Discipleship and the Disciplines for the Spiritual Life

Dallas Willard Part 9 of 9

This is one of Dallas’s most famous series on the kingdom of God, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He works historically but eventually works through the Sermon on the Mount and eventually speaks on themes of ministry, discipleship and disciplines.

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Dallas: Jane and I have said we enjoyed our little interlude here with you. I have appreciated the vigor with which you have approached the material that I have been presenting.

Now, we come down to the last session and there are so many things that I would like to be able to say and time just won’t allow that. My intention in a course like this is to give you a new way of reading—especially the Gospels—a new way of reading the Gospels. And I’m concerned above all to help us see the direct relevance of Jesus’ words to our life. So I start by just looking at what He said. [1:19[1]]

“Think your life plan out again because the Kingdom of Heaven is now available to you.” (Matthew 3:2, paraphrased[2]) We’ve spent time interpreting, not only that verse, but His other teachings that try to make clear to us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. We have just hardly skimmed the surface. If you will—now that you have time, and perhaps a new way of looking at it—if you will go back and just read Jesus’ teachings. Watch how He taught. Watch what He said. And above all, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the meaning of these words for your life here and now.

The overwhelming problem has been that Jesus’ teachings have been put in a category of irrelevance. For some reason—sometimes rather sophisticated theological or hermeneutical reason—you look at what He says and you look through them, through a wall that cuts you off from Him. So you never experience the power of Him. And that’s where the real turn comes. When the power of His words and His person—because through His words, He communicates His person—when that power begins to move into your life, it begins to change the way you think and the way you believe. You know you can act contrary to what you profess, but you never act contrary to what you believe. Once you understand that, you’ll have an awfully helpful dose of humility and repentance. [3:25]

You always act out what you believe. Jesus came to change people’s beliefs. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about faith or trust. So I ask you to look at these words and understand that they are avenues into trusting the Kingdom of Heaven—trusting the Kingdom of Heaven.

So we’ve gone over just some of these teachings. Last week, I challenged you to think about discipleship. And of course, this is not merely an academic matter, but the challenge to every one of us: when I get up in the morning, the most important question for me to face is, “Will I live today as a disciple of Jesus Christ?” You see, I am a recovering sinner, and every day when I get up, that’s the way I have to approach my day. I have all of the help that I need, but I have to accept it. [4:50]

You see, we have so many of our church folk and churches that taking a certain truth about the fact that you cannot merit salvation. They have slowly—but with the inevitability of a chemical process—they have worked themselves into total paralysis from grace—total paralysis! Their conceptualization of what God has to give us is totally passive—totally passive—and as a consequence, the idea of being a student of Jesus simply makes no sense. We are a consumer of Jesus, not a student of Jesus, but a consumer of Him. So we take a little blood to our little graves for our little something and that’s our idea. By the way, when you take the Lord’s Supper, don’t be a consumer. Don’t think of it that way. It was never intended in that way.

The sixth chapter of John is the place you want to read to understand the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of our active participation in the life of Christ. I wish I had time to go over that with you, but He gave those elements—which were very true to what happen to Him—because in giving His life to us, He died. And that is central. That is something we must never allow our interpretations to take away from us. He died. That precious body of His was broken and from it the blood flowed. That is how “he hath poured out His soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12, KJV) to give it to us. [7:01]

We partake of the reality of His life. Jesus Christ is how the Kingdom come to us, and He says, “Let’s go in business together. You’re broke. Your life is shot; you’ve got no hope. Let’s go in business together.” Can you imagine someone doing that? That’s exactly it. He’s got the capital. He’s got the power. He has everything. See, that’s great but there is not an element of passivity in that, see.

I challenged you last time to think about yourself in abstraction, for the moment, from your past history. How long have you been in the church? Your past religious experiences? Because I’m sure that nearly everyone here has had significant religious experiences and just deal with the questions: Do I live as a student of Jesus? Am I a disciple of Jesus? [8:13]

And I indicated to you that this calls for a decision. You need to decide that this is what you are going to do. You need to weigh out what your life holds for you and make this decision. It is very important for us to say that because that is not how we have been trained, by and large, to think of this. Our decisions are put more in terms of trusting Christ. You make a decision to trust Christ. Normally, that means you are going to stop trying to pay for your sins and let Him pay for them. That’s a wonderful decision. I hope everyone here has made that decision. [9:00]

But now, the question comes to you, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” There was a song that was in a movie some years ago in a context of love between a man and a woman: “What are you doing for the rest of your life?”[3] What are you doing for the rest of your life? See, that’s the question of discipleship.

