If you’ve never read a book by Dallas Willard The Great Omission is a good place to start. The Great Omission refers to the fact that in most Christian circles we don’t train people to do everything that Jesus taught even though it’s at the center of Jesus’ Great Comission for us as his followers.
I have gathered and organized the quotes from Dallas’ book that I thought were especially helpful as a summary of his teachings on apprenticeship to Jesus and the life transformation that results from it. I have shared this article with pastors, church leadership teams, and other ministry leaders that have consulted me. Dallas has been a personal mentor and friend to me and many others. God has used to help me become more like Jesus. I love to share his gracious wisdom with others.
Quotes from The Great Omission by Dallas Willard
Here are Dallas Willard’s words from The Great Omission…
“There is an obvious Great Disparity between, on the one hand, the hope for life expressed in Jesus – found real in the Bible and in many shining examples from among his followers – and, on the other hand, the actual day-to-day behavior, inner life, and social presence of most of those who now profess adherence to him” (p. x).
“If [our walk with Christ] doesn’t work at all, or only in fits and starts, that is because we do not give ourselves to it in a way that allows our lives to be taken over by it” (p. x).
The Intelligence of Jesus
“If you ask evangelicals to pick the smartest man in the world, very few of them will list Jesus Christ… How can you be a disciple of someone you don’t think of as really bright?” (p. 168).
“Today we automatically position [Jesus] away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker” (p. 180).
“We do not have confidence (otherwise known as faith) that [Jesus] can be our leader and teacher in matters we spend most of our time working on. Thus, our efforts often fall far short of what they should accomplish” (p. 191).
“Honor [Jesus] as the most knowledgeable person in our field, whatever that may be, and ask his cooperation and assistance with everything we have to do” (p. 191).
Our Problem: Sin
“The inner resources of the person are weakened or dead… not an act but a condition. It is not that we are wrong, but that… we arewrung, twisted. Our thinking, our feeling, our very bodily dispositions are defective and connected wrongly with reference to life as a whole” (p. 146).
“The individual may and often does wish to be good and to do what is right, but he or she is prepared, is set, to do evil. It is what the individual is ready to do without thinking… The mind is confused, ignorant, and misguided. The emotions are simultaneously dominant of personality and in conflict with one another. The body and social environment are filled with regular patterns of wrongdoing and are constantly inclined toward doing what is wrong” (p. 147).
“When the person as a whole is committed to doing what is wrong and evil, the mind turns from reason to rationalization. From establishing what is right in order to do it, it turns to establishing whatever is done is ‘right’ and ‘good,’ or at least ‘necessary.’ That is madness” (p. 147).
Jesus’ Gospel (The Good News)
“We have lost Christ as Teacher… We become mere spectators and consumers of holy things, not participants in the life Jesus is now living on earth, and we lose meaningful discipline” (p. 167).
Faith in Christ has been separated from obedience to him and living in his abundance. “The necessary bridge is discipleship… A gospel of justification alone does not generate disciples. Discipleship is a life of learning from Jesus Christ how to live in the Kingdom of God now, as he himself did” (p. 62).
“If we divide between justification and regeneration in such a way that the gospel is only ‘Believe Jesus died for your sins and you will go to heaven when you die,’ we are stuck with a theology that is inherently resistant to vital spirituality. Now, please don’t misunderstand me: that statement is strictly true, but we have come to accept ‘Believe Jesus died for your sins’ in a way that does not involve “Believe Jesus in everything.’ The gospel is new life through faith in Jesus Christ” (p. 64).
“Obedience and training in obedience form no intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the ‘salvation’ presented in recent versions of the gospel” (p. 5).
“When ‘salvation’ is spoken of today… what is almost always meant is entry into heaven when one dies… This… deprives the terminology of the general sense of deliverance that it bears in the Bible as a whole… If, now, one adds that forgiveness is strictly a matter of what one professes to believe, we have the recipe for the consumerist Christianity-without-discipleship that we have inherited…
“If, however… we understand ‘saving faith’ to be confidence in Jesus Christ, the whole person, and not just in some part of what he did or said, we have the understanding of a salvation that delivers the disciple, the whole person, into a full life in the Kingdom of God” (p. 110-111).
“[Jesus’] gospel of the Kingdom [is] an all-encompassing invitation to live life under the rule of God… When a person begins to step into Kingdom living, she begins to experience the joy of that life, begins to know ‘Solitude isn’t a deprivation. Fasting is an opportunity to learn about how God nourishes us through his Word” (p. 174).
“‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.’ That means: seek meaningful, experiential interaction with God” (p. 175).
“The true saint burns grace like a 747 jet burns fuel on takeoff. Become the kind of person who routinely does what Jesus did and said. You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will be sinning, because every holy act you do will have to be upheld by the grace of God.” (p. 62)
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action… In fact, nothing inspires and enhances effort like the experience of grace” (p. 61, 80).
“Any time ritual and compassion (for example, hunger) come into conflict, God, who gave the law, favors compassion” (p. 185).
“Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it” (p. 166).
“Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone… The gospel of the entire New Testament is that you can have new life now in the Kingdom of God if you will trust Jesus Christ… the whole person of Christ in everything” (p. 61-62).
The Four Great Questions of Life
“Jesus answers the four great questions of life:
- What is real? (God and His Kingdom.)
- Who is well off or ‘blessed’? (Anyone alive in the Kingdom of God.)
- Who is a genuinely good person? (Anyone possessed and permeated with agape, God’s kind of love.)
- And how can I become a genuinely good person? (By being a faithful apprentice of Jesus in Kingdom living, learning from him how to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.)
“These are the questions that every human being must answer, because of the very nature of life, and that every great teacher must address. Jesus Christ answers them in the gospels and, then, in his people in a way that becomes increasingly understandable and experimentally verifiable” (p. 219-220).
[Bill’s comment: Most Christians today (including me for most of my life) focus on the second question, “Who is blessed?” And then they ask a question not in Dallas’ list: “How can I be blessed?” Then they proceed to attempt to use God and his wisdom and other resources to get what they want. But Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (Question 4) and all these things (blessings) will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). If we let go of pursuing what we want and trying to make things happen for ourselves (or “for God”) and instead make knowing Christ and his Kingdom our “One Thing” we discover this to be the greatest treasure of all! And other secondary blessings come along.]
Discipleship/Apprenticeship to Jesus
“A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice – a practitioner… Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth” (p. x).
“[Jesus] told us, as disciples, to make disciples. Not converts to Christianity, nor to some particular ‘faith and practice.’ He did not tell us to arrange for people to ‘get in’ or ‘make the cut’ after they die, nor to eliminate the various brutal forms of injustice, nor to produce and maintain ‘successful’ churches. These are all good things, and he had something to say about all of them. They will certainly happen if – but only if – we are (his constant apprentices) and do (make constant apprentices) what he told us to be and do” (p. xii).
“The word ‘disciple’ occurs 269 times in the New Testament. ‘Christian’ is found only three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to the disciples…. The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.
“But the point is not merely verbal. What is more important is the kind of life we see in the earliest church is that of a special type of person. All of the assurances and the benefits offered to humankind in the gospel evidently presuppose such a life and do not make realistic sense apart from it. The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian — especially padded, textured, streamlined, and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the kingdom of God.
“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either or entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or a local church…
“…So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional….” (p. 3-4).
“The nondisciple… has something ‘more important’ to do… than to become like Jesus Christ… Something on that dreary list of security, reputation, wealth, power, sensual indulgence, ore mere distraction and numbness, still retains his or her ultimate allegiance” (p. 8).
“Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil… that abundance of life that Jesus said he came to bring” (p. 9).
“Do I as a minister have the faith to undertake the work of disciple-making? Is my first aim to make disciples? Or do I just run an operation?” (p. 11).
Spiritual Formation in Christ
“A person is a ‘spiritual person’ to the degree that his or her life is effectively integrated into and dominated by God’s Kingdom or rule” (p. 49).
“Spirituality in many Christian circles has simply become another dimension of Christian consumerism. We have generated a body of Christian people who consume Christian services and think that is Christian faith. Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ” (p. 52).
“Spiritual formation in Christ is the process whereby the inmost being of the individual (the heart, will, or spirit) takes on the quality or character of Jesus himself… In the degree to which it is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus” (p. 53, 105).
“Spiritual formation is a whole life process dealing with change in every essential part of the person… [It] does not aim at controlling action… If… you focus on action alone, you will fall into the deadliest of legalisms and you will kill other souls and die yourself” (p. 55).
“Psychology… [can] serve to illuminate and direct the process of spiritual formation” (p. 119).
Life in the Spirit
“The one book other than the Bible that has most influenced me is a little-know book by James Gilchrist Lawson called Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians. It was first published in 1911… It opened to me inexhaustible riches of Christ and his people through the ages… What most struck me about [the Christians featured] – and I truly was smitten – was [their] drive toward holiness, toward a different and supernatural kind of life – a life ‘from above’ – and [their] readiness to sacrifice all to achieve such a life… And the deeper experiences that brought them forward on their way clearly were not all fillings, or baptisms, with the Holy Spirit, though no doubt the Spirit was always involved and genuine fillings and baptisms occurred.
“The experiences of these people… more often than not… were moments of realization, of extreme clarity of insight into profound truth, together with floods of feeling arising therefrom… What George Fox called ‘openings,’ and they went right to the bone and changed the life forever…
“To see actual invasions of human life by the presence and action of God, right up to the twentieth century, greatly encouraged me to believe that the life and promises given in the person of Christ and in scripture were meant for us today. I saw that ordinary individuals who sought the Lord would find Him real – actually, that He would come to them and convey His reality. It was clear that these ‘famous Christians’ were not seeking experiences, not even experiences of the filling or baptism of the Spirit. They were seeking the Lord, His Kingdom, and His holiness (Matthew 6:33).
“…Constant discipleship, with its constant seeking for more grace and life” (p. 214-217).
