Conversatio Divina

Part 15 of 34

Disciplines and the Nature of the Person

Dallas Willard

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas's last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor's Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]

OK, now, this is a more meditative song. I hope you know it. It’s a wonderful prayer about transformation. So, I’ll start out and you pick up whenever you can. Don’t worry about it if you can’t.


May the mind of Christ my Savior, Live in me from day to day,

By His love and power controlling, all I do and say.


Do we need to raise that? Are you comfortable where it is? OK.


May the word of God dwell richly, in my heart from hour to hour,

So that all may see I triumph, only through His power.


May the peace of God my Father, Rule my life in everything.

That I may become to comfort, sick and sorrowing.


May the love of Jesus fill me, As the waters of the sea,

Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.


My I run the race before me, Strong and brave to face the foe,

Looking only unto Jesus, as I onward go.


May His beauty rest upon me, As I seek the lost to win,

And may they forgive the channel, Seeing only Him.  [2:29]


Let me turn you to page 92 in your notebook and I would like to work us through this Disciples Prayer in a way that reflects the Kingdom reality a little better as we are trying to understand it and you don’t need to speak out loud—you can if you wish but do notice the difference of wording.  “Dear Father, Always near us.” Our Father who art in Heaven—that’s what that means. It means “Our Father, Always near us. May your name be treasured and loved.” That will do a little more than “hallowed be thy name” because it isn’t a common word now except at Halloween. It means “your name be treasured and loved” and it is very interesting that this is the first request that is made in the prayer. And then following on that, “May your rule be completed in us—May your will be done here on earth in just the way it is done in Heaven” “Give us today the things we need for today and forgive our sins and impositions on You” as we, just the way, we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.” “Please don’t put us through trials but deliver us from everything bad because you are the one in charge and you have all the power and all the glory too is all yours forever which is just the way we want it.” OK? [5:30]


Now, no way can you replace the King James version of the prayer and we don’t want to do that but we want to enliven those words in that version with meaning and we do that by thinking so I like to use this prayer slowly, “Dear Father, always near us” or “Our Father who art in Heaven”—I can use the old language very well because I know what it means so I say that and then I don’t rush on. “Our Father ….who art…….Heaven…..I put some thought into it; I give it some time. I think about what it means. Now, when you pray, you are addressing someone so you want to address them. So, you address the Father and you stand before Him and speak to Him and then you go on, “May your name be treasured and loved” and then you stop. Sometimes you may not go on; you just find such a rich place there that you just want to stay there and maybe you would want to take that as something to repeat through the day. “Hallowed be Thy Name”—it’s a good thing for committee meetings and other situations that one gets in to repeat that. If not aloud: sometimes it might calm things down if you said it aloud but quietly, “Hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come—thy rule be completed in us.  [7:51]


This used to be used meditatively. It is not something you just “get through.” Now, I was raised in a home where we said this prayer every morning at breakfast and I am very thankful for that, to tell you the truth, but we didn’t think much about it. We just sort of “got through it” and I am sure it helped us a lot as a child to have that. That is something that I repeated every morning but the use of it is better if you will take it meditatively and don’t rush on and when I first began years ago to learn how to use this, I often couldn’t finish it because I would get into one of these phrases and I would just luxuriate there and that’s okay. Jesus is here giving us words that cover the most important things in our life—tying forgiveness to daily bread for example. It’s a wonderful thing to see that connection–daily bread and forgiveness. Remember now, you want to take this prayer seriously because this was an answer to a question. “Lord, teach us to pray.” And when he responded, he said, “Well, when you pray, say, right? So we want to learn how to use this and I am hoping that our studies will give us a new grasp of it. [9:58]


Now, a separate topic—did you bring the Wesley Plain Account and the Calvin Golden Booklet? Did you bring that with you? No. I hope you have read it. I want to talk about that next week. I want to talk about them together and so, probably Tuesday, but we will see.  Still, I do want to talk about it and I hope you did read them.