Now, Jesus comes and presents you with this option. Live in the Kingdom of God! This is eternal life. Or as Paul would say, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) For me to live is Christ—what does that mean to us? Now, having gotten you to think about discipleship and to consider that decision—and I hope for each of us to think about it anew and really come to grips with that question—what am I doing with the rest of my life? I haven’t gotten you there. [10:15]

We need to say a few things more about what you do once you decide to go to Jesus’ school. Once you decide to go to Jesus’ school, you have to answer some practical matters. The most important one I believe is, you have to understand that Jesus’ school is right where you are. It is where you live.

There’s a joke about someone being on an airplane and having a rough ride. There is a priest, of course, on it. When the ride gets bad enough, the stewardess runs down the aisle and says to the priest, “Quick, do something religious!” And we are apt to not understand that discipleship is not something religious. It isn’t something religious. It is something that gives life—that is life. Your place of discipleship is right where you live. [11:23]

Now, that’s tough because that starts out with things like your family. You may think that’s already ruined. You’re a find looking bunch of people, but I know from past experiences, many, many of you have grave, severe problems in your family. The central commandment—“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12, KJV) That for many people is just a total shutdown. They cannot get past that one. And I know some your fathers and mothers, so I can understand it. So there is a real problem with working out these basic things—husband/wife relationships, child/parent relationships, sibling relationships. In a sense, that’s what makes it look so hard to be a disciple of Jesus; because He really does call us to turn to Him. [12:26]

We talked about forgiveness. And forgiveness in the family relationships can only come when there is such a vision of the completeness of the Kingdom of Heaven to me that I can really believe that all of these terrible things around which I have been centering my life, that I can just walk off from them, and that I can return and actually be able to love those people whom I have given such power over them.

I have given them power to make me miserable, because I didn’t have any way of thinking it out again. I had no place to stand. I was just here stuck down in this thing and circumstances came piling down on me. And by the time I became conscious, awful things had happened—I didn’t have any place to stand. So my only thought was, I’ve just got to stand here and duke it out with them. We’ve just got to go after this. You have people fighting with people who are already dead and gone. Their biggest task every day is to get up and fight that ghost. [13:53]

Just the release from all of that comes from the simple sayings of Jesus, that you are worth more than a couple of birds, aren’t you? Jesus had such a wonderful way of expressing God’s care for us. But we are all trying to make it on our own, so it’s very hard to do that. Not having heard the message of the Kingdom, what I have to do is turn you around and say, “Now, look at your life and first of all, go through the blesseds.” You go through the blesseds, and you put your name in the blesseds. That’s what you have to do. Of course, you can do it. You may have to practice it a little bit. You’ll have to do it in writing. Stand in front of the mirror and say the blesseds to you. That’s where you get the room to start. And you come out of this—if I can just express it in colloquial language—you come out saying, “You know, it really is okay. It really is okay.” [15:20]

Now, you’re going to have to stop blaming God for things. You’re going to have to say, “God you didn’t really make any mistakes.” And when I say, “you have to,” please understand me. Don’t take that as a guilt thing. I’m talking about what you have to do if you are going to step into this place of blessedness. So, you have to go through that, and it takes awhile.

You need to ask the Lord to be your teacher. You are going to be a student. He’s going to be your teacher. Ask Him to teach you, and He will talk to you. Don’t get up and run out the door now, okay? He really will talk to you: you will learn to know His voice and He will teach you. And what you need to know, He will let you know. [16:08]

What does James say? He says, “If any person lack wisdom, let them ask of God who giveth to all men . . .” How? “Liberally.” (James 1:5) He doesn’t say, “Well you know, hmmm. I don’t know about this. Should I give this to you?” That’s isn’t God’s giving. God gives out of the abundance of His being. He gives to all liberally and, the old English version (KJV) says, “and upbraideth not.” He doesn’t say, “You stupid.” God isn’t like that. God will speak to you if you want to know. If you want to be taught, He will speak to you.