“Baptism in the Spirit, spiritual experiences, high acts of worship, and other experiences of worship do not transform character… They have a special role in the spiritual life… They are to be known by their effects…
“Transformation of character comes through learning how to act in concert with Jesus Christ… including carefully planned and grace-sustained disciplines. To enter the path of obedience to Jesus Christ – intending to obey him and intending to learn whatever I have to learn in order to obey him – is the true path of spiritual formation or transformation… What transforms us is the will to obey Jesus Christ from a life that is one with his resurrected reality day by day, learning obedience through inward transformation” (p. 65).
“Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power” (p. 16).
“Power without Christ’s character gives us our modern-day Sampsons and Sauls” (p. 131).
“Only constant students of Jesus will be given adequate power to fulfill their calling to be God’s person for their time and their place in the world” (p. 17).
“The fruit of the Spirit simply is the inner character of Jesus… It is the outcome of spiritual formation. It is “Christ formed in us”… Like the fruit of trees or vines, it is an outgrowth of what we have become, not the result of a special effort to bear fruit. And we have become “fruitful” in this way because we have received the presence of Christ’s Spirit through process of spiritual formation, and now that Spirit, interacting with us, fills us with love, joy, peace…” (p. 115).
“Spiritual formation simply cannot go forward as it is intended by God unless the individual is incorporated in a body of believers where he or she can receive the benefit of the gifts that others have. Without the gifts, the fruit will not be produced and sustained.
“Conversely, the gifts of the Spirit can only be rightly used if the one who receives and serves others by means of them is well formed in inner Christ-likeness” (p. 116).
Transformation in Christ-likeness
“The human soul hungers for transformation, for wholeness and holiness, is sick and dying without it” (p. 110).
“You cannot be a pew potato and simultaneously engage in spiritual formation in Christ’s likeness. You have to take your whole life into discipleship to Jesus Christ” (p. 61).
“Christians who do read their Bibles often don’t know their Bibles… because they don’t really read their Bible as a treatise on reality, as something that brings change and transformation of our lives” (p. 172).
“Life in Christ has to do with obedience to his teaching” (p. 45).
“Practicing Jesus’ words, as his apprentices, enables us to understand our lives and to see how we can interact with God’s redemptive resources, ever at hand” (p. 15).
“Discipleship can be made concrete by actively learning how to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, walk the second mile with an oppressor” (p. 8).
“Evangelicals have often fallen into legalism when they try to obey Christ. That is due in large part to the fact that we have emphasized trying but not training… When you try to ‘bless those who curse you,’ for example, trying will prove never to be enough; you have to be trained for that” (p. 167).
“I know of no current denomination or local congregation that has a concrete plan and practice for teaching people to do ‘all things whatsoever I have commanded you.’ Very few even regard this as something we should actually try to do, and many think it to be simply impossible” (p. 71, [Dallas said this in 1993]).
“Becoming Christ-like never occurs without intense and well-informed action on our part. This in turn cannot be reliably sustained outside of a like-minded fellowship. Our churches will be centers of spiritual formation only as they understand Christ-likeness and communicate it to individuals, through teaching and example, in a convincing and supportive fashion” (p. 80-81).
“Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) make reference to various behaviors: acting out anger, looking to lust, heartless divorce, verbal manipulation, returning evil for evil, and so forth… To strive merely to act in conformity with these illustrations of what living from the Kingdom of God is like is to attempt the impossible… It would merely increase ‘the righteousness of the scribe and Pharisee,’ not to go beyond it to find genuine transformation of who I am as Christ’s man or woman in his Kingdom (Matthew 5:20)” (p. 105).
“If I find, as most do, that I cannot by direct effort succeed in ‘blessing those who curse me’ or ‘praying without ceasing,’ in putting anger aside or not indulging the covetous or lustful eye, then it is my responsibility to find out how I can train myself (always under grace and divine guidance, we must never forget) so that I will be able to do what I cannot do just by trying in the moment of need” (p. 114).
“The standard advice routinely given to ordinary Christians, and even to the more enthusiastic among us, is hopelessly inadequate to the needs of the heart, soul, and body” (p. 121).
“The genius of the moral teachings of Jesus and his first students was his insistence that you cannot keep the lay by trying not to break the law. That will only make a Pharisee of you and sink you into layers of hypocrisy. Instead, you have to be transformed in the functions of the soul so that the deeds of the law are a natural outflow of who you have become” (p. 152).
“’Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant’ (Mark 10:44)… It is a dreadful thing to see this recommended as only another technique for succeeding in leadership. Jesus wasn’t giving techniques for successful leadership. He was telling us who the great person is. He or she is the one who is the servant of all. Being a servant shifts one’s relationship to everyone. What do you think it would do to sexual temptation if you thought of yourself as a servant? What do you think it would do to covetousness? What do you think it would do to the feeling of resentment because you didn’t get what you thought you deserved? I’ll tell you. It will lift the burden” (p. 60).
