to-do list” practice of of spiritual disciplines and letting your life speak to you instead:
♥ Do you take a walk every day? Can you use that as time to pray, sing, revel in the wonder of God’s creation?
♥ Do you commute to work? Can you turn of the radio and pray for the day ahead and the needs of the people you may meet? Or can you change the station or the CD and spend your drive time listening to worship music or great songs of the church?
♥ When you are walking on the sidewalk or up the stairs, can you smile or even speak to the people you are meeting? If you see someone who needs help, can you serve them instead of walking on by?
♥ In the grocery store, can you practice submission by giving up your place in line? Can ask the person checking you out how their day is going or compliment them on their accuracy or on their bagging techniques?
♥ When you are stuck waiting for a train or a long red light, can you take a deep breath and smile instead of growling inside? Can you use the time to check in with God through a mini prayer of examen: What has been life thwarting about your day so far? How did you handle that unpleasantness? What has been life-giving about your day so far? How can you bring more of that into your life?
♥ At any time and all times of day or night, can you just “check-in” with God? Let God know you are aware that God is there and listen for what God might have to say to you.
The goal of living our lives devotionally is not to become more religious or to earn points to satisfy your ego, or to appeal to your vainglory as you share your new project with a friend. It is especially not to earn your way to heaven – which can’t be done anyway. It is to ease your way into becoming a “person simply soaked in the presence of the living Christ.”