Now, of course He’s probably going to assume that if you want to learn, you will pay attention to what He’s already said. And I’m sure that that’s right. One of the reasons why it’s so important for me to give people a new way of reading the New Testament is that allows them to access what He’s already said. [17:14]

So, it’s absolutely crucial to be able to get out of the bondage of, “Oh, I’ve gotta read my Bible again,” and shift that around to where you are actually learning how to live in the best possible way, with the best possible society, in the company of the Trinity and its special people that it is calling out of human history to create the greatest prize of creation; namely, the people of God, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is going to be something that God is going to hold up in eternity as the only way to make clear how great God is? That’s right. He’s going to lead you up and show you off. You ought to see what I had to do with this one and how I managed that. We know that because we look back—if we have any distance on it—we will look back at what we went through. Why didn’t God just give up? [18:27]

The Psalmist says that, doesn’t he? “What is man that you pay attention to Him? What is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4) We don’t really get a good look at him.

C.S. Lewis says in that wonderful book of his, God in the Dock—he is talking about human beings—he says, “No one has ever yet seen a mere mortal.” No one has ever yet seen a mere mortal. See, we sell ourselves cheap, because we are not living within the truth and power of the Kingdom of Heaven, which we are meant to live in.

When you look at human beings, you try to get a judgment about what human life is supposed to be like. It’s like a person who goes up to one of these old junk yards to get an idea of what an automobile is supposed to be like, except it’s worse. And that’s the problem with the fallen view of things. Satan manipulates our thinking in that way and, of course, many subtle ways like, “Well, don’t be so optimistic. Don’t be so Pollyannaish and so on. [19:40]

You are supposed to be better off. You go down grumping along through life and saying, “Oh, it’s so awful. Everything is so awful,” and so on. In a sense it is, but it doesn’t have to be that way or it wasn’t meant to be that way. When you turn to your place and say, “Here is the place of my blessing.” This is it! You remember the words of Jacob that I gave you. “This is the gateway to Heaven.” (Genesis 28:17) That’s it! It’s right where you are. That is the gateway to Heaven. [20:19]

What does the law say and what does Paul say? He says, “The word is not far from thee.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) It isn’t far from you. You don’t say, “Well, I have to climb this mountain,” or “I have to swim this ocean.” “The word is nigh to you. It is the Word of faith, which we preach.” (Romans 10:8) That is faith in he Kingdom of Heaven. It’s right here! And you accept that as your place of blessing.

When you have done that, you are going to find that a lot of things begin to change. One of the most important things that we have to understand will change is, we begin to find out that the easy life is the life with Jesus. The easy life is the life with Jesus. And you have to go through a shift because all that terrible stuff. There is a wonderful book called The Cost of Discipleship. It’s a wonderful book. It just needs another book, which is titled The Cost of Non-Discipleship. When you look at that book, you are going to immediately go to the other one and say, “Hey, this isn’t cost. This is the greatest bargain I’ve ever heard of.” [21:48]

There is that fearful image that Jesus struggled with—I’ve quoted over and over in this series because it is so important. He says, “If you seek to save your life, you will lose it.” (Luke 17:33) And if you are seeking to save your life, and you look that discipleship thing and you look at the cross and you look at giving up this and giving up, you’re going to say, “That’s terrible.” You are going to say just what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads into life and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14) Everyone says, “Ohhhhh! It’s as bad as I thought.” It’s as bad as I thought—maybe worse.” [22:34]

Now, if you are going to go to Santa Monica, I might say to you, “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads onto the freeway.” Would you think I was meaning to say to you that the freeway was hard? Well, of course, this is not an altogether happy illustration. But you can get the point. Because the truth of the matter is, the straight gate and the narrow way is the easy way. You see, there’s a right way for doing everything, and a wrong way—or a bunch of them. And the wrong ways are always the hardest. They are always the hardest.

