I just finished reading a couple articles on Dallas Willard, and am more and more convinced that he has an extremely important insight for Christians today: the missing ingredient in most people’s Christian spirituality in inner transformation. It simply doesn’t happen for most Christians, for a number of reasons.
For most people, as the Father rescues them from the power of darkness and re-plants them in the kingdom of His Son, they rejoice at the grace that has been shown them and sing about it in church. They are happy to learn correct doctrine, and they look forward to heaven. But there’s something missing if that’s all that happens. Again, it’s the transformation of the inner self, the reforming of the soul, the constructing of character in the image of Jesus Christ.
Willard’s first insight is surprisingly simple, and almost seems disingenuous: most of us aren’t transformed deeply because we never intend to be. We look at Jesus’ instructions and we smile at them; we’re vaguely attracted to them, and we think they seem like good ideas, but ultimately we ignore them, because they seem like they’re impossible. They actually are impossible for most of us, because we’re out of shape spiritually. This only serves to reinforce the cycle, unfortunately. For example, it’s impossible for me to run a marathon right now, because I’m not in good enough physical shape to do it. Because it’s impossible for me, I despair and don’t run. And because I don’t run, it’s impossible for me to run a marathon. Or maybe some of us don’t pray because God seems distant. And the reason He seems distant is that we don’t pray. This is where growth in grace comes in, where baby steps have to be taken. This is intention.
I once talked to a professor about what I’d need to do to get a Ph.D in biblical studies if I studied under him. He told me (among other things) that I’d need to learn Greek, Hebrew, and German before I started studying under him. Now I might think having a Ph.D is a wonderful thing, but unless I actually find a way to learn Greek, Hebrew, and German, I’m never going to get there. Our spiritual lives aren’t so different from that. We may think it would be a wonderful thing to be full of peace, to live joyfully and robustly, to have our lives speak of the glories of God, but unless we actually take the time and effort to do the things that make for that kind of life, we’re never going to get there.
So what kind of a person are you becoming? What kind of a person do you want to become? What do you need to do in order to become that? What do you intend to do about it?