“The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Formation in Christ” (p. 26-28)
Dallas teaches three keys to transformation in Christ-likeness:
- Faithful acceptance of everyday problems (seeking to learn from Christ in the midst of our trials)
- Interaction with God’s Spirit in and around us (practicing God’s presence)
- Practicing spiritual disciplines as means of grace (a variety of practices suited to you today and targeted for your progress in discipleship to Jesus)
The Pattern for How we Change to Be More Like Christ
“If we would live the life which God made us for, we must take our guiding information from Jesus in three respects.”
- Vision of Gospel Change. “We are unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe… While we have already fallen from God’s intentions for us, he can restore us into the flow of God’s life if we will only count on him for everything. That is, we must trust him.. his ‘yoke’ (Matthew 11:29). Then he will teach us how to make our choices with the aim of glorifying God by doing good to human beings.” [Ask God to show you one teaching of Jesus’ to learn to obey from your heart, e.g., learning to bless those that curse us, or one struggle to overcome. And stay focused on this for months.]
- Intention to Change. “We must learn from Jesus, our ‘in-former,’ a new internal character: new ‘bowels’… new guts.” [We need to address our motives and our willingness to change in the area God puts his finger on. Parts of us resist following Jesus in that particular area or it wouldn’t be difficult for us.]
- Means to Implement. “[Jesus] invites us to follow him into practices, such as solitude, silence, study, service, worship, etc… We must learn of his positive interactions and involvements with us in the concrete occasions of our day-to-day activities.” [Practice a few disciplines regularly for the purpose of relying on God to help you change in the one area.]
Involving our Whole Self in Spiritual Formation
“The inner dimensions of life are what are referred to in the Great Commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). This commandment does not tell us what we must do so much as what we must cultivate in the care of our souls… a personality totally saturated with God’s kind of love, agape (see 1 Corinthians 13)” (p. 123).
“We teach people to do ‘all things whatsoever’ by shaping their hearts to love Christ and his commandments, and by training their entire personality (soul, mind, body, and to some degree even environment) to side with their new heart or spirit, which is the creative element of the self that we also call the will… Indeed, the spirit or heart may even be eager (Matthew 26:41), but unless the flesh or embodied personality as a whole is trained to go with it and support it, the follow through in action will not… reliably happen” (p. 73).
The Role of our Minds
“If we are going to be spiritually transformed we have to have transformation of our thought life… If you are on the throne of your life, you won’t want to think about God because He is, after all, God, and there will not be room for both Him and anybody else on the throne of your life…
“God is not pushy – for now, in any case. He is not going to overwhelm you if you don’t want Him. He gives you the power to put Him out of your mind. And even if you want Him, you have to seek Him…
“We have to think about working with God on the contents of our minds. David says in Psalm 16:8, ‘I keep the Lord always before me.’…
“How, then, shall we set the Lord always before us? Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to – and of course I don’t have to – choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. I would not be a pastor of a church that did not have a program of Bible memorization in it, because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what they need… Muttering scripture. You meditate on it day and night… Keep it, and therefore God, before your mind all the time. Can anyone really imagine that they have anything better to keep before their mind?” (p. 58-59).
“If Joseph had filled his mind with thoughts of romance or sexual indulgence with Mrs. Potiphar, she would have got him and not just his coat” (p. 59).
The Role of Feelings
“We commonly depend upon the emotional pull of stories and images to move people [including ourselves]… Emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith… It is understanding, insight, that generates belief. In vain do we try to change people’s hearts or character by moving them to do things in ways that bypass their understanding” (p. 194).
“Personal soul care also requires attending to our feelings… Many people allow their emotions to defeat them…
“Love is the foundation of the spiritual life and joy is a key component in the Christ life. Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being. Hope in the goodness of God is joy’s indispensable support…
“The great central terms of life in Christ are ‘faith,’ ‘hope,’ ‘love,’ and ‘peace.’ These are not just feelings; in substance, they are not feelings. They are conditions involving every part of an individual’s life, including the body and the social context. They do, however, have feelings that accompany them, and these positive feelings abundantly characterize those living in the presence of God” (p. 128-129).
“Abiding in God’s love provides the unshakable source of joy, which is in turn the source of peace. All is based on the reality of God’s grace and goodness. Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace – the ‘magnificient five’ – are inseparable from one another and reciprocally support each other” (p. 129).
The Role of our Bodies
“The body is the place of our direct power. It is the little ‘power pack’ that God has assigned to us as the field of our freedom and development” (p. 89).
“When we come to new life in Christ, our bodies and their deformed desire system do not automatically shift to the side of Christ, but continue to oppose him.” This is why Paul speaks of ‘putting to death the misdeeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13) and disciplining his body (1 Corinthians 9:27) (p. 83-84).
“I have inquired before many church and parachurch groups regarding their plan for putting to death or mortifying ‘whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ or flesh (see, for example, Colossians 3:5). I have never once had a positive response to this question. Indeed, moritifying or putting things to death doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing today’s Christians would be caught doing. Yet there it stands, at the center of the New Testament teachings” (p. 84).
“Often when we come to do the right thing we have already done the wrong thing, because that is what was sitting in our body ‘at the ready.’ Intention alone cannot suffice in most situations where we find ourselves. We must be ‘in shape.’ If not, trying will normally be too late, or totally absent. Instead, our intention and effort must be carried into effect by training which leaves our body poised to do what Christ would do, well before the occasion arises. Such training is supplied by the disciplines for life in the Spirit” (p. 85-86).