A little book published recently by a person in management—the title of it was Quality is Free.[4] Quality is Free. Where you really pay is when you produce material that doesn’t have a quality. What you learn about life when you follow Jesus is what quality is. It’s what quality is. You have to understand this is not hard; it’s only hard if you want to have what you think are the results without using the method. Then it’s hard. [24:10]

Now that’s true of any area of life. If you wish to be a great pianist or a sports person, that’s obvious, isn’t it? I mean, throw some of us in the middle of a Lakers game. It will be hard. It will be hard. On the other hand, obviously the guys are sweating out there, but they are in shape and it isn’t really hard. Sometimes, it’s transcendently joyous, and they wouldn’t be anywhere else for the world. For example, if you are going to be a musician. But it’s also true in ordinary life—the proverb says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in bowls of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) How do you get to where you can speak a fit word? You learn to direct your tongue. You learn to love people. You learn how to be sensitive to them. You learn. You learn. You learn. That’s how you get that way. People don’t get that way just by accident. [25:25]

Personal relationships, generally, are one of the most important areas for us to understand. If we wish to do well in them, we have to learn. I was raised in a context where you didn’t tell people you loved them. You didn’t tell them you loved them. You didn’t tell your children you loved them. You didn’t communicate with them at all. The way you did it was, you said, “Well you know, uh, they understand.”

The couple went to counseling and the counselor said to the man, “You should tell your wife that you love her.” And he said, “I’ve already told her that.” I’ve already told her that. And that image, it hangs over a lot of us. A lot of our parents were like that—distant. They felt frankly that they had to manage us by being kind of mean to us. That’s one of the patterns—you manage people by being mean to them. Unforgiveness is a primary instrument of people management. Because you say, “Well, if I forgive them, what are they going to do then?” That’s something we have to work through. We have to learn how to do.[26:52]

Now, on the sheet that you have today, I’ve given you some definitions. [If any of you wish to have more they are up here in the front and it won’t—no one will be upset if you come and get them so make yourselves comfortable.] We have the basic idea of the discipline. What is a discipline? A discipline is an activity that we engage in, we can do that enables us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. I’ll say it again. A discipline—we can do something. We engage in that in order to gain the power to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

I don’t know how many people will tell me. You know, I want to love people, but I find that in the press of daily life, I just can’t do it. What are you going to do when you are working with people. The answer is very simple. You find out why you can’t love them, and then you take steps with those. [28:04]

One of the main things that keeps us from loving people is hurry—hurry—and a feeling that somehow, if we don’t get something done, the world is going to go to hell, probably already has, and that we are responsible for it. The fact is hurry just ruins nearly everything you intend to do. You have to really learn how to take a stand against hurry.

How are you going to do that? How are you going to take a stand against hurry? Well, there are a number of ways you can work on it. Actually, the disciplines, which I have studied in my book, The Spirit of the Disciplines—and we’ve talked about some of them—those are not the only ways that you can engage in spiritual disciplines that will help you do the things you want to do. There are many, many ways; for example, the discipline of not driving in the fast lane if you drive to work. Now, if you don’t drive in the fast lane, you will probably be .003 of a second later getting where you want to go. The fast lane is a habit.

Now, don’t make laws out of the things I’m saying. I’m just speaking in a rule of thumb fashion. I’m sure there are times to get in the fast lane and drive as fast as you can. But most of us aren’t doing it on those terms. Most of us are doing it because of lying in a bed of nervousness and anxiety that’s sitting there and pushing us. Driving in the fast lane is not something that’s in itself a factor of our lives; rather, it’s a part of the overall anxiety that dominates us. We are really dealing with anxiety. Hurry is an anxiety response. [30:08]

Impatience likewise—you hear people complaining about they wish they could be patient. You can be patient if you want to be patient. You can learn how to be patient. You just take yourself off the throne. Stop feeling like you are the one that is making everything happen. Trust God. Get your ego out of the way. You can be patient. Jesus is patient. Many, many people have learned how to be patient. You can be patient, and if you will be patient you will be better off every way around.

That’s where this saying of Jesus that I referred to in point I on the sheet—“Take my yoke and learn of me.” (Matthew 11:29) We learn: we watch what He did, we watch what He said, and then we put that by faith in practice where we are. And the first thing that happens is—you know what? We fail! If you sit down and learn to play the piano, what will be the first thing that will happen? You will fail. You will make some awful noises. That’s the way you learn— by failing. You can turn that around, if you ask yourself the simple question: Why do we see so little real, substantial growth towards Christlikeness? It is because we have not accepted failure. And the most important things not to do around the church house is not to fail. [31:48]

So, a great burden comes. The great burden is to be able to sit down and play Beethoven’s Appassionata the first time I sit down. You talk about burdens? That’ll do you. The first time I sit down now, I’ve got to play it just right. And you fail. And, so the ease comes when we stop trying to do directly what we cannot do, and in humility, accept what we can do as a way of learning to do what we cannot do directly.

