Life Without Lack by Dallas Willard – Book Review

LWL

Dallas Willard has been instrumental in my life at helping me move from being simply someone who says that believe in Jesus, to someone who actively and intimately loves Christ Jesus. I was presented with Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy at a point in my life when I was heavily considering walking away from my calling into ministry. I was done. I didn’t want to go down that path anymore. I still “believed in Jesus”, whatever that really means, but I didn’t find significance or purpose in ministry. I’d rather just watch from the sidelines. Exposure to Willard’s books changed all that. Not that Willard pushed the for call back into ministry, but his explanation of the intimacy found in Christ Jesus and what he means to truly follow Him, helped me to see life through a new lens, a new perspective. I will forever be grateful and thankful for Dallas Willard.

When Dallas Willard died in May of 2013 I was heartbroken. No one knew it until today, but I cried in my car on my way to work after finding out. Although I knew Dallas was experiencing the wonderful presence of Christ, I grieved the loss of an incredible man of God and the end to his books and teachings.

Thankfully, through the work of Gary Black Jr., Gary Moon, John Ortberg, Jan Johnson, and more, Dallas’ influence and work has continued.

Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 is another beautiful continuation and extension of Willard’s work posthumously. Through the efforts and collaboration of Larry Burtoft (a friend of Willard) and Becky Willard Heatley (Willard’s daughter) another public addition to Willard’s catalogue has been preserved.

Life Without Lack is a compilation of Willard’s eight-week teachings series on Psalm 23 originally taught in early 1991 to a group of roughly thirty people at Valley Vista Christian Community. The teaching was preserved on cassette tape, and transposed into this book, a project that Burtoft had planned on for years, but never found fruition until after Willard’s death. As a Dallas Willard enthusiast, I was absolutely delighted to hear the news of the release of this book.

The book is broken into eight chapters, which follow the eight original teaching sessions. Each chapter richly and deeply defines and explains life with God, through the context of God’s ever-present character. Psalm 23 provides the foundation of the teaching yet is not overly expounded. If one were looking for a commentary on Psalm 23, this is not the book for that. What is elucidated is the fact that the Good Shepherd as described in Psalm 23, offers true freedom and peace in an intimate relationship with Him.

Life Without Lack is meaty. It is not a quick read. It is a book that is meant to take time to digest, time to apply to one’s life, and time to dwell upon. This is not a new concept to those who are familiar with Willard. For me, at least, while reading Willard, to read and re-read the same chapter in a sitting, is commonplace. Good content takes time and reflection to grasp and process.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Read it slowly. Read it purposely. And read it with the hopeful expectation that you’ll be enlightened, encouraged, and invigorated by it. May you grow deeper in your relationship with Christ Jesus through it. If this is your very first Dallas Willard book, then I recommend you borrow or purchase Hearing God, The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, or Renovation of the Heart to read beforehand or closely afterward. Dallas Willard writes and speaks with a breadth of knowledge, worth taking the time to ponder and apply.

Life Without Lack releases on February 27, 2018. It will be available in hardcover, ebook, audiobook, and more. You can preorder on Amazon, Christianbook, and through all major book retailers.

Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher. (This in no way affected my honest review of the book)

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Five Minute Moments

5 Minute Moments Title

When I reflect on spiritual formation and disciplines, my mind always seems to lean towards Paul’s words in Romans 12, when he said: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV).

The process and progress found in spiritual formation is the lifelong transformation of the heart, mind, and soul in one’s connection, relationship, and pursuit of God.

Dallas Willard once said, “Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ.”

As one draws closer to Christ Jesus, in relationship, obedience, and connection, their very whole being begins to change and transform, becoming more Christlike. This moral, character, and soul change activates within the depths of one’s self through the workings of the Spirit.  As Richard Foster said in Celebration of the Disciplines: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm” (Foster 1998, 1).

The practice of the spiritual disciplines is not limited to certain exercises, although the classics are presented. Rather, the practice of the spiritual disciplines flow from within, in a natural stream towards a connection with God.

Although these practices and disciplines are beneficial, they achieve nothing outside of a deep connection and relationship with God.  Jan Johnson, in her book When The Soul Listens, said: “The contemplative approach isn’t so much about doing these practices as about living with Christ in the midst of them so that they shape my life with God” (Johnson 2017, xx).

I am in the process of creating “Five Minute Moments”, a video series focused on living a life with Christ.  Through these videos I hope to engage certain topics within Christianity, and focus on how to apply them to our spiritual lives.

In this “first season” of Five Minute Moments, I will be concentrating my attention on the spiritual disciplines.  You can check out the introductory video here:

It is my goal that you grow closer and deeper in your relationship with Christ.  Even if it takes just five minutes at a time.

I believe that the life-long process of spiritual formation and the practice of spiritual disciplines are a fulfilling and transforming path towards Christlikeness in the believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. This God ordained transformation can and will naturally lead followers into a deeper relationship with Him as we seek to become disciple-making disciples of Christ Jesus here on earth.

New Beginnings, New Pursuits

Rome

Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve had some major changes occur in my life over the past few months. New ministry. New baby. New home. New city. All new, and all wonderful blessings. Nevertheless, busy.

In the coming weeks and months, I plan on gearing this back up again with some continued insights on the disciplined life (spiritual formation), as well as some new book review entries. I have been gifted with a few advance review copies of some upcoming books, that will be sure to please. Also, along with my spiritual formation blog entries, it has been stirring within me to begin a short vlog series on my YouTube page on the same topic. I am currently working on these things, so keep an eye out.

Today, I wanted dive a little deep, into a passage I have been studying: Romans 12:1-14.