“The body can acquire a ‘life of its own’ – tendencies to behave without regard to our conscious intentions. In our fallen world this life is prepossessed by evil, so that we do not have to think to do what is wrong, but must think and plan and practice – and receive grace – if we are to succeed in doing what is right” (p. 89).
“The teachings of Jesus are viewed as so ‘hard’ only because our embodied personalities are formed against them” (p. 87).
“The purposive, lustful stare… or the striking back by word or fist… or practicing religion for human applause… No law of nature forces the ‘easy’ and disobedient response in these situations. It is just a habit embedded in our bodies and, of course, habits always produce powerful rationalization for themselves” (p. 87).
The Role of Relationships
“Once we who are disciples have assisted others with becoming disciples (of Jesus, not of us), we can gather then, in ordinary life situations, under the supernatural Trinitarian Presence, forming a new kind of social unit never before seen on earth” (p. xii).
The Role of our Soul
“‘Soul’ [refers to] the hidden of spiritual side of the person. It thus includes an individual’s thoughts and feelings, along with heart, or will, with its intents and choices. It also includes an individual’s bodily life and social relations, which, in their inner meaning and nature, are just as hidden as the thoughts and feelings…
“The secret to a strong, healthy, and fruitful ministerial life lies in how we work with God in all of these hidden dimensions of the self. Together they make up the life of the real person. They are the inescapable sources of our outward life” (p. 122-123).
“The human soul [is] the deepest dimension of human personality… [It does] not have spatial parts… [It is] that entity within a person that integrates all of the components of his or her life into their life, one life” (p. 138, 139).
“One reason why the book of Psalms so powerfully affects us is that it is a soul book. It is the premier soul book on earth. It touches us at the deepest levels of our lives, far beyond our conscious thoughts and endeavors. It expresses and helps us to express the most profound parts of our lives” (p. 145).
How We Use Time
“Time is made, not found” (p. 131).
“No time is more profitably spent than that used to heighten the quality of an intimate walk with God… Will we take time to do what is necessary for an abundant life and an abundant ministry, or will we try to get by without it?” (p. 131).
“God never gives anyone too much to do. We do that to ourselves or allow others to do it to us” (p. 131).
“Eliminate hurry” (p. 131).
“Many well-meaning people, to give an example, cannot succeed in being kind because they are too rushed to get things done. Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence love. If this is our problem, we may be greatly helped by a day’s retreat into solitude and silence, where we discover that the world survives even though we are inactive. There we might prayerfully meditate to see clearly the damage done by our unkindness, and honestly compare it to what, if anything, is really gained by our hurry. We will come to understand that for the most part our hurry is really based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone” (p. 29).
“God’s provision for us and for His work through us is adequate. We do not have to ‘make it happen.’ We must stop shouldering the burdens of ‘outcomes.’ These are safely in His hands” (p. 130).
“A discipline is an activity within our power – something we can do – that brings us to the point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort” (p. 150).
“There is no sense of fulfillment, dignity, and quality to life that we can have without discipline” (p. 171-172).
“The aim of disciplines… in the following of Christ is the transformation of the total state of the soul” (p. 151).
“Most of the commonly identified as ‘religious’ activities can be a part of the process of spiritual formation, and should be. Public and private worship, study of scripture, nature, and God’s acts in history, prayer, giving to godly causes, and service to others… But they must be thoughtfully and resolutely approached for that purpose, or they will have little or no effect in promoting it.
“Other less commonly practiced activities, such as fasting, solitude, silence, listening prayer, scripture memorization, frugal living, confession, journaling, submission to the will of others as appropriate, and well-used spiritual direction, are in fact more foundational for spiritual formation in Christ-likeness than the better-known religious practices and are essential for their profitable use.
“All such activities must be seen in the context of an intimate, personal walk with Jesus himself as our constant Savior and Teacher. No formula can be written for spiritual formation, for it is a dynamic relationship and one that is highly individualized” (p. 107).
“Bible study, prayer, and church attendance, among the most commonly prescribed activities in Christian circles, generally have little effect for soul transformation, as is obvious to any observer… Their failure to bring about the change is precisely because the body and soul are so exhausted, fragmented, and conflicted that the prescribed activities cannot be appropriately engaged in and by and large degenerate into legalistic and ineffectual rituals. Lengthy solitude and silence, including rest, can make them very powerful” (p. 153-154).
“The disciplines teach us how to live without depending on the opinion of others… training for being misunderstood” (p. 179).
“Once in a seminar a wealthy and influential leader said to me that he could not help ‘exploding’ when he tried to talk to his rebellious son. I said, ‘Of course you can.’ He looked at me in astonishment and denial. ‘Just tell your wife,’ I continued, ‘that the next time you blow up at him you will contribute $5,000 to her favorite charity, and also every time thereafter.’ He paused, and a smile or recognition tugged at the corners of his mouth” (p. 151).
