Personal Reflections from Dallas Willard’s Funeral

Kristi and I just returned from Dallas Willard’s funeral which was on May 14, 2013. It was a small gathering for family and friends at his home church, Valley Vineyard in Reseda, CA. A large public Memorial Service for Dallas Willard will be held on May 25, 2013 at 10:30 am at Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA

We made the two-hour drive to Dallas’ funeral with a van full of dear friends. We became a support group for one another, sharing sadness, grateful memories and lessons from Dallas, and wonderful bursts of laughter. We all felt so honored to have known Dallas and to be able to say goodbye in such a personal way.

Walking into the church I offered myself to God, asking him to use me to be a blessing to others and to speak to me what he wanted me to know. I believe this prayer was answered.

The reflections I share here make for a very long Soul Shepherding “Moment.” But, as with the tribute I wrote the day he died (“Dallas Willard is in Heaven“), it’s good for my soul to write these reflections from his funeral and perhaps it’ll be good for your soul to linger with me awhile so that together we might seek the comfort of Christ and encourage one another to carry on in following Jesus Christ with more earnestness because of the life of Dallas Willard.

Grief Triggers Grief

We arrived early which allowed plenty of time to offer hugs, blessings, and prayers. As we greeted the Willard family I was drawn to Larissa, Dallas’ teenage granddaughter. If you’ve listened to Dallas much you’ve heard him speak so fondly of her. It’s easy to see the radiance of Christ in her. She speaks with sincerity, tenderness, and deep wisdom that are beyond her years.

I remember losing my own grandfather, Charles Bradbury, who, like Dallas, was a great man of God that led tens of thousands of people to Jesus Christ. I also remember losing Ray Ortlund, Sr. in 2007, another extraordinary man of God who helped tens of thousands of people, especially pastors, to “Be all and only for Jesus.” He too was a wonderful spiritual father to me. Grief is like this. The sadness of losing a loved one triggers the sadness from previous losses. This presents a fresh opportunity to share the loss with God and those you love, to grieve, find comfort, and to remember and celebrate a life lived for Christ.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). As Dallas explained, Jesus wasn’t saying it was a blessing to mourn, nor was he instructing us to mourn so that we could be comforted. He was saying, “Even if you’re grieving a loss the comfort of participating in God’s kingdom is available to you.” The great blessing of life is to be with Jesus in the Kingdom of God and to invite others to join us there.

Soul Care from a Friend

Jim Wilder, a fellow Psychologist, sat next to me in the service. This was not a coincidence. It was a blessing for me to hear him share that in the 1970‘s Dallas said to him, “Psychology is the care of the soul. It’s long been in the providence of the Church but we’ve done such a bad job of it that in recent generations we’ve needed help from the outside.”

I talked with Dallas about psychotherapy and he helped me see that it needed to be practiced as soul care, rooted in the reality of Christ in the therapy office and in daily life. He showed me that basis of good therapy is love, friendly love — this goes back way before Freud! It comes from the Trinity and it’s throughout the Bible and Church history.

It still amazes me that “An Author Mentor Became a Soul Friend to Me.” Great leaders and humble folk, brilliant minds and the child-like — call Dallas Willard their friend. Not “Dr. Willard.” He didn’t even want to be called, “Mentor.” He was a friend to all.

I sensed God reminding me, “That’s the way I’ve called you to use psychology — go beyond it to it’s foundations of divine soul care. I’ve called you my friend and that’s what you’re to do for others.” Indeed, Jesus said, “I’ve called you friends” (John 15:15).

What kind of a friend was Dallas? A story that Dallas’ pastor, Bill Dwyer shared, typified for me the Dallas I know and love.

At the end of a long day of teaching at Valley Vineyard and a woman used the Q & A time to start unloading on Dallas her emotional concerns. Bill said that as a speaker he’d been in this situation many times (as have I myself) and his way of dealing with it had been to stay standing and keep the conversation brief. So he wrapped up the meeting and dismissed everyone, hoping to “rescue” Dallas from this situation. But then Bill was shocked to see that Dallas offered for this woman to sit in a chair next to him and he listened to her for twenty minutes as she shared the things that were bothering her. He just listened to her and then he prayed for her.

Dallas listened to me in that same way, with the compassion of Christ. He has helped me to be a better listener for others.