We get in the yoke with Jesus. Now, a yoke is a figure that is lost to most people today. But in those days, you trained a young animal to work by putting them in the harness with one who already knew what to do. I have broken horses that way as a young man—well, kinda as a kid. And one of the things you observe is that when you take a young unbroken horse and put it in the harness with an experienced animal, well, first of all, if you look at the experienced animal, you will see a kind of glazed expression. It’s really true. It’s almost as the horse is saying, “Well, here we go again.” [33:18]

Because the trained animal has learned how to do this in a good, easy way and the new one hasn’t, the new one starts lunging around. It tries running ahead of the other one and finds out pretty soon that the trained horse—you know, the old guy is standing over there—is saying, “Yes, go right ahead.” They are pulling the load and then they slack off. They are back here, and the single tree (the pole between them) is hitting their legs and skinning them up, and they say that’s not working. So, they learn. They learn. And once we step into Jesus’ words and His ways, we learn. There’s a little knocking around that goes on but we learn.

We take His yoke. Now, if you just study that passage directly—and I hope that when you are doing the course on the Seven Laws of Learning, you will really use these Scripture passages, because Jesus, as they say, “didn’t fall off the turnip truck.” He knew what He was talking about. He was a smart man. We are so often so busy thinking about Him as being deity and all of that, and that’s fine, but we forget that He was a smart man. He was a very smart man. He knew what He as talking about. [34:46]

So, He said, “Take—well, come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and there’s very few people that don’t fit that description—especially in our world. There was a wonderful program on Nightline with Ted Koppel[5] the other night about sleep. Did you see that—about the sleep debt in this country? Koppel compares it to the national debt—how much greater the sleep debt, the sleep that people need that are not getting. One of the reasons we don’t sleep is we are in charge. We can’t turn it loose.

I heard a lady speaking the other day. She told about someone—a lady friend of hers—who said that when she goes to bed at night, she turns the world over to God because He’s going to be awake anyway. That’s pretty good. He’s awake when she’s awake too. Now, that’s a good plan. [35:57]

On this program, they were talking about surgeons going to sleep while they were operating. They were talking about the entire cabin crew of airliners being asleep—literally asleep. And see, that’s the kind of situation we get into.

When we stop thinking about the commands of God as bad news and begin to look at them as the best advice on how to live, then we go back to the Scriptures and see what it says about rest and not hurrying and so on. It suddenly, really helps us to repent; that is, think it out again. It helps us to have new views and new ideas about this. But Jesus invites us to step in, take His yoke—that means do His work with Him; that’s all it means—where you are because you can’t do it where you aren’t. So you do it where you are. Stop throwing away where you are. Stop throwing it away and saying, “Oh, would that I were somewhere else. God would be great over there.” God is equally great in every situation. When you hear the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven then you are prepared to get into the yoke. [37:24]

“Take my yoke and learn of me.” (Matthew 11:29) Watch the way Jesus lived in the Gospel. Do the same things that He did. What did He do on His days off or during His breaks? It’s what He did when He was off that is the key to understanding His whole ministry. The same thing is true for you and for me, just as it’s true for the athlete or the singer.

“Take my yoke.” Get in the harness with me. Do my business and learn of me; that is, “watch me, listen to what I say, do what I do.” Isn’t that simple? I don’t really have anything else to say to you. It’s just like that. Go into business with Jesus; that is, get involved in His work, listen to what He said, watch what He did, and step into those things. When you do, you’ll meet guess who? You’ll meet Jesus who said, “I’ll be with you always. I’ll be there.” (Matthew 19:20) [38:37]

So, that’s really the plan and when you understand now what a discipline. As we’ve said, a discipline is doing what you can to enable you to get in a place where you can do what you can’t. That’s the easy way. The hard way is trying to do what you can’t. Did you ever try to that? Trying to do what you can’t. It’s a real trip. And that is where you find most people. That is why they look at Jesus’ teachings, and they say you can’t do them and oh, they are so awful. You’ve got to love—you’ve actually got to love your enemies. Hey! Is that a message? You actually have to love your enemies.