“Twelve-step programs… focus on things we, for the most part, can do – attend meetings, publicly own up, call on others from the group in times of need, etc., etc., – to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort – stay sober. But staying sober, while desperately important for the alcoholic, is hardly a mark of spiritual attainment” (p. 151).
“[Spiritual disciplines] cannot be effective without, the word of the gospel and the movements of the Spirit of God in our lives… Some people, of course, are unable to put them into practice. Spiritual disciplines are not ‘in their power,’ at least for the time being. Such persons need help and ministry of various kinds” (p. 152).
“The general rule for any discipline is: if it’s hard to do, you probably need to do it longer and more often” (p. 177-178).
“All the disciplines are, where possible, to be done in secret” (p. 179).
“It is astonishing how little of the Bible is known by heart by people who profess to honor it. If we do not know it, how can it help us? It cannot. Memorization, in contrast, enables us to keep it constantly before our minds. And that makes it possible to consciously hold ourselves within the flow of God’s life” (p. 155).
“Memorizing the scriptures is more important than a daily quiet time, for as we fill our minds with these great passages and have them available for our meditation, quiet time takes over the entirety of our lives” (p. 126).
“The law of God kept before the mind brings the order of God into our mind and soul. The soul is restored as the law becomes the routine pattern of life and outward action” (p, 155).
“The primary freedom we have is always the choice of where we will place our minds” (p. 155).
“If someone says he or she cannot memorize scripture, that person probably is living in a condition to which solitude and silence and fasting are the only answer. The spiritual disciplines require one another to achieve their maximal effect” (p. 156).
“Sabbath… is [God’s] gift to us… It sets us free from bondage to our own efforts. Only in this way can we come to the power and joy of a radiant life in ministry and work, a blessing to all we touch. And yet Sabbath is almost totally absent from the existence of contemporary Christians and their ministers.
“Sabbath… is a day, once a week, when we do no work… Very practically, Sabbath is simply ‘casting all your anxiety on Him,’ to find that in actual fact ‘He cares for you’…
“Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude… In a comfortable setting… We must not take our work with us into solitude… not even in the form of Bible study, prayer, or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone…
“The command is ‘Do no work.’ Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.
“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. With practice, the ‘soul anchor’ established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.
“In drawing aside for lengthy periods of time, we seek to rid ourselves of the corrosion of soul that accrues from constant interaction with others and the world around us” (p. 130).
“What have got to get to [in solitude] – and this today is regarded as almost sinful – is the point where you don’t have anything to do” (p. 176).
“Silence also brings Sabbath to you. Silence means quietness, freedom from sounds except natural ones like breathing, bird songs, and wind and water gently moving. It also means not talking. Silence completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. You remain subject to the pulls and pushes of a world that exhausts you and keeps you in bondage, distracting you from God and your own soul… In silence we come to attend.
“When we stop talking, we abandon ourselves to reality and to God. We position ourselves to attend rather than to adjust things with our words. We stop our shaping and negotiating, our ‘spinning.’ How much of our energy goes into that! We let things stand. We trust God with what others shall think…
“We are not safe and rich in talk and companionship unless our souls are strong in solitude and silence…
“Being alone and being quiet for lengthy periods of time are, for most people, the only way they can take the body and soul out of the circuits of sin and allow them to find a new habitual orientation in the Kingdom of the Heavens” (p. 153).
“Fasting is another long-proven way of finding our way into Sabbath, where we live and do our work from the hand of God… Fasting is, indeed, feasting. When we have learned well to fast, we will not suffer from it. It will bring strength and joy… Fasting is one way of seeking and finding the actual Kingdom of God present and active in our lives” (p. 34-38).
“Fasting [from food, some food, or a pleasurable activity]… is an indispensable application of what Jesus called the cross. In the simplest of terms, the cross means not doing or getting what one wants. And, of course, from the merely human viewpoint, getting what one wants is everything… Fasting… has the function of freeing us from having to have what we want. We learn to remain calm, serene, and strong when we are deprived – even severely deprived.
“Positively, we learn that God meets our needs in His own ways… The ‘words of God’… are capable of directly sustaining our bodies along with our whole being (Deuteronomy 8:3-5, Matthew 4:4, John 4:32-34)… Christian practitioners through the ages have understood that to fast well brought one out from under domination of desire and feeling generally, not just in the area of food” (p. 154-155).
“I also learned that there is a rigorous positive correlation between fasting and the power and effect of preaching and teaching – or just being with people… So I will rarely have a regular preaching or teaching appointment where I don’t fast for at least half a day. But I fast systematically as well” (p. 177).
“As the Living Word and the written Word occupy our minds we naturally – and supernaturally – come to love God more and more because we see, clearly and constantly, how lovely He is… Worship will become the constant undertone of our lives. It is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining restoration of our whole beings to God. Nothing can inform, guide, and sustain pervasive and radiant goodness in a person other than the true vision of God and the worship that spontaneously arises from it. Then the power of the indwelling Christ flows from us to others.