Dallas’ Last Words

Dallas’ last days were painful. But even as he laid on his bed suffering he held Jesus’ hand in the Kingdom of the Heavens. With characteristic gentleness and kindness he kept saying, “Thank you.” To doctors, nurses, visitors, and God. “Thank you… Thank you… Thank you… Thank you…”

The nurses were drawn to his positive attitude in suffering and how appreciative of them he was. They heard him and his visitors reciting Scriptures, singing hymns, talking about a God of love, and praying. The way that Dallas was dying drew the people around him to Jesus Christ and our God of love. This is the way of Jesus on the cross and it’s the way of his followers. How we respond to suffering is often our very best witness for Christ.

One of the nurses looked up Dallas Willard on the Internet and realized not only that he was famous but that there were some people who were saying mean things about him. She said, “I don’t get it. Why would religious people hate this good man who says that God loves everyone?”

God showed his love to Dallas in the hospital. For instance, Dallas’ had a remarkable experience of God. He said, “I taught on the Great Cloud of Witnesses and now I’m experiencing it. I am in heaven’s hallway and there is a large community coming for me. They are the most loving persons I’ve ever been around.”

Finally, at the very end, his last words were once again, “Thank you.” He didn’t even name anyone but I’m sure he was looking into the shining face of Jesus as he was walking all the way through the hallway into heaven.

The Last Will and Testament of Dallas Willard

At the graveside Bill Dwyer shared that he had a dream just before the funeral. An attorney was about to read “The Last Will and Testament of Dallas Willard.” Everyone was wondering, “What did Dallas leave me?”

Suddenly, a chair turned around and it was Dallas and he said, “Take whatever you want from my life.”

Bill asked us, “What inheritance would you like from Dallas?” Then he gave us time to pray quietly.

I wonder how you would answer that question? Some of my friends said their prayer was to:

  • “Be enthralled with the Kingdom of God.”
  • “Grow in gentleness and humility.”
  • “Love people genuinely.”
  • “See and live from spiritual reality as Jesus did and then speak calmly and confidently to others about this.”
  • “Follow Jesus boldly as my authentic self.”

I immediately knew the spiritual inheritance I hoped to receive from Christ through his servant Dallas. It’s something I’ve prayed many times in past years when meeting with Dallas or listening to him teach. It’s an audacious prayer. I’d probably be embarrassed to share it but one day I told Dallas about it and he was happy to affirm it. You can pray it too:

  • “Father, cause the mind of Christ that lived in Dallas Willard to be in me and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that operated on him to operate on me.”

“I’ll See You in the Hall”

Oh, to think about the greatness of Christ and of God like Dallas Willard! Oh, to rely on the Holy Spirit like Dallas Willard did! I was praying about this and then Bill Dwyer concluded the graveside service. He really got my attention when he said that Dallas told him, “Tell Bill, John, Keith, and Gary that I’ll meet them in the hall.”

There were a few people with those names even in that small group of about 30 people — it was a happy thought to imagine myself in that group!

Dallas made me feel as if I actually belonged in a list of his closest family and friends. Hundreds of people say the same thing. Only the Spirit of Christ in him could accomplish that.

I know it’s true that when I die I’ll meet Dallas Willard in the hallway to heaven where the Lord Jesus Christ is. I hope you’ll be there too!

Dallas’ Prayer for You

Jane Willard shared at the end of Dallas’ funeral service that every morning at breakfast she and Dallas offered a special prayer: “Father,  make us the kind of persons that would make other people glad that God made the world and he put us in it.” That little prayer could carry us a long ways!

Also the family passed out a bookmark with another one of Dallas’ prayers that he loved to offer to people. He prayed this one for me and a group of pastors at his Doctor of Ministry class on “Spirituality and Ministry.” (This class meant so much to me and is the inspiration for Soul Shepherding’s Institute in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry” and certificate in Spiritual Direction Ministry.)

“My prayer for you,” Dallas offered to us, “is that you would have a rich life of joy and power, abundant in supernatural results, with a constant, clear vision of never-ending life in God’s World before you, and of the everlasting significance of your work day by day. A radiant life and death.”

Dallas lived out this prayer in Jesus’ name. May God help us to do the same.

Goodbye from Dallas Willard

I think the way that Dallas would say “Goodbye” to us would be in his last words to his precious granddaughter Larissa, “Give ‘em heaven!”

For over fifteen years I’ve been teaching pastors, leaders, and others what I learned from Dallas Willard. The best lessons, stories, and guided experiences are in my book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke.



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