Remembering Dallas Willard: September 4, 1935, to May 8, 2013

I heard Dallas Willard speak on prayer and spiritual disciplines many times. One time was in 2011 at my friend Bobby Schuller’s church and Bobby asked him, “What are your daily prayer rhythms? What do you do on normal days?”

Many people in church that day were quite interested to hear how Dallas Willard, the author of The Divine Conspiracy, prayed.

He admitted to us that many of his days were not “normal” and did not include typical Bible devotions or prayers. His honesty was refreshing. That’s true for me and most of the pastors and other Christ-followers I talk with. (See my summary of the research.)

Dallas explained that our devotional life begins the moment we awake in the morning. Personally, he liked to pray through the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. He liked to say that these simple prayers of childhood could engage our whole life with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.

The key is how we pray. Dallas says he didn’t just rattle off these familiar Scriptures, rather, he took a bath in the word of God.

In church he explained, “You start out, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ Now just stay there awhile. Let that soak in. See yourself addressing your Heavenly Father; think about what he’s like. It isn’t, ‘My Boss, who art in heaven’ or ‘My Eternal Scrutinizer…’ No. It’s, ‘My Father.’”

Next Dallas would proclaim, “The Lord is here!” He appreciated that he was in the real presence of God and sought to make his ‘Quiet Time’ last all day long.

Then we need to be sure to take breaks from our work and other activities. “Usually those present themselves naturally,” Dallas told us in church, “but I don’t waste them by checking up on the news. I tend to watch the news when I’m so exhausted that I can’t do anything else and that’s okay, it’s part of our lives. But you can renew, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ periodically throughout the day.”

This was David’s heartbeat: “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad…” (Psalm 16:8-9, ESV).

Similarly, Paul recommended to us his habits for practicing God’s presence: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

Dallas cautioned that you won’t be able to practice God’s presence well “unless you have some days where you’re very intensive about solitude and silence and Scripture memorization and fasting.”

Personally, Dallas especially found profit from fasting for a half-day or longer and doing this while meditating on what another time he called “the electric Scripture passages.”

But here we need to watch out. Dallas urged us to avoid the danger of being too earnest and too scheduled with our spiritual disciplines, lest we slip into a deadened legalism. 

“One of the signs of a healthy use of disciplines,” according to Dallas, “is how you feel when you do not do them. And if you feel guilt then you need to re-think it. Guilt is not a profitable motivation for the spiritual life.”

It’s much better if we feel sad to have missed a devotional hour.

“Disciplines are like medicine,” Dallas told us. “The ideal condition is you do not need them. They are not righteousness.”

Disciplines are meant to foster a with-God-life that brings us joy and blessing, not bondage.

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Listen to today’s SoulTalk: To honor the life of Dallas Willard, Bill and Kristi pause to reflect on his contributions each May. Once Dallas was asked how he practiced his daily devotions and he offered several important insights. In this episode, Bill and Kristi break down each one. This conversation will leave your soul desiring to practice new ways to receive his love each day.