If you were present the last full day of our Gathering in California and looked over at me that afternoon, you would have seen tears flowing down my face. It was the only time that week that I had reached that level of emotion.
I stood in the middle of the room. I turned to my friend Kris and said something like, “what did we do to deserve this?” Both of us had our life changed and turned upside down and wouldn’t have even been in the same room with one another if it wasn’t for the writings, thoughts, and example that was on display in front of us.
Jane Willard, the widow of Dallas Willard, had just spent the last 30 minutes speaking to our Apprentice Experience Community about what it was like living with Dallas, how he came to write his books, and some of the challenges he and she faced over the years. This was all so fascinating, but then she brought out her personal collection of items from her home – things like Dallas’ personal Bible, letters from Richard Foster encouraging Dallas to write his Christian books, a copy of Mere Christianity, complete with Dallas’ notes, that reads like a conversation between Willard and C.S. Lewis. She had pictures of their wedding and their family through the years as well.
Of course, when I picked up his Bible, like many of us, I turned to Matthew 5 and 6, the Sermon on the Mount, to see the notes and highlights on the passage of scripture that inspired the book, The Divine Conspiracy. This book was Dallas’ most profound and influential work and the piece of writing that I found 18 years ago that turned me from a devotee of Christ with little direction and purpose to a disciple of Jesus, willing to be led by him to be the Christ I have been called to be.
When I had my spiritual breakthrough many years ago, I began to seek out voices that could feed my desire for continued growth and stoke the inspiration that I had received from a life-giving God. The primary voice that I found was Dallas Willard. I really can’t put into words (though I have tried) what his writings and example has meant for me. His was a life that showed and taught the grand possibility of Christ’s transformation in an individual’s life. Without this message, I would have still had faith but it would be lacking in hopefulness, in vitality, in real examples of growth and transformation. Willard inspires and awakens the reality of Christ and the potential of the Kingdom of God like no other writer, speaker, or pastor I have ever come across. I owe so much of my Christian experience over the last 18 years to the influence of Dallas Willard and in that moment in California, God let me behind the curtain to be with that legacy in an intimate and unique way. I felt unworthy.
So there I was, feeling the impact of Christ’s work through one man to help point me to Christ as Savior, Christ as teacher, Christ as friend, and Christ as an indwelling presence in my life. God’s abundance and generosity and foolishness overwhelmed me in that moment. What did I do to deserve this?