The Psychology of Redemption 10

Dallas Willard Part 10 of 12

This rare, important series from Dallas Willard is on how sin came into the world and how sinful people change through the action of the Holy Spirit and a practice of the disciplines. In the middle, it focuses on Romans 5-8 and one can see that it is the raw material for Dallas’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. But in early form it is a Sunday school class for Woodlake Avenue Friends Church with his pastor, Richard Foster, in the audience. [Editor’s note: The audio is missing, though we’d love to find the cassettes. This is a transcript which somebody did of those cassettes long ago.]


Study:        John 13
Lev. 25
Memorize:         Joshua 1:8
John 13:14


Let’s get started. I want to finish up with some remarks about Daniel that we didn’t get into last time. We had just gotten to the 9th chapter as we had to close last Sunday.

The reason I wanted to study this passage, is that Daniel is more than any other person I can think of a case of a disciplined prayer.  That is, a person who understood how prayer is a discipline of life, and was not into it in terms of only understanding it in his head, but it reached a level where it informed his actions and it informed his feelings. It was as I have been saying all along, a natural outflow of his life.

Daniel in the 9th chapter has been set with a special problem. In the second verse you will notice it says,

“In the first year of his reign . . . “

that is the reign of Darius.

“ . . . I understood by books . . .”

That may strike you as odd, but this was an age where people understood things having to do with the culture mainly by reference stars. What Daniel is saying is he got this message in a different way. He got it by reading a book, and it was the book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Now what was it in this book that struck him? It was a message about the future. Namely that the Lord would accomplish 70 years in the desolation of Jerusalem. That is 70 years during which the city of Jerusalem would be kind of an ash heap, wiped out, destroyed and it would remain that way.

Of course it had been made that way. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king at the time when Daniel was a young man. Daniel had been brought to Babylon as a young man with a lot of other people, and he had been put into an institute, that ran studies as was the custom of the kings, so that his brain power could be used for the kings purposes along with a lot of other people. Well, of course, Daniel was serving someone else. So, while he was in that business of kind of being in the Brain Trust of Nebuchadnezzar and all the other kings, he was very busy with the Lord. It was his habit to pray. We have already seen how he got into trouble about that, and how he got out of trouble. Or maybe he didn’t get into trouble at all about that. The way the story turns out, I suppose, it was only the other people who got into trouble. Daniel never seems to be troubled in the least. So, maybe that is the best way to describe that, but still he prayed. He prayed regularly and when he had a special problem, he prayed again.

Now, when he read the Prophet Jeremiah, he apparently was greatly concerned or exercised about something which he saw in that prophecy. It really isn’t clear why he was so distressed by this or concerned about it. The simple fact is presented to us that; Daniel 9:3

“And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek”

To seek what? Here again, we really aren’t clear from the passage just what was bothering Daniel, but we are clear as to what kind of response came back.

“I set my face to seek by prayer and supplication: with fasting . . . “

And now we have a little something added which we don’t go in for today very much.

“ . . . and sackcloth and ashes”

Notice again the structure of the verse. There is something which he wanted. There is a way he sought it, namely by prayer and supplication. There was an accompanying instrument: fasting, sackcloth and ashes.

This may look to us as very odd. We are in many ways rightly taught, that when we come to pray, it doesn’t matter whether we pray standing on our head in our bedroom, or our living room. It doesn’t matter if we pray in church or on the hilltop or wherever. But, I think there is a little something wrong with that.  I think my own experience is what has convinced me of it. When I look at these people, like Daniel, when they got down to the business of praying, they put themselves in special circumstances.

Jesus, as far as we know, never went in for sackcloth and ashes: but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need it. He went alone, and he prayed. We know that on at least one occasion, perhaps on others, he fell on his face. Now, I submit to you, that if you will try that, you will find that your physical circumstances will make a difference.

Jesus said, “When thou prayest enter into thy closet,” and it is right to say, “HO HO, he doesn’t mean closet.” What he means is don’t do this as a show, and that is right. But have you every tried praying in a closet?

