Growth Through Dallas Willard

I’ve learned so many deep and wonderful facts and ideas from Dallas.  Writing the study guide for The Divine Conspiracy was one of the most interesting and fun projects I’ve ever done.  But here I’ll write about what I’ve learned from him as a person.  I’m not sure I’ve learned these things, but I’ve seen them in him and am growing in them.Keep God at the front of your mind.  I love to walk up behind Dallas and see if I can figure out what hymn he is humming.  His hymn-humming and so many other things are how he “sets the Lord ever before me” (Ps 16:8), which may be the verse I’ve heard him quote most often. I’ve copied him because I find this right-brain hymn-humming jams my left-brain litany of thoughts about myself.  It reminds me to pray for the person in front of me.

I don’t need to talk about myself.  He rarely talks about himself (unless I pump him) but he genuinely listens to others and waits for them.  Riding along in the car, he is fine just being quiet. As a result, he has responded to my remarks at times with near-prophetic insight. He practices not only the presence of God, but also the presence of people.

Never, never hurry.  He just doesn’t do it.  He knows it rips 1 Cor 13 out of the Bible.  When I get hurried or start talking about myself (see previous item), I put my hands behind my back as I have often seen him do as he walks around Mater Dolorosa where the Fuller Seminary class has been held.  Doing this changes my attitude.  This hints at how he’s taught me so much about how the body is involved in spirituality.

I don’t need to impress you.  He is not concerned with impression management.  He doesn’t say anything to get you to think well of him.  Because he has abandoned this, he says things to get people to think (as Jesus did).  People sometimes think these things are absurd, but he’s not concerned about that.  He’ll often say to students, “Now you don’t have to agree with me.  That’s fine.” Now I find myself saying that and I mostly mean it when I say it.

This process of learning things like this has taught me that life with God and love for God is much more caught than taught.  The Trinity is relational for a reason.  Relationships and how we treat people really matters.  It’s much more important than how much I get done today.

Formation is as much caught as taught, and Dallas is someone from whom I’ve caught quite a bit.

Join the Conversation

From whom are you currently “catching” a well-formed life or the simplicity of living each moment in the Kingdom of God?

Jan Johnson:
Jan Johnson is the author of twenty books including Invitation to the Jesus Life and Abundant Simplicity and a thousand articles and Bible studies. She speaks at retreats and conferences, and teaches (adjunct) at Azusa Pacific University and Hope International University. Also a spiritual director, Jan holds a D. Min. in Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. She lives with her husband in Simi Valley, California. You can visit her at JanJohnson.org.  

7 Comments


  1. Thanks Jan, I can appreciate how much all these body and mind postures can accentuate or detract from our true place in Him moment by moment. I believe they challenge the postures I regularly take unconsciously, and that sounds like its fraught with all kinds of possibilities!

  2. In the body chapter of Renovation of the Heart, Dallas has a “releasing the body” exercise. Before doing it, I stood and looked in the mirror taking natural stances and poses to see what needed to be released most: eyebrows and shoulders!

  3. Jan, the first time I met you you did NOT say things to make me think well of you but you said things that made me THINK. I have grown to love that but it startled me at the time :) I love these lessons from Dallas and thank you for growing in them and passing them to us. I’m trying to grow in these things, as well.

    • I do remember that conversation, Rhonda, and prayed I wasn’t blowing you away (although I can’t remember the particulars). I wonder if Dallas has prayed that when he has said rather startling things to me! Is this perhaps part of how we speak the truth in love?

  4. Jan, this is what I just posted on FB

    In her blog Jan Johnson describes what she learned being with Dallas. Like Jan Ienjoyed hearing Dallas hum hymns following him down the hallway during the 2 week Fuller Sem class at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center. I am so thankful that I often wake up singing worship songs and hymns spontaneously and they seem to flow out of my body–mind when I do prayer walks. This is wonderful blog, a must read.

  5. Jan,
    This is what I just