Do you know, I don’t have much confidence in people who can only love their friends? Hmmm? I have a feeling they don’t know what love is yet. And Jesus put that well, didn’t He? “You love those who love you? Well, the crooks do that—the terrorists do that.” They do that. You don’t know what love is yet. That isn’t love. That’s a game. That’s business. I love you. You love me. That’s not love. That’s a business. (See Matthew 5:43–44.) [40:13]

Love is where you begin to experience something that is so good, you don’t have the little spigot that you turn it on for some people and off for others. Love isn’t like that. Love isn’t something you turn on and you turn off. Love is something you learn. It enters the substance of your life so that you are now a loving person because your faith in God has met the bounty of His Kingdom. You’ve been set free from fear so you can love. [40:52]

And once you are set free from that, you would much rather love than hate. I’ll give you an idea for a Christian product. They have these door mats that say, “Welcome, friends!” You can start one that says, “Welcome, enemies!” Hmmmm? It would be a big seller, right? I’ll just give that to you! But the point is, that’s really where it is, isn’t it? See, “Welcome friends,”—that’s just more business, but the Psalm says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”; in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5, KJV) I am safe. Perfect love has cast out fear. (1 John 4:18) Oh, It’s not me trying to love them perfectly. No, that isn’t it. You know where perfect love comes from? We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, KJV) Then we enter into that; we open our lives to it in the concrete places of our daily life, and we begin to be able to trust it. See? We trust it. [42:15]

Now, as far as the results of the disciplines are concerned, I’ve also given you a sentence there. It says simply, “The ‘disciplined person’ is one who is able to do what needs to be done at the time and in the way it needs to be done.” That’s not very mysterious, is it? We do have to get out of the mysterious stuff and recognize that when we talk about holiness, we are just talking about people who have so connected with God that they can actually function like everyone knows they should.

Holiness isn’t an anonymous sort of special status that we adopt. Rather, it is a special status that we enjoy because we have made contact with the God who is, as they say down in Texas, “a whole ‘nother thing.” That’s a whole ‘nother thing. That’s what God is. God’s a whole ‘nother thing. [43:15]

That’s what Peter experienced one day when he was fishing. He didn’t catch anything, so he pulled into the shore. Here came Jesus, and He wanted to use his boat to talk from. Jesus talked from it, and then I guess wanted to pay a little rent, so He said to Peter, “Go on out and get some fish.” Because Peter was a fisherman; he knew about fishing. So he said, “Hey, listen, we’ve been out. They aren’t there. You know, the fish aren’t biting. They are not running into our nets with joy.”

So Jesus said, “Well, you know . . .” Finally Peter said, “Well, if you say so. If you say so.” So they went out, and you know what happened. They threw out the nets, and the fish did run into them with joy—with such joy that they had to call for another boat to get the fish! [44:12]

And all of a sudden, Peter said, “Who have I been talking to? Who is this person that I’ve been talking to . . . that I’ve been telling about fish?” That’s the point at which he fell down on his knees, and he said, “Lord, leave me. Don’t have anything to do with me.”

Holiness is where we come to the place that we are living from the Kingdom. That’s what holiness is—it’s living from the Kingdom. And we learn it. And because we’ve learned how to live from the Kingdom, we are able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I’m sure you’ll always have some room for improvement on that. We are not talking about perfection. We are talking about learning to do the things that Jesus showed were good in Himself and in His teaching. [45:13]

Now, spiritual disciplines are not just matters of learning how to interact with a set of natural laws. There are all kinds of those. Like I discovered when I was a child in the second grade, that there is this wonderful thing about my mind. I had a spelling test coming up—big words, like dog and tree and things like these. Here I was in my teeny little mind and I had this task that I didn’t know how to do this. I found out something interesting that If I would just repeat over t-r-e-e , t-r-e-e, t-r-e-e; if I would just repeat that, all of a sudden, I knew how to spell tree, and I could tell anybody how to spell tree.

That’s just a natural thing that’s built into your mind. And thank goodness, we’ve got lots of things like that, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to live. And we want to get them down to where they are just automatic responses, like if you are driving an automobile or riding a bicycle or a skateboard or whatever it is you ride. [46:26]

If you’ve got to think about what you are going to do, you’ve got problems. You want to have done it to the point to where you are going to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done without sitting there saying, “Now, what needs to be done?” So, natural life is full of all of those things.

