This is my new favorite book.
I had tried to read this once before, but, for some reason, I just wasn’t ready for it. After reading some other books by Willard and others on Spiritual Formation, I tackled this one again. This time, it was life-changing.
There is too much information in this book for me to try to recap it in a reasonably-lengthed review. Let me just say that, in my opinion, if every person in the world who calls themselves “Christian” would live by the principles in this book, they wouldn’t need any other books outside of the Bible. And the world would be a much better place.
There are so many things that I grew up hearing and, consequently, believing, that just aren’t quite accurate. One of the most important is the idea that the Kingdom of God is something that we don’t begin to experience until after we die. Much of mainstream Christianity teaches a gospel that is inaccurate. It might produce Christians, and they might very well “go to heaven” when they die. But the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) is here, now, and available for us to walk in now. This was the gospel that Jesus taught when he was on the earth. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17); “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The Beatitudes are all about “the kingdom of heaven.” He told his disciples, “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
This is the Gospel of Jesus, and if we can grab hold of this and live in it, our lives will be changed.
Another thing that I got from this book is the knowledge of the immediate presence of God. I’ve always had this sort of head knowledge that, yeah, God is all around us. But, in reality, I mostly believed that he was “out there” somewhere, that he was watching, and that he could, somehow, interact with us. But what if we understood that God is right here with us. He’s in this room with me while I’m typing this. He’s in the atmosphere (the ancient Christians’ understanding of “heavens” was vastly different than ours . . . “heaven” begins at ground level), he’s in the air that I’m breathing. This knowledge has had an impact on my life that I can’t even begin to describe.
Willard writes about Jesus being the smartest person who ever lived. I wonder how many of us Christians have truly thought about this? Have we ever considered that, when he changed water into wine, he didn’t just wave his hands and say, “Abracadabra,” but that he actually rearranged the molecules in the water to make it wine? How does this kind of knowledge affect one’s prayer life? Let me tell you, it’s huge!
The book begins with Dallas describing the world as “flying upside down.” I’m going to list a few of my favorite quotes from the book, and the first one deals with that subject.
“What is truly profound is thought to be stupid and trivial, or worse, boring, while what is actually stupid and trivial is thought to be profound. That is what it means to fly upside down.”
“The idea of having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said.”
“Some current critics of the U.S. Supreme Court like to point out that it does not allow the Ten Commandments, though written upon the walls of its own chambers, to be displayed in public schools. But where do we find churches, right or left, that put them on their walls? The Ten Commandments really aren’t very popular anywhere. This is so in spite of the fact that even a fairly general practice of them would lead to a solution of almost every problem of meaning and order now facing Western societies. They are God’s best information on how to lead a basically decent human existence.”
“The key, then, to loving God is to see Jesus, to hold him before the mind with as much fullness and clarity as possible. It is to adore him.”
“Dear Father always near us, may your name be treasured and loved, 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 today, and forgive us our sins and impositions on you as 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 the glory too is all yours—forever— which is just the way we want it!” (This is Dallas’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer)
“But Jesus’ own gospel of the kingdom was not that the kingdom was about to come, or had recently come, into existence. If we attend to what he actually said, it becomes clear that his gospel concerned only the new accessibility of the kingdom to humanity through himself.”
“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings. No one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, and so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.” (Dallas’s teaching on the Beatitudes is staggering and radical.)
“Still today the Old Testament book of Psalms gives great power for faith and life. This is simply because it preserves a conceptually rich language about God and our relationships to him. If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life.”
“The intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do. Just as we desire and intend this, so far as possible, for our children and others we love, so God desires and intends it for his children. But character, the inner directedness of the self, must develop to the point where that is possible.”
“Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”
I am “an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”
“We are becoming who we will be — forever.”
I could go on and on and on.
I can’t overemphasize how important this book is. From beginning to end, Dallas Willard crafted an explanation of the Christian life that is unsurpassed by anything else I have ever read. I will definitely be reading this one again.