Many years ago, when I was even much more foolish that I am now, I thought that meant closet and I found a closet and I went in and I prayed. I did it regularly there, and you know, I had some of the sweetest experiences in that silly little closet. I can’t even remember where it was.

Now there was nothing magic about that closet. You see, the trouble in the spiritual life with the physical manifestations is that we are taught in a certain posture, and we see the light. Then we associate the light with that posture, and we keep coming around and say now this is where I saw it last time; it’s like this. And we keep trying, and the posture isn’t magic. There is nothing magic to sackcloth and ashes. Sometimes in our desperation to see the light and in our mistrust of God, we begin to worship the posture. We have to be careful of that. But all of that aside it is simply a fact that we live in an earthen vessel, and if there is going to be the right exercise of the spiritual disciplines, spiritual activity, it’s going to be done in the company of certain specific types of physical circumstances.

How do you pray? It depends on what kind of prayer, believe me. There are some kinds of prayers that I can pray with perfect freedom of effectiveness leaning back in a reclining chair. But I will tell you that I am not able to pray for things that are pressing and of deep concern while I am in that posture.

The thing to do is to find those ways in which you can meet God. The truth of the matter is that there are certain physical postures that are appropriate to our position before God, and frankly I find one of those to be lying flat on my face. Some people say, “That is servile, that’s groveling.” No, I’m not groveling. I’m just asking. Groveling does no good. Groveling after all , is just another attempt to manipulate. We grovel when we want to manage somebody. Groveling is a bad sinful practice, even if it goes on in the course of prayer. But adopting those physical postures which in your dignity as a human being before God helps you see yourself as you are in your dependence upon God, is not groveling.

Job set on the ash heap, and scraped his boils, and felt sorry for himself, and it didn’t do him much good. Well, the ashes may have cleansed the sores a bit, but it didn’t do his soul any good. Job was a heap of self-righteousness. He was a good man; he was a good man. Job was a fine man. There is no question about that at all, none what so ever. You can be awfully good and awfully bad at the same time. You can be so good that what’s bad in you really has to be removed in order to make you better. That’s what chastening is for. Believe in chastening? The Bible says that God chasteneth every son and that doesn’t leave you daughters out either. Every daughter whom he receiveth.

We need to find those postures. Daniel was also an excellent man, a man which the 23rd verse of the 9th chapter says,

“Thou art greatly beloved . . . “

Daniel was a man loved by God. But again,

“Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.”

And again,

“Every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it that it might bring forth more fruit.”

Isn’t that the way it works? Exactly the way it works? What happens to a grapevine that is not pruned? It has lots of branches and leaves after awhile, but very few grapes.

So Daniel took upon himself a situation which enabled him to pray. Now as he prayed you see two things. One is and this is most of the prayer as you see in verses 4 through 15 is a confession. I want you to notice that there is something peculiar about this confession which you again will see coming up over and over in the prayers of the great men of he Bible. That is this confession is not a confession so much of personal sin. It is a confession of the sins of a people. What is important to see and understand in that is that those who are in a position of effectiveness before God never have that sort of individualism which says, “Aha, those are your sins, I am pure.” It is essential to the redemptive work of God that those who are in that work share the sins of others. One of the main  things that hinders the progress of the community of God is precisely that. So many of us who really have so much to give are so pure that we can’t really get close to others who are in a mess. We are not in a mess; we can’t get close to others who are in a mess. If you ever see a Daniel . . . 4th verse

“I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him and keep his commandments; we have sinned.”

Now that is not the editorial we. That is not the we that the Editor uses when he says in the newspaper, “We believe it would be beat if Senator Cranston would do such and such and so forth and so on.” It isn’t the editorial we.

“We have sinned and committed iniquity, and have done wicked and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments.”

Now notice how it goes on: we, we, we, we.

“O Lord, righteousness belongth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces as at this day.”

You see this part of the prayer is entirely, if you wish, a confession of corporate sin. It is an expression of grief over the fact that the people of Israel were in rebellion.