I speak German abysmally. I read it a lot and use it in that regard, but when I am trying to speak it, I cannot do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. So people have to really suffer with me, if I’m going to get through something while I think about all the words. [47:07]

Now, the same principal applies in the spiritual realm. The only difference is that here we are dealing not just with natural law, but also with the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. If we wish to be able to love people as Jesus loved them, we can, but we cannot without Him assisting us in the moment. So strictly speaking, it’s going to be a miracle if you mange to do it. And if you manage to do it, when you get down to the end of the day and look back, you will have a whole list of miracles.

If you don’t put yourself in the situation to do that, you won’t have any miracles. You will have done something that will be your thing. You will have had it and maybe you can be proud of it or maybe you can be sad about it, but you won’t have any miracles. You have to put yourself out in the position of Abraham, that we mentioned in the second lesson in this course, where he is out here with the animals all cut up and ready. He’s waiting for God to come and claim those sacrifices. [48:12]

That’s what you do when you “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which, is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1, KJV) Isn’t that a wonderful verse? But, how do you do it? That’s the question of discipline. How do you do it? How do you do it? How do you let your body be a living sacrifice?

Well, let’s take Galatians 6. [I’m just running over some of the verses that are in your study sheets and I hope you will be able to do a good thorough study of them.] In Galatians 6, it talks about “they that sow to the spirit shall of the spirit reap everlasting life.” (Galatians 6:8) How do you sow to the Spirit? [48:55]

Paul wasn’t talking about getting saved, folks. He was talking about reaping an everlasting life in time, and you do that by sowing to the Spirit. How do you sow to the Spirit? You sow to the Spirit by waiting, in faith, for the Spirit to move in your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you do nothing. Abraham stood there and he certainly shooed off the birds, because he wasn’t going to let them have it. You do a lot of “bird shooing” when you are involved in this, but that means you wait. You watch. You wait and that is a discipline, which you learn in the ordinary corners of your life. You learn to wait on the Lord.

When you understand that, you take those great verses, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31, KJV) What do you think that means? That means they are receiving everlasting life. The renewal of the strength is the receiving of everlasting life. And because they are receiving something from the hidden Kingdom of God, God who is in secret, you remember, shall reward you openly. Then they do things which are unaccountable in purely human terms. [50:20]

“And they mount up with wings as an eagle.” (Isaiah 40:30) What’s distinctive about how the eagle mounts up with wings? He’s not flapping. No flapping! He just simply spreads his wings, turns them a little bit this way or that way, and takes advantage of the current which lifts him. That’s how the eagle mounts up. You know where that passage is? It’s the end of Isaiah 40. “They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) What are they doing? They are sowing to the Spirit, and of the Spirit, they are receiving everlasting life. Everlasting life isn’t life that just goes on and on and on; it’s a different kind of life. It’s life in the Spirit. Now, the spiritual disciplines help us receive that life. [51:25]

What kinds of things does this involve? There are many ways of dividing them and in chapter 9 of The Spirit of the Disciplines—I’ll mention it again because we can’t do a thorough job of them—I divide them into disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement—disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement.[6] There are many other ways of dividing them.

And you just have to sort of use the way of thinking—once you understand what a discipline is—you have to use a way of thinking that will be good for you. [52:00]

For example, a primary discipline of abstinence is solitude—solitude. Jesus was much alone, and if you look at the passages that are on the sheet, you will see a lot of them listed—you can study that out. Jesus was much alone and only by being willing and able to step into solitude. Solitude is never complete without silence—silence both of your jabbering and silence of hearing. These folks that go off into the wonderful wilderness and take their tape decks with them and BOOM at the squirrels.

Silence actually is pretty frightening and you can understand why people would do that. You have people who are constantly hooked into something—constantly hooked into something. Now, there’s a time to be hooked in. It’s just that if we want to know the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to take ourselves off of the human scene, including sound. [53:14]

That’s what’s going to happen to you when you die. You will get to know the personnel on the other side. God says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted.” (Psalm 46:10, KJV) Be still and know. Be still and know.