“Remember, however, that we are not trying to worship. Worship is not another job we have to do. It is one aspect of the gift of ‘living water’ that springs ‘up to eternal life’ (John 7:38; 4:14). Our part is to turn our minds toward God and to attend to His graceful actions in our souls. This is the primary ‘care of the soul’ we must exercise” (p. 128).
Practicing God’s Presence
“The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds… to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him. In the early time of our practicing, we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits – not the law of gravity – and can be broken. A new grace-filled habit [can be developed]… If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the polestar of our inward beings” (p. 125).
“The way forward lies in intentionally keeping the scenes and words of the New Testament gospels before our minds, carefully reading and rereading them day by day. We memorize them. We revive them in word and imagination as we arise in the morning, move through the events of the day, and lie down at night” (p. 126).
“Do the best you can without harassing yourself. In the evening, then, we can review how we did, and think of ways to do it better the next day… We soon will find that the person of Jesus and his beautiful words are automatically occupying our minds” (p. 126).
“To know God-acting we have to put ourselves into everything we do expecting to interact with God there” (p. 179).
In 1929, Frank Laubach, an Evangelical missionary to Muslims in the Philippines, “began trying to ‘line up’ his actions with the will of God every few minutes [and he kept a journal of his experience which became a classic devotional book, Letters by a Modern Mystic]. His confidantes at the time told him he was seeking the impossible… He began to try living all his waking moments ‘in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”’ In his view, this is exactly what Jesus did.
“Laubach did not fall into the trap of merely trying to achieve his goal. Rather he understood the necessity of learning how, of spiritual method… Taking enough time from each hour to give intensive thought to God… Feeling God in each movement by an act of will… But to attain this mental state often required a long time in the morning. Therefore, he determined not to get out of bed ‘until that mind set, that concentration upon God, is settled.’ He found that great determination was required to keep the mind on God. But he also found it quickly getting easier.”
Laubach writes, “We can keep two things in mind at once. Indeed we cannot keep one thing in mind more than half a second… Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after-image, shall always be one of the elements in every concept and precept? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.”
“…[Laubach] gained a sense of being carried along by God through the hours, of cooperation with God in little things… The moment I turn to him it is like turning on an electric current… [He learned,] ‘This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so!’” (p. 199-205).
“[Frank Laubach teaches that] submission to the will of God means…
- Cooperation with God in the moment-to-moment activities [of our] daily existence…
- Through continuous inner conversation with God…
- Keeping God constantly before the mind…
- By trying various experimental devices, until the habit of constant God-thought is established.
- Then God permeates the self and transforms its world and its relations to others into God’s field of constant action…
- The promises of Christ’s gospel are realized in abundance of life” (p. 200-201)
“The mission naturally flows from the life… The eternal life, from which many profound and glorious effects flow, is interactive relationship with God and with his special Son, Jesus, within the abiding ambience of the Holy Spirit” (p. xiv).
“Some might be shocked to hear that what the ‘church’ – the disciples gathered – really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little of none of these. All it needs to fulfill Christ’s purposes on earth is the quality of life he makes real in the life of his disciples” (p. xiv).
“Those who know something of the goodness and beauty of Jesus yearn to be like him… But they are left helpless unless they can find a path of inward transformation. Who can show them the way if the people identified with the cause of Christ in this world are not prepared to teach and exemplify a process of spiritual formation that will result in an outflow of Christ from their deepest heart and character, from their very identity, from who they are?
“…Lead in Christ’s program of making students from all ethnic groupings, immersing them in the reality of the triune name and teaching them to do all things he has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20)… Where can one find today any group of Christians with an actual plan to teach the people of their group to do everything Jesus said?” (p. 120-121).
“The Priesthood of the Believer [means]… whatever any believer [is] doing [is] to be a priestly act unto God” (p. 164).
“You will see the hand of God move with you as you expectantly do your work. Your part is simply to expect it, watch for it, give thanks as you see it, and, on the basis of your experience, encourage others to do the same… Trust Jesus Christ as your teacher… Put forth your very best efforts… [You will] know the astonishing reality of God’s eternal kind of life flowing through you moment by moment and forever” (p. 22).
“What to do now! Convert the world? No. Convert the church… No again…
“Your first move ‘as you go’ is… Convert me.
“If we wish to convert the church and the world, we begin with ourselves… Witnesses are those who cause others to know. They wit-ness. They are not manipulators…
“The Master said to his disciples, ‘Make disciples.’ We have no other God-appointed business but this, and we must allow all else to fall away if it will…
“Never forget that the tiny group to whom Jesus gave his Great Commission were very ordinary people indeed, but people who for about three years had chosen to be with him in the most intimate of fellowships. They watched him live in the manifest presence and action of the Kingdom of God. They received, day by day, the personal influence of his teaching, direction, and correction. They watched him die and knew him beyond death…
“My first step then, ‘as I go,’ is to be his disciple, and constantly to be learning from him how to live my life in the Kingdom of God now – my real life, the one I am actually living. Not just in church or on ‘religious occasions’…
“Once we are disciples with some substance of the Christ-life… then we are in position to ‘bear wit-ness,’ to bring others to know, to bring them to awareness of reality. Then they can learn who they are and what God intends for them” (p. 225-227).
