Dallas Willard went Home last week at age 77. He touched many lives (including Richard Foster, who influenced me too) through his teaching and writing. Here are a some ways he breathed life into my stale practices as a disciple of Jesus.
Willard taught me that you have to practice the disciplines in order for them to change you. I liked his analogy of thinking I could hit like a big league baseball player if I behaved exactly as my favorite baseball star does in the game. (Spirit of the Disciplines) No, my favorite big league hitter is good because he has been swinging a bat since childhood, and he practices, practices, practices. We who follow Jesus fail in temptation and big-league problems because we think we can just step up and look like Jesus and knock the spiritual ball out of the park while in the game. No, we too must practice the disciplines Jesus taught us daily in order to live like Jesus. We can respond as Jesus would if we live the disciplines everyday and make them a lifestyle, not an add-on for the weekend.
Every author has a book he or she wishes s/he had written. I wish I had written The Divine Conspiracy. In that book, Willard spells out the anticipated life of Jesus' followers. The paradigm shift in my thinking about discipleship came when he said a better concept for disciple was not learner as in the modern accumulation of knowledge, but as an apprentice, someone who is appropriately with another in order to be like them. When I read that and understood Jesus was teaching/training skills for kingdom living and not just filling my head with spiritual knowledge, I was on my way to living as a follower of Jesus in a different manner.
If you have heard me teach/preach about following Jesus or spiritual disciplines, you have heard loud echoes of Dallas Willard's influence in what I said.
One more eye-opener and faith check for me from Willard was his conviction that Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. I had never considered that category in trusting Jesus, but as a world-class Philosophy professor in a secular university, Willard challenged his students in and out of the classroom to consider this reality. If Jesus wasn't the smartest person who ever lived, why would you follow him?
Best question ever.