When Isaiah had his great vision in the 6th chapter of Isaiah, he said,

“I am a man of unclean lips, and live in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

Many people who are concerned with the development of a redemptive community, they may call it the church, they may call it whatever; many people are concerned with that. Think of it this way; we shall have community whenever we all get straightened out. And then they wonder why it never comes to pass. It never comes to pass because they are not people who reach out to the communities lost, sinful, discouraged, distraught, in confusion, and in wickedness, and says, “Yes, this is my people, My People.”

There are pieces of conceptualization that get loose in the world and in the church which do harm of such tremendous amount that it is impossible to over estimate them. One of the worst is this idea of we can decide who is in and who is out so that we can be sure to keep company with the right people.

I occasionally get very much troubled about my own lack of righteousness. I was blessed in this past week to turn again to that passage in Luke where it says when Jesus was chided for keeping company with Matthew and his buddies, and Jesus replied,

“I didn’t come to save the righteous, I came to save the sinners.”

That’s true today. If we wish to be ministers of His in prayer or otherwise, we have to understand this. That is the beginning for us. We don’t begin anywhere else. Right there in “medus raise” as the Latin says. Right there in the middle of the mess, is what it means; that is where it happens.

That’s where Daniel was, that’s where he found himself. There is only one other thing I want to point out about this prayer, and then we will go on to other things. Notice in Daniel 9:16, he turns from his confession. Look at the order; the confession came first. The confession is a way of putting things in a right perspective. You cannot pray out of the truth. If you are going to pray effectively, you have to pray on the basis of understanding. I’ m not talking about the screams of help that come from the belly of the whale, and all of that. That’s fine and they are effective and God uses them. I am talking about prayer as a way of doing business. You pray out of the truth, it is the truth that informs your mind. You pray with the right perspective. You see, faith is not blind belief; it is perception of the truth. You cannot pray in faith, without understanding. Faith is precisely understanding. If that runs contrary to what you’ve been told; well sorry about that, and I do hope that you will think about it. Faith is not blind, it is not feeling, it is an understanding of the truth. Read the 11th chapter of Hebrews and see if that isn’t true. You have to pray on the basis of the truth and most of that time in prayer is spent in bringing ourselves into a right alignment with the truth.

Elijah, on Mount Carmel, prayed a prayer something I think like 30 or 40 words in length that brought the fire down, but he already had his head straightened out thoroughly. He didn’t have to go through the process of working something out.

Jesus constantly, instead of saying, “Let’s go pray about this;” he would just go meet the need. But that was because he was from top to bottom, and from inside to outside and from time to eternity, he was straight. He was straight! And getting you and me straight is going to take awhile after we die probably. Maybe a few millenniums. But that is the Lord’s business, and he will take care of that. We just have to put ourselves in his hands.

So Daniel, having brought his mind into the fight focus for truth, begins to pray, and he says:

“I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem.”

You see the first thing he saw when he got his mind clear was the fact that it was not Nebuchadnezzar who leveled Jerusalem; it was God.

“ . . . because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.”

A reproach to all that are about us. They are in the worst position you can imagine. They were the bottom of the socio-economic ladder we would say today—Puerto Rican, or something of that sort, depending on where you live.

  1. “Now, therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. 18. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations and the city which is called by thy name; for we do not present our righteousnesses.”

Do you see what’s getting said there?

“But for thy great mercies.”

And then finally.

“O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake. . .”

Second time that’s repeated, right.

“ . . . O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”

Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. We pray for things only insofar as they are for God’s sake. That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. We pray in Jesus’ name when we pray for those things which are for his purposes. When we pray for a child, or we pray for a husband, or a wife or a relative, or a church (as we now use that word) or for anything. What is the reason this should be done? There is only one reason: Because it will advance the glory of God in this world. It is for his names sake. But just because we want it, though we may want it and it may be good, but for his names sake.

Daniel, you can see, had a lot of things straight, and they were down at that level of personal incarnation in him, so that he simply did them. Praying, for him, was something which came naturally, and something which was an outflow, if you wish, and expression of his individuality, of his personality. There was nothing forced about it, there was nothing artificial.