“All that is needed from us to change things – whether in the church or in the world – is sustained apprenticeship of individuals to Jesus, the Savior of the world so loved by God. Our directions ‘as we go’ are clear: to be disciples – apprentices – of Jesus in Kingdom living and by our life and words as his apprentices to wit-ness, to bring others to k now and long for the life that is in us through confidence in him. It’s all true. It works. It is accessible to anyone. And there is nothing in the world to compare” (p, 229).
Reclaiming the Fire and Vision of a Founder
“When you go to Assisi, you will find many people who talk a great deal about St. Francis, many monuments to him, and many business thriving by selling memorabilia of him. But you will not find anyone who carries in himself the fire that Francis carried. No doubt many fine folks are there, but they do not have the character of Francis, nor to they do the deeds of Francis, nor have his effects.
“What is true in this case is not peculiar to it. Rather, this is simply one of the more obvious illustrations of a general tendency of human life – and of the spiritual life as well. It happens in the professional world, the world of business, of government, education, and the arts: A person of some great inspiration and ability emerges and rises far above his or her origins and surroundings. Perhaps it is a King David of Israel, a Socrates, a St. Anthony or St, Francis, a Martin Luther or a George Fox or a John Wesley. In each of these people there is a… well, a ‘certain something’…
“Organization of their activities takes place, and other organizations spin off from them as numbers of talented individuals are drawn to them and make their lives in their wake. But these other individuals – usually, but not always, very well-intending – do not carry the ‘fire,’ the ‘certain something,’ within them. The mission or missions that have been set afoot begin a subtle divergence from the vision that gripped the founder, and before too long the institution and its mission has become the vision” (p. 91-92).
“When the original fire dies out, the associated institutions and individuals carry on for a while, increasingly concerned about success and survival, and then either they find another basis to stand upon, or they simply disappear” (p. 93).
“In religious matters, nothing fails like success” (p. 93).
“These types of movements… attract many who do not even want the fire of the founder – they do not really understand it. But they do need and like the light and the warmth it provides. Eventually, however, and without consciously intending to do so, they extinguish the very fire that provides the light and warmth, or it simply dies out from lack of being tended” (p. 93).
“It is a subtle shifting of vision” (p. 93).
“Uzziah became strong through his devotion to the Lord. For much of his life he focused upon knowing God in a close relationship (2 Chronicles 26)… But the works that were accomplished through Uzziah’s association with God in action distracted him from his original vision and refocused him on himself and what he was doing…
“[Generally the kings of Israel and Judah, except David] took more upon themselves than was warranted… [They] formed human alliances or tried to establish practices that overestimated what could be accomplished by human strength. They glorified themselves and did not rely upon God” (p. 94-95).
The General Pattern of Decline:
- Intense devotion to God
- Brings outward success
- Leads to taking responsibility for what has been achieved and for further achievement
- Vision gets re-oriented away from God to what we are doing and need to do – usually to the applause and support of sympathetic people. “The mission increasingly becomes the vision… Goals occupy the place of the vision of God in the inward life.”
- “Service to Christ replaces love for Christ. The inward reality of love for God, and absorption in what He is doing, is no longer the center of life, and may even become despised, or at least is disregarded” (p. 95-96).
“Followers often rely upon the assumption that the founder, or leader, is ‘unusual’ or ‘abnormally gifted’ to relieve themselves of the burden of genuinely being like him or her. This is usually firmed up by a total lack of understanding of how the leaders came to have the vision of God they do – and sometimes the leaders are not clear about this either” (p. 97).
“Great effects are achieved because God acts with efforts made in dependence upon him and for his sake” (p. 97).
“Joshua (Exodus 33:11) and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9) were two cases where the disciple sought the Lord as did their masters (Moses and Elijah), and as a result carried on through their lives in the same spirit. In later Christian history, we find clear examples of the transgenerational sharing of the original fire in the Jesuits, the Quakers, the Moravian Brethren, and the Methodists. No doubt there are many other cases not so well known. So it can be done” (p. 98).
“It is a matter of identifying and sustaining the sense or vision of God, self, and world that pervaded and animate the originators… It also is dependent upon grace – that is, upon God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own” (p. 98-99).
“The love of God, and only the love of God, secures the vision of God, keeps God constantly before our mind. Thomas Watson tells us that ‘the first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God… God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart.’ King David gives us the secret of his life: ‘I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved’ (Psalm 16:8).
“Vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for who we are” (p. 100).
“We do the very best we know, we work hard, and even self-sacrificially. But we do not carry the load, and our ego is not involved in any way with the mission and the ministry” (p. 101).
“In order to sustain and develop such a life of loving abandonment to God, an overall plan of life is required, incorporating special practices that care for the inner person… This will take some time… study, experimentation, and guidance by the Holy Spirit. But it can be done, and when it is done, life becomes incalculably easier, sweeter, and stronger. Mission and ministry are no longer burdensome, thought they may be quite challenging and strenuous” (p. 101).