You need to be unhooked from the constant hammering of relationships to other human beings in order to know the depth and substance of your relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven. You need to do that. Jesus was alone. [53:56]

I used to think that whenever the Spirit led Him up into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan after His baptism, I used to think that was to make it hard on Him. The Spirit’s really going to make it rough on Him to take Him out into the wilderness. Hmmm. No, that was the easy place. That’s the place of victory. That was the place where He could know His Father. And when Satan’s voice came, He recognized that. Now, Satan didn’t—you have to use your imagination some—Satan didn’t show up looking like some over-sized bat and perched on his shoulder. You can bet Satan was a glorious being when he showed up. But Jesus was ready for all of these things because He had been alone with God.

Now you say, I don’t have time. Okay. Time is an important topic. Since I’m not really able to cover all of this exhaustively, I must just tell you, that’s going to be your fundamental choice—what you do with your time. You cannot save time. You have to locate time and use it. You locate time and use it. And the basic form of your choice about being able to learn from Jesus is going to be what do I do with my time? Because if you say simply, I don’t have time.” You probably really believe that. And if you really believe that, have you said a mouthful about what you have time for. [55:42]

I don’t deny that there will be real challenges in organizing your time. This is one of the places where you have to learn that you learn by failing. Of course, you must be sensitive to those you live with (if you live with other people). In all disciplines, you have to do that but if you are willing to plan, you will be able to find time to be alone with God, if that is what you want. [56:14]

Many people have not been able to manage time, because they haven’t got the idea that it works by planning. But as I’ve spoke last time, when we become disciples of Jesus, that involves our planning to do it. If you intend to go on a trip or anything else that you can imagine, that means you must plan for it, isn’t that true? And if you are going to learn from Jesus, you must plan for it. So the real question now is what is your plan for being a student with Jesus?

Very often, people say, “Oh, I was a student of Artur Rubenstein[7] or something like that. What would an individual give up to be a student of a great master in some art? If they would just think in those same terms. That’s what I am trying to get you to do is to think in those same terms. If you really want this, and you take the disciplines that Jesus helped engage in. I’ve listed them on the sheet and you can study that later and I hope you will. [57:40]

You just look what Jesus did. Just do those kinds of things. If you do that, you will certainly be led into a rich, abundant life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Look at what Jesus did and do what He did and a rich entrance; an abundant entrance into the reality of the Kingdom will be yours. And you can know it everywhere you are and it will be with you always, just as Jesus said.

Well, we’re just about out of time so let me just conclude by reading a couple of passages. I think I’ll just read a passage from Luke 12 and this will bring an end to our study. The context of this is the parable of the rich fool; that is to say, the context is a discussion about people who have thought of their well-being in terms of material goods. You have to understand that in order to get the whole context, because I’m not gong to read it all. Verse 21 says, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21, KJV) This is talking about how to be rich toward God. So, just please listen to this teaching. [59:22]

He said unto His disciples—

“Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, neither for the body what she shall put on. The life is more than meat and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow and they don’t reap. They don’t have a storehouse or a barn and yet God feeds them.” (Luke 12:22–24a)

I think Jesus must have really liked this one because He says it so many times.

“How much more are you better than birds? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubic.[8] If you then be not able to do the thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is used for fuel, how much more will he clothe you, Oe of little faith? Seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. Neither be ye of doubtful mind. (Luke 22:24b–29

Don’t be of doubtful mind. That’s a great phrase.

“For all of these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knows that you have need of them. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all of these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Matthew 6:30–34)

“Do, it Lord! Do it! Amen! Thank you!”


[1] Numbers in brackets indicate the time index of the recorded lecture.

[2] Note: Many of Dallas Willard’s Scripture quotations were made from memory, so a majority of them were paraphrased (although some varied only slightly from the King James Version of the Bible). Except for this first one, these are not marked. Those from specific Bible versions are noted.

[3] Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life,” The Happy Ending (Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists, 1969).

[4] Philip B. Crosby, Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979).

[5] Nightline, “Circadian Sleep Disorders,” February 21, 1996. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syWF7n9-EZQ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5bk5Gv0ySo; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g86_If2IrRE (accessed December 6, 2019)

[6] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1998), 156–192.

[7] Artur Rubinstein (1887–1982) was a Polish American classical pianist.

[8] A cubit was about 18 inches.

Listen to all parts in this A Series on What Jesus Believed and Taught—And Lived series