That’s the way we want to go on all of these things. I have purposely chosen not to speak of what is called witnessing in this sequence of studies, simply because we have talked about it before on a number of occasions and also because it is talked to death today. But I should just say this, that witnessing also when it is effective, is not strained, it is not artificial, it is not something which you have to jack yourself up on Monday and Thursday night to do. Now there may be a very good purpose in having this on Monday and Thursday nights you go visiting. That’s fine. And there would be a period in which there may be some strain in learning. That’s fine. That’s the way we are. It’s just like shooting baskets in basketball. There is a time when that’s a strain. Then it comes to a point where it is natural. If you aren’t willing to go through the strain time, you will never come to the natural time. That is why we should clearly understand the difference between the learner and the practitioner—a learner in prayer and a practitioner in prayer.  Daniel was a practitioner. You know in many of the crafts we have apprentice, journeyman, and master. Now, you know we believe in equality, so we don’t, talk about hose things where they matter, just in things like electronics, carpentry and so on. Do you know that one of the greatest troubles in the groups and churches is that we don’t explicitly apply that division within the churches. There are people who are apprentices, and there are people who are journeymen, and there are people who are masters.

Suppose you had an electrician, and suppose you had a group of people wiring this building, and they all showed up in the morning, and they said, “Well, we are all equal. Now you work on that side, and I’ll work on this side, and we will see how it all comes out. You wouldn’t do that would you? If you owned the place, you wouldn’t have it done either. You would say, “Wait a minute, who is the person who really knows what’s going on, or who is the master, who is the journeyman, who is the apprentice? You wouldn’t object to the apprentice learning, if the master was overseeing and training.

What happens in church? We get somebody saved, as we say, we sign them up to teach five Sunday School classes, lead the choir, and preach the sermon every other week. Pau clearly saw this. If you look at Paul’s teachings and also the teachings of Jesus, you will see that they distinguished between people who were journeymen, apprentices and masters. They never would put the burden for a master upon an apprentice. Time after time after time, because we, as leaders in the churches, do not exercise the judgment of discrimination of discernment and say that no, this person is an apprentice, this person is a journeyman, and this person is a master we get everything confused. We get a kind of jumble of feelings, of confused thoughts of all sorts of things going in all sorts of directions and we wonder, what’s happening here? It’s the same sort of thing that’s happening if you showed up with the electrician and just turned them loose.

We have to exercise the responsibility of deciding where we are personally, and where others are, but you see the whole business of authority has died out in the churches. It has died out in general, hasn’t it? The whole notion of authority has died out. There has got to be authority in a social system of any kind. You cannot have it without authority. The trouble is that when we speak of authority, we have all these bad images about some guy walking around with a Billy club and he is going to bop us into place if we get out of line. Give a Billy club to the pastor and let him straighten the member out. But authority is not like that. If you want to understand the word authority, you have to understand the word author. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. What does that mean? That means he authored it; he produced it. When he spoke, they said he spoke with authority and not as the scribes. What was the difference? When he spoke with authority, he authored conviction, authored repentance, and he authored faith. The scribes could stand around and mumble through their footnotes all day and never author anything but confusion, and there is already plenty of that around anyway so you could never distinguish what they authored in that respect.

Let’s look at some of these other disciplines quickly. We have been talking just about a very few of them. I want to look at Luke 12 for a moment, and I want to ask briefly about poverty, fasting, and simplicity. These are disciplines because they are things consciously undertaken. They are things which when we go through that period, if you wish, of storm and stress in accomplishing. Then we enter into a place of peace and effectiveness as a result of that discipline.

In Luke 12 you find some lovely passages bearing on poverty and simplicity.  Luke 12:13 and following. I think that I want to read this passage and briefly comment as I go along. This passage is begun by a man coming to Jesus to ask him to straighten out a family quarrel. What this fellow is doing as he comes up is saying, you’re wonderful, let me use you. Luke 12:13

“And one of the company said unto him, Master speak to my brother . . . “

You have heard about the guy who walked into the psychiatrist’s office with a fried egg on top of his head and a piece of bacon behind each ear and says, “I’ve come about my brother.” Well, it’s this guy. Speak to my brother, Lord!  Tell him to divide the inheritance with me. Now this guy had a legitimate complaint. The inheritance laws were really bad, quite bad, on anyone except the first-born son. Obviously this fellow was not first born, and he wanted a piece of the action, as they say.