Most Christians find Romans 12:1-4 to be a well-known, frequently referenced, set of verses. New Testament scholar Douglas Moo goes as far to say that it’s “one of the best-known passages in the NT.” (Moo 1996, 748). The reputation and recognition of this portion of Paul’s letter to Rome is due in part to its robust language and use of “vivid imagery” (Moo 1996, 748). The use of strong and concise verbal imagery paints a picture in the head of the reader, fully encapsulating Paul’s main drive, which is to promote the appropriate response and behavior in and of Christians, despite the world around them.

The struggle, that has lasted for centuries and beyond, is resisting the urge to live and act like those in the surrounding community and culture. No matter where or when in history, the problem of living as a Christian, while being influenced by society and ruled by a government system has weighed on the religious and moral life of the individual and the church. Although Christians desire to live within the framework lived and modeled by Christ Himself, the world is fallen and sinful, limiting the believer’s ability to flourish. New Testament scholar James Dunn calls the current condition of the world, this side of sin, “the age of Adam”, when he says that “a redefined people of God, no less than ethnic Israel, must address the question of how it should relate to the power structures within which it must live in the age of Adam.” (Dunn 1988, 705). So, then how ought Christians to live in a world surrounded by unchristian structure? New Testament scholar Stephen Westerholm, though basic and rudimentary, says that “Christians are to align their behavior unequivocally with the good.” (Westerholm 2004, 159). Paul mentions exactly what the good truly is when he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2 NRSV). Ultimately, Christians are to align their thoughts, actions, and lives with the will of God.

Worship must be done on a much larger and wider scale than just some singing and music on a Sunday morning and/or Wednesday evening. Worship must fully encapsulate the individual and drive the church body. “By the mercies of God” (Rom 12:1 NRSV) we are to worship our Father in Heaven. This is so much more than a list of what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do, it’s an attitude and lifestyle of constant and consistent worship. Just as an Israelite brought to the altar their sacrifice of worship, Christians are to bring to the figurative altar their entire lives. Christians are to stand out among the crowd, becoming the loyal and devoted example of Christ Jesus, until He returns. The knowledge and understanding of God’s grace and justification is the motivation and inspiration behind fully dedicating one’s life to Christ in worship and renewal. Paul expects all Christians to be the exceptional example of faith, because they know and understand God’s word, God’s promise, and God’s plan through Christ Jesus. Those who believe and accept Christ have access to a right relationship with the Father, and therefore want to and learn to walk in His ways and follow His teachings. This example is twofold, however, not only must the Christian live within the framework of Christ’s teachings individually, they must also live, love, and come together fully as a unified body of believers. God not only expects individuals to grow in their ability to transform and conform to Christ Jesus, but He also expects them to associate together as His family and people in a pagan world.

“Children of God” (Rom 8:14 NRSV) are called to live to the fullest within the framework of a family, or a body of believers. When Christians respond to the gospel, they find that they function as only a small part of a bigger mission. Paul said: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function.” (Rom 12:4 NRSV). Paul is urging all Christians to break away and live counter-culturally, but also to come together within the loving, close-knit, community of the body of Christ. Westerholm says: “The good life is not lived in isolation, not even in a solitary pursuit of the good. A worthy response to God’s goodness includes participation in the community of the redeemed.” (Westerholm 2004, 159). This concept of drawing closer to God through the community of God is something Paul is familiar with promoting. To the church in Corinth Paul said: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12 NRSV).

It is clear throughout Romans, but especially in 12:1-4 that Paul is imploring and advocating for all believers to put aside the ways and desires of the world they live in, and pursue only that which glorifies and worships God. There are many ways to gain the approval of mankind, many ways to gain status within a community, and many ways to build upon one’s own ego and pride, but Paul pleads for us to resist the temptation and instead to accomplish the opposite. The world tells you to gather wealth and to focus on your own needs and desires; ultimately to seek that which is beneficial to yourself. Paul claims that one must sacrifice that desire. To present oneself as a sacrifice is to fully submit to the will and power of God. Laying down the desires of the selfish heart, and acquire the heart of Christ, seeking only that which is within the ways and will of God. This circumstance is doubled and magnified by the fact that Paul also wants the believer to renew one’s mind. To give over one’s thoughts and former focuses in life to pursue and practice only that which God desires and plans. The Christian must align their thoughts and lives with the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit, in order to fully discern and determine the will of God.

The critical and most challenging engagement Paul implores is that we are to accomplish all these things within the framework of living together, fully united within the fellowship and community of believers, the body of Christ. The gospel requires transformation, and Christ-like transformation lays down the needs and wants of the individual in humility, boosting the needs and wants of others. Genuine love and humility towards others and towards God is the only true way to appreciate, and live out that appreciation of what was done on the cross. The gravity of the sacrifice of Christ, the faithfulness of God through Christ, the gift of grace, and the ability to have a right relationship with the Father should naturally permeate all aspects of the believer and affect the way they live their lives in all contexts and circumstances.

As one matures and grows in their understanding of God, becoming more Christ-like in the process, a noticeable difference will arise. Paul is quite clear in stating how indeed that difference must look. In terms of description, I believe that Romans 12:1-4 and Colossians 3:12-17 pair nicely in what it means, and how it appears, to truly trust and follow Christ while alive on earth.

Paul said: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-17 NRSV).

May this be our pursuit in 2018.

 

Sources:
Dunn, James D. G. 1988. Romans 9-16: Word Biblical Commentary 38B. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Moo, Douglas. 1996. The Epistle to the Romans: New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Westerholm, Stephen. 2004. Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to Romans. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.