So, now today at 12:00, you will enter into silence as far as you are concerned. You’ve got some challenges here with these young people here but when you walk into the cafeteria at lunch, that’s the beginning of silence. Then when you walk in Saturday, that’s talking time. OK? Just so everyone understands. If you get in a situation where you need to say something, say something, for goodness sakes, okay?  Don’t get legalistic about it. Learn and do the best you can with it and I believe it will prove to be a good experience. Many of the students who go through this site that period as the most significant part of the retreat. Don’t try to make anything happen Enjoy it. Enjoy it.


Now, we are going to be talking about that particular discipline after the break today so there will be more to be said about that. [12:00]


The Moral Diet

Airily points out that we are driven by morality much more than standard economic models allow. But I was stuck by what you might call the Good Person Construct and the moral calculus it implies. For the past several centuries, most Westerners would have identified themselves fundamentally as Depraved Sinners. In this construct, sin is something you fight like a recurring cancer—part of a daily battle against evil.


But these days, people are more likely to believe in their essential goodness. People who live by the Good Person Construct try to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory. In this construct, moral life is more like dieting: I give myself permission to have a few cookies because I had salads for lunch and dinner. I give myself permission to cheat a little because, when I look at my overall life, I see that I’m still a good person.


The reason this is very fortuitous is because we are going to spend a good bit of time talking about this and the role of pastors with reference to morality next week. We are going to spend some time on that. I look for these indications in the public of a sense; at least of a need for something and my claim is going to be “it is only the Pastors who can pick this up and do something with it.” David is a good man, I am sure. He is out there sort of ranging around and he doesn’t really come up with an answer but he comes up with a lot of good questions and as pastors, you have the answer and the responsibility to bring it to the world so I hope you will enjoy that. [13:39]

Now, Keith, you have some things to talk to us about?


Keith: I put a few things on the board here and as we increasingly get near next week, I will be putting little statements; some will be Dallas-ism and some will be paraphrases of things that I use. Many of these statements, I think, can be very helpful in a teaching setting in the church. Next week, I am going to give you a packet of things that tell you what has been effective for me as a Pastor trying to get this into a congregation and we will talk about a variety of things about that but many little statements like this can be very helpful. Spiritual disciplines are more related to wisdom than righteousness. You got that yesterday but that’s a wonderful saying. People tend to “get that” and you have to make these kinds of distinctions for the folks in the pew because they get a lot of ideas from the radio, from popular writings and this helps clarify that disciplines are not about works. It’s not about doing a discipline to become a righteous person or relate me to God. That is not about what they are. They are more about wisdom. They are a good means to a good end. It’s a great little statement that you can unpack in a dialogue or a teaching with them. So, that’s a good little statement.


If you want to do what Jesus did on the spot, you much practice what He did off the spot.  Kind of quippy little statements but they have some great opportunities to dialogue about with these kind of statements. I am sure you will get a collection. I don’t that on the web there are little websites of people who collect statements of Dallas that he doesn’t even remember he says. But they are so great. There are so many of them. C. S. Lewis has a number of them as well. [16:20]