Jesus responded in one of the ways which is absolutely essential for all of us to learn as individuals. This man came to him with a flattering proposal. He was saying in effect, gee you’re great, you’re over me, you’re wonderful; do something for me. Jesus said no. That is what he said. Look at the next verse, No.

“ . . . Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?”

Say fella, what’s this all about? Who made me a judge or divider over you? Then he really hit him in the face. Instead of helping him out, he preached him a sermon. That’s worse than putting your quarter in and punching Coke and getting Fresca. This is bad. He didn’t want a sermon; he wanted the man to do what he wanted him to do. There is nothing more repulsive than coming to a person with a flattering request and getting a lecture on the state of your soul. Which is exactly what Jesus gave him. Luke 12:15

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

He is saying to the man, now listen, you are putting something down as essential to your life which is not essential. Really whether or not your brother gives you this stuff is quite incidental.

“ . . . A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

And so he spake a parable and he told them about the rich farmer who was a fool because he thought that his life consisted of the abundance of things which he possesseth.

19 “ . . . Soul, thou hast much good laid up for many years; take thine rest.”

This verse was his discourse with his soul. What do you say to your soul? Do you ever talk to your soul? Talk to it sometime. Listen to what he said to his soul . . . Soul, that is the essential part of me, what I really am. You’ve got goods laid up, take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry. Now there is nothing wrong with eating or drinking or being merry, so let’s not put down the man there. Jesus himself got into trouble because he ate, drank, and was merry. But he never put that down as the essence of his life. That was not his life.

  1. “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul . . .”

to which you speak so fondly , to which you say “ah, you’ve got it made. You’ve got all these barns stuffed full of corn you’ve got all of those cows out there chomping around. That soul is going to be taken away. Your very self is not under your control. Now that is where we really get down to the nitty-gritty, as they say, of it. When we begin to understand that our very self is not ours to control. It is Gods.

“ . . . this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. 22. And 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 ye shall put on. 23. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. 24. Consider the ravens; for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouses nor barn; and God feedeth them.”

29th verse

“And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink neither be of doubtful mind.” 32. “Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 33. See that ye have and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old . . . “

I love that phrase, wax not old. What are those bags which wax not old? Supposes you had to put it in one phrase, what would you say? Would you put that down as a question for you to answer? Don’t tell me, o.k.? What are the bags which wax not old? And you answer that question for yourself, between you and God.

Now note the contrast.

“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

This is entanglement.

  1. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;”

See the picture is of one who would not be entangled by treasure. That is the point of simplicity. Simplicity is precisely the lack of entanglement. One of the main sources of entanglement is worldly goods. The person who is entangled is confused, is harried, and always forever taking care of things.

Luke 10 “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.”

The chicken, the biscuits, the gravy, the broccoli, the pie, the iced tea. Will it all come out at the same place? Will there be enough?

My Aunt had a lovely solution, a simple solution. After everyone had eaten everything on the table, and still wanted more, but had quit for obvious reasons, she would push back her chair and say, “Well everything turned out right.” The people were done eating, and the food was gone. “Everything turned out just right.” Aunt Bessy, bless her heart. She had it down just right. That’s simplicity.

In Luke 8:14 you see that one of the things that happens to the seed of the kingdom when it is sown in the heart is that it is choked by thorns. Luke 8:14

“And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life . . .”

In closing, let me just give you a key to the right handling of provision. If your provision before God, and it matters not whether you are rich or poor, that isn’t the point, are governed by three principles, thankfulness, trust, and charity; they are right. If, whatever you have is God’s to care for and not yours to care for, it is right. But if you care for the things you have, you can never progress spiritually; you never will.

If you hold your possessions in trust, thankfulness, and charity, you will help yourself and help others. Remember where Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:4

“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life;”

Think about it. Let God take are of you instead of counting on insurance policies. Simplicity is a conscious discipline. It is hard at first, but as you do it, it comes easier and easier.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series