A college student came out of Dallas Willard’s office wide-eyed, “Do you think Jesus can walk up to you?”
Like many students in philosophy classes at USC, he’d been drawn to the humble, wise, and radiant philosopher Willard. So he met with the professor for personal support and guidance.
When the student asked about God, Dallas surprised him, “Now, when you pray, Jesus will walk right up to you and he will listen to you.”
He never imaged the historical Jesus was alive and present, here and now, for relationship. Apparently, he’d thought of Christianity as real only in a subjective and feeling sense, relative to the individual. Which is how most people in the Western world today view God.
But “invisible things like Trinity and the Kingdom of God are actually real.” That was J. P. Moreland’s explanation to this student.
“I met that student twenty years later at a philosophy conference,” J. P. recalled, “and he was still talking to Jesus!”
Later Dallas elaborated, “There’s a great difference between speaking with someone who’s present and speaking with someone who’s not there… isn’t there?”
As a wounded healer who had gone through his own spiritual doubts and dryness, Dallas told his story for the sake of others who hadn’t yet taken hold of the invisible hand of Christ that crosses the chasm between the earth and the heavens:
“For many of my years when I was a young person growing up I would pray, but it was like talking to a person who wasn’t there. You know the experience. And then I went through a series of experiences with prayer… working with the Lord’s Prayer, and since that time I’ve never had the experience of speaking to God as if he weren’t there.”
(See Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon, pp. 131-132.)
Five years ago today, May 8, 2013, Dallas Willard crossed that chasm all the way, holding the hand of the risen Christ as he stepped into eternal glory. He is dearly missed by his family, friends, and untold thousands of other people around the world.
(Read my tribute, “Personal Reflections From Dallas Willard’s Funeral.”)
I love this account of Jesus walking right up to a doubting but curious student, looking him the eye with a gentle smile and glowing face. It describes how I experienced the presence of Jesus and the Father in my personal conversations with Dallas and in my studies of his books and seminars.
Anyone — atheist or religious, alcoholic or obsessive-compulsive, executive or migrant worker, burned-out pastor or new seminary student, child or elderly person on their death bed — can learn to experience the reality of the risen Christ in their life.
Three things are required to know the Lord Jesus as a Friend you converse with:
- Read the stories of Jesus’ life in the gospels of the New Testament
- Meet a person who mediates the real and warmly loving presence of Christ
- Experiment with prayer
Listen to our latest Soul Talks episode: DALLAS WILLARD: Wounded Healer For Rejection