I want to say something about Vision, Intention and Means for us because this general truism is a general truth. I mean, anything you have done in your life of value and success, you employed them. It’s not just a spiritual principle; it’s a principle of any successful endeavor you have taken on in business. You didn’t become a good business person or successful in playing a musical instrument or in a sport without employing this and I just want to say that I think that the church—this is my observation—as a church, we have focused far more on Means. This is what the church does because we want to give people things to do and we’ve worked this in the wrong way. There is a pattern to this. Vision is so primary to this model. If you run right to Means, you will create a bunch of legalists and that’s what happens most of the time with Means. Just talking about disciplines; people want to be told, “Do these things.” And that’s fine but there are aspects to this that are important too.  You can employ Means where you impose that on others and disciplines that are imposed, and Dallas you can say something about this but this is my theory. Disciplines that are imposed by others versus embodied by self and being self-imposed, generally will fade away much quicker. They just don’t carry on. Do you understand what I mean?  The key to this is self-imposition and that’s a very important idea if we go right to means, we will undoubtedly create more legalism for people and possibly superstition. That’s where Dallas says—and I think that’s really true—that’s where legalism goes to the next level. We get into that level and that’s a very dangerous level to relate to God that way.  As you can see the balance of what we are doing even in this class is we have not even shifted to “Means” yet. We are finishing week one. We are still in the Vision. When I teach my spiritual formation class at Azusa, I have 15 weeks that I teach and I am probably going 10 weeks on Vision because if they don’t get the Vision right—you get the Vision right, then Means becomes a kind of natural outgrowth. It actually becomes mechanics and you have to know about the mechanics—no question about it and you should know that but if you don’t have the right Vision, Means will become legalism and also know this about Vision. Vision fuels Intention. It will fuel it. For example, let’s say a young girl is watching the Olympics. Do you like the Olympics? I love the Olympics—very inspiring to me and I grew up with sports. But imagine a young girl watching the gymnasts. In the past, we have had really good gymnasts in the U.S. and I can imagine them watching like a “Mary Lou Rettin” and a young girl of 6 or 7 says, “Wow, Mom!”—they catch a vision for that’s what they want to be. They want to be a great gymnast. Now the greater that Vision is—either for being a gymnast, a dancer, a player of a musical instrument or some other sport, the greater that vision is, it fuels Intention. [21:01] Think about yourself. When you caught a vision for something, your Intentionality had wheels. It had fuel. Didn’t it? And then the next thing is that you would take on Means to do that; just like the young girl would do, she would say, “Wow, I want to do that, Mom; take me to the gymnastics class.” That intentionality is there; “I’ve got to be there.” Then once she gets there it’s about Means—about practicing those Means and becoming that dancer or that gymnast. But, here’s the deal. In our churches, and you can push back on me here, we are weak in our churches on Vision. This is the weakest area we have and one of the primary areas for creating Vision and I challenge you Senior pastors in the room—really; the pulpit is a primary place to create Vision. The Vision that we want to create for our people, I think, more and more is a Vision of God and a Vision of the self. IF they don’t get those two things clearer, better, then we create a lot of problems as we go down this model. Does that make sense? [22:32]


The vision of God and the vision of the self—very much what we are doing in the class—that’s where we have been, just creating that kind of Vision. We are now going to shift out of this. Just know that this has to be really primary because if that Vision is not strong and clear, we have a lot of troubles when we get down here—move down the pipe. Does that make sense? So, that’s fantastic—knowing this about yourself and your congregation is really helpful and critical.


Dallas: OK, now, I want to kind of finish up the discussion of disciplines in general and then we want to spend the last part of this day together beginning on the particular disciplines.


I want to turn you to the first chapter of 2 Peter. I ask you to think about this and ask you to think about this in the context of what we just been talking about because the content of the Scriptures, the New and Old Testament, they are addressing exactly the issue we are talking about here. [23:52]


So, now, this letter opens with a salutation to those who have received like a faith of the same kind as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He goes on to enlarge on that, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Now, remember, knowledge is fundamentally interactive relationship but it expresses itself in propositions and statements and bodies of knowledge that can be taught in that way also. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge”—now, he intensifies knowledge—epignosin—so the “epi” now intensifies it—“who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.“ Now, how’s that for Vision? You are partakers of the Divine nature—you know, we talk about being born from above and all of that and that’s what it means. You have a different nature that is at work in you. You partake of that and it frees you up. You escape the corruption that is in the world through epithumia—intensive desire, and as you go on through, you will find more and more said about desire if you are looking for it. This is a fundamental problem. But, now, watch. “For this very reason”—what’s the what?—because all of this is true. Also, “applying all diligence”—how much diligence? Little bit? Whole lot? No; give it all you’ve got—the peddle to the metal as we say. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith or in your faith add virtue, moral excellence,” some of the versions say. It’s hard to get a word to do it. It’s eratay in the Greek and it means a special kind of power. It means the power to accomplish what is good. Virtue—vice is the opposite of virtue. It is the outworking of degeneration and weakness and so on. Now, I won’t have time to go into each of these so let me just read on here. “For the reason, applying all diligence, add to your faith, virtue.” So, the question for leaders is, “What’s your plan?
How do you do this?” So, these writers tend to tell us what needs to be done but they don’t go into the details of how you do it. That is, I think, largely because they assume that you would understand by the examples that were around you as to how you do it. How do you? [27:14]


Now, lets’ lay all of that aside and just you and me, here we are. How am I going to add virtue to my faith? How am I going to do that? That’s our question. Well, let’s go on. “In your virtue, add, wow, here comes knowledge again.” I thought we already had that. Well, you had some good knowledge but there is more and actually virtue that is not based on knowledge is very weak and wobbly and it won’t stand up well. Virtue is not innocence. Virtue is a power, as I say, it’s a kind of power to accomplish what is good and you need knowledge to go with that.


So, again, what’s our plan? “And in your knowledge, add self control, and in your self-control, add perseverance”—you don’t want self control on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays but it’s seven days a week—“perseverance”—you stick with it; you don’t do it for six months and then fall off, you stay with it. You are steady. “And in your perseverance, godliness and in your godliness, brotherly kindness”—philadelphia—now, I think it would be wonderfully helpful for you and for your people to make sure to teach each of these things and how you move from one to the other.  That’s basic knowledge for a life fulfilled in Christ and in the Kingdom of God. “And to your brotherly kindness, agape.” See, agape always comes out at the top and these are not separate things that you impose on one another. You are not going to have agape unless for example you have self-control. And your self-control is probably going to be pretty mean if it doesn’t have philadephia. So, these are not separate things; they interweave, they mesh with one another and it is as you bring them together that you begin to see. We are apt to just stop at faith and that faith is going to be pretty weak unless it has virtue but how do we do that in our groups? [30:06]


Now, we will be weaving back and forth on this now as we go on. But I

want to just call one particular thing in this passage to your attention. There is not a single action mentioned. The things that are listed are not actions. Of course, action is related to them as well as to the absence of them and we’ve talked about that and where actions come from and so on. Actions will, by in large, take care of themselves. You focus on the condition and this is a list of conditions, not actions and this is the righteousness that lies beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. Now, he says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing,”—so it’s expected that these things are increasing as you go along—and that is certainly true and a large part of that will be because of the interaction between them—“they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge”—there comes true knowledge again, you see knowledge has at this point shown up four times—four times—and so “you will not be unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities are blind and short-sighted having forgotten his purification from his former sins.”  (2 Peter 1:10) “Therefore, brethren be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing of you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; you will never stumble.” OK? [32:02]


Now, I wanted to come around to a picture of what the outcome looks like of what we have been talking about and this is a picture that scholars normally think that 2 Peter is one of the latest things that we have from the new testament writers and I am inclined to think that that is true and that what you are looking at here is a description of what they had actually done. This is a description of what the early church had in mind and they had worked through the interpretation of Jesus and the gospel and all of that and this was their procedure so, now, if we are going to enter into this, I recommend that as a way of thinking about it. See? [33:03]


Now, I want to work more into the details of what you do with this. You have Paul in Romans 13 saying, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof.” Right? Good idea.


So, let’s talk now a bit about The Body and somehow I didn’t manage to get this in the notebook and I apologize for that. I hope you can see a little of it as we talk about it now. OK?


The Body is central to the process and we have to understand it. It isn’t our enemy. It is meant to be the main support of practical holiness if you wish to use that word—I hope you feel comfortable with it—of life in the Kingdom of God with Jesus.  It’s the body. [34:21] So, now, here are some descriptions.  What is our body? Body is potential energy and that’s pretty true in general. Kinetic energy is something that is in action. Potential energy is something that can be called into action, and we are given a body by God in order that we might act. It is made available to me that I may act and in general, matter has that availability to accomplish things—to do things and for human beings; we have a body that gives us even the capacity to act in defiance of God. That is important to our becoming a person. Your little two year old has learned how to say, “No” and says it frequently and it seems like they relish it—just “NO!” That’s a part of the process of becoming a person. I become a person with a Kingdom by means of my Body. That’s the only way I can do it. Now, our body, to go into things we’ve had some talk about earlier, is an essential part of our Identity and it stays with us forever, though not in the same form. I become the particular person I am in virtue of my body. It’s my little personalized Power Pack. It is not inherently bad. It is good. Flesh is good. Flesh is a good thing. Flesh is never presented in the Bible as a bad thing. It becomes a problem when it takes on evil and that means primarily that it begins to exalt itself as ultimate and not be subordinated to what is good.  [36:58]


Desire is a natural part of the flesh. Human abilities—we couldn’t live without desire. No child would survive except for their desires and as we grow, we come to terms increasingly with the natural tendencies of the flesh and if we go as we should, they are subordinated to what is good in our relationship to others, ourselves, and God but you have to understand that human beings are built in such a way that at least for a time they do not have to be subordinated to God and they don’t have to be subordinated to good. So the great commandment has those two parts about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. Love has to do with what is good for what is loved. That’s the nature of love. It seeks what is good for what is loved. It does not just seek to fulfill itself and get what it wants. Now, this is basic stuff in understanding human life and if you have a culture such as ours, which has pretty well come to the point that it cannot distinguish between what is good and what it wants, then we are in hopeless confusion and we wind up living for what we want and not for what is good. Does that make any sense? See, that’s the break point—which way are you going to go and then you understand the meaning of the cross and self-denial and death to self and all of that. You see, that is taking a direction here that disowns myself and my wants as the ultimate point of reference but people generally, and our language itself betrays us.  An illustration of this that I like to use is if people say that they love chocolate cake but they don’t love chocolate cake, they want to eat it and that’s different from loving it. Now, you can imagine someone who loved chocolate cake; they just took good care of it and saw to it that it was in the best condition and so on. That’s not what people have in mind, right? The difference between loving and wanting is absolutely profound and when you come to things like “love your enemies as yourself, or your neighbor,” you have to know what love is or you can’t go there. [40:28]


All right, so, our body takes on a life of it’s own. We have talked a little bit about that already but we really need to stomp on it. It is supposed to. It takes on a life of its own. Thank God it does because if it didn’t, we would never be able to manage anything that looks like a human life. Now, that’s good if what it takes on is good. So, in the natural progression, for example it takes on the abilities to walk and to talk and then beginning to understand things and be creative and so on. All of that is—that’s good. You don’t want to have to think about a lot of stuff. You want to get to the point that you don’t have to think about it and that’s basically what goes on in training and in all kinds of areas. Now, unfortunately, in our fallen world, our body takes on a system of tendencies away from or against God. So that’s then what we have to deal with when we come to the point of conversion—new life because conversion does not wipe out the tendencies that are wrongly directed and built into our body and that’ s always including our social relationships. Our body is a social entity and society is built around bodies—living bodies.  [42:08]


So, I mention here Peter’s denials as illustrations; I don’t think we need to spend much time on that but you do need at some point, to think why Peter did what he did. And the short answer is because that was what was in his body. He didn’t have to think about it; even though Jesus had told him what he was going to do, he said, “No, I’m not going to do it” and he was thinking in terms of his intentions as he understood them and he had no way of understanding how his emotions and his physical isolation and weariness and being scared to death of death and so on, how that was going to affect him. So, he had intellectual resources to rationalize what he was doing at the time, no doubt, and thank God, in his case, they broke down pretty fast. Partly because of what Jesus had told him and now he is thinking about it and he remembers that Jesus said, “You are going to deny me three times.” Not just once, you know—three times. So, he realize that what came to him was a deeper self knowledge and you see that in Peter’s case in numerous situations—the case where Jesus told him to go fishing again and he said, “I don’t want to go fishing.” But, he did and pulled in this huge catch and so you have him getting down in front of Jesus and saying, “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man. I am a sinful man.” So, Peter had these episodes of self-realization.


So now, the body is inseparable in its functioning from the context and has great power over us and the context of the world as 1 John 2:16, “the things that are in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; that pretty well summarizes it and the body as it has been brought up in that world, takes on all of that stuff and so it acts out of that without having to think about it and you look at your church activities very often you see people, they are just acting out what is in their body.  Conversely, if you are going to break that, you have to break those habits. [44:53]


So, now, I would like to go to the William James piece and look at a few points there because how does all of this live in us? It lives through habit and James spent a lot of time thinking about how that works and habit is for him a general category of reality and he talks about things like folding a piece of paper and how if you go to fold it again, you are going to have a hard time not folding it where it was folded previously and so on. His view is that all of action has that relationship to reality. On the first page there, 151, he is talking about plasticity about a third of the way down. Plasticity then, in the wide sense of the world means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence but strong enough not to yield to it all at once and also of a character that it will pick up a tendency. He says, “Organic matter, especially nervous tissue—that’s not tissue that is nervous of course—it’s the tissue that makes up the nerves seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort. So, he italicizes the first proposition. We lay without hesitation our first proposition is this, that the phenomena of habit is in living beings is due to the plasticity of the organic materials of which our bodies are composed.  Now, in order that I don’t lose you quickly in what looks like a very heady piece of work, we are talking about how you change your dispositions including how you move from faith to virtue, from virtue to knowledge and so forth on down the line—how you put off the old person and put on the new. That’s what we are talking about here. But, talking about changing the structure of the body, primarily though it also applies to the mind and every aspect of the self. So, he enlarges on that and moves on to page 154; you get the second proposition toward the bottom of 154: secondly, habit diminishes the conscious attention with which our acts are performed. That is very crucial to understanding how we act thoughtlessly and now that is not bad thing. That’s a good thing. If we couldn’t act thoughtlessly, there is very little we could do. You go back, for example when you were learning how to make the letters that constitute the alphabet and you remember how hard it was to make an “A” and distinguish it from a “B” and a “D” and all of that and how you just had to struggle to get that right. You didn’t have the habits.


Now, that changes as you go along. He mentions also in the middle of 155 the pianist or the marksman, the fencer; you know that kind of fencing. Right in the middle of 155, “not only is it the right thing at the right time that we thus involuntarily do but the wrong thing also if it be an habitual thing.” And he goes on to discuss things like dressing and taking care of yourself and so on. [49:33]


There is a helpful diagram on 156 which is designed to give some diagrammatic presence to what he is saying and what he is saying is that our muscular contractions become keyed not to explicit thought but to sensations of various kinds so we don’t have to think about the middle “C.” We just strike it in the right time and in the right way because the surrounding sensations in the performance guide us. There is an important italicized sentence here a third of the way down on 157, “Habits depend on sensations not attended to.” Wow! Listen, you won’t ever learn anything more important about all this stuff than what that sentence says. “Habits depend on sensation not attended to.” You think Peter, he didn’t attend to the sensations that were going to govern his action and the process of spiritual growth largely comes in having enough space to be able to recognize what is going on and often those are mere feelings. He refers to knitting and then playing the violin and so on and what guides are really the sensations. It took me a long while to get used to speaking to groups where you had someone sitting in the front row knitting. I’m still not entirely comfortable with it but I have become more reconciled because the human being is a complicated thing and it is possible for a person to listen to what you are saying while they are knitting. Now, I couldn’t do that. I would have to pay attention to every little move but I have come to realize that not everyone is like that. [51:56]


Now, on pages 158 and 159, he talks about the importance of ethical and pedagogical areas—the principle of habit. There is a lovely statement right at the bottom of 158: “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society—its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance.” Now, you know, a flywheel in a machine has the role of stabilizing the action of the machine. You have a flywheel which is a large usually heavy wheel and it is turning in a regular way and the power of that movement of that flywheel, which looks like it is just sitting there spinning, is actually regularizing the motion of the whole machine. It’s not such an important concept since so much of what was mechanical has now become electrical but in the old machines, tractors and so on, engines of various kinds—they were very important and their role was to stabilize things and what he is saying is that habit is like that. Habit is the flywheel of society and it is the flywheel of personal life as well and so he goes on to develop that. I hope that’s a point that we can take for obvious and if not, just read 159 and 169. [53:41]


This is located in our nervous system—our body by in large at the top of 160. “The great thing then in all education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.” That is to make our capacity to identify sensations and be guided by them without thinking about them and that sentence towards the top of 160 pulls that together. He says, “It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions—James always loved these analogies that’s an economic or financial one—to fund and capitalize our acquisitions and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual as early as possible as many useful actions as we can and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us as we would guard against the plague.” Now, there’s education, the experience of young people today, what they can experience now that they couldn’t even dream of in other times, has the tendency of forming habits in them both bodily and mental, that will largely determine how their life is going to turn out.

So, now he has some further instructions here about how to form moral habits and the importance of setting them up with vigor and intensity. He is very dim on the prospects of tapering off things that are bad. [55:50] You have to hit them with resolve and regard each failure as very serious and make sure that you do whatever is necessary to carry through consistently with the habit that is to be performed. This is summed up on 162 by the third maxim; he’s giving you certain principles and the third one we’ve already called attention to 1 and 2; he says, “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming; not in the moment of their forming but in the moment of their producing motor effects that resolves an aspirations communicate the new set of the brain.” This is on page 162, right in the middle. Now, see what he is saying there is if this doesn’t get to your body, just your aspirations, your thoughts, your inner intentions, then it will not govern your life and in all of the areas of vice and virtue now, he’s telling us something that we have to understand both about being subjected to vice and about escaping it through willing what is good.


There is a very nice statement at the bottom of that page that he takes from John Stewart Mill and actually it is a commonplace of old moral teaching. You might be surprised if you go back and find how many books at the end of the 1800’s were about character and Mill simply says, “A character is a completely fashioned will and a will in the sense in which he means it is an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm and prompt and definite way upon all of the principle emergences of life. A tendency to act only becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the un-interrupted frequency with which the action usually occurs. When a resolve or a fine glow of feeling is allowed to evaporate without baring practical fruit, it is worse than a chance lost. It works against it.” What he is really going after there is the idea that if you have all these wonderful emotions, they will result in your character being formed and he is rightly saying that it won’t happen that way. [59:10]


Well, he enlarges on the details of that but let me go on to the next to the last page, 164 and he gives us a little about the middle of the page italicized there as a final maxim; this is his fourth principle he is giving you. Four principles. The final maxim, relative to these habits of will, we may then offer something like this. “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.” Now, I actually pulled the rest of that paragraph out and put it in your notebook. It’s so important and actually, I put it up on the board a few days ago.


He has this neat statement about the physiology of it all in the last paragraph. The physiological study of mental conditions is thus the most powerful ally of hortatory ethics. Hortatory ethics is where you are orating at people trying to get them to do things. The hell to be endured hereafter of which theology tells is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves of habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Well, every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves it’s never so little scar.” It says on the top of 165, “Someone—Rip Van Winkle—oh, it won’t count this time. Well, he may not count it and a kind heaven may not count it but it is being counted nonetheless down among his nerve cells and fibers, the molecules are counting it, registering it and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes.”


Well that’s a beautiful paragraph and what is this all about? Really, it’s all about the body. Now the truth is that the mind and the emotions also has habits and it’s really crucial to understand how they work and that comes out in the form of things that you just won’t think. See, now, thoughts are not in themselves sins but you are better off to not have a lot of them.  And what you can think and say, what you are willing to say and your habits built on that, go very deeply into what you will do.


My grandmother was a wonderful lady and she—there were just a lot of things that she couldn’t think. The worst thing that she could think or say was, “shucks” and ”tobacco.” “Shucks” and “tobaccer.” You know what shucks are; it’s what you get when you peel the corn, right? Relatively useless, shall we say and tobaccer was worse than useless in her version. Right? So, now, you think about someone, that’s the worst words they new; they new about other words but they were not in their vocabulary.


So, we need to deeply understand this truth about the body and about habits and we need to work it into our theology. That is to say, we need to understand why God would set things up that way. See, there are a lot of things in our life as Christians and in our studies and in the bible and trying to understand that we need to ask the question, “Why would God set things up that way?” That then would be your theology of that particular thing. There are lots of others like, “Why would God create a universe in which prayer was possible?” You need a theology of prayer. We will talk about that later but in general a lot of people’s faith is very weak because they don’t understand why God has arranged things this way and that is really true on disciplines and you have a lot of people who never get past that question and then usually that’s mixed in with other things like about faith and works and so on.


OK; that is the end of my general discussion.


Part 18 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 11, 2012
Part 22 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 12, 2012
Part 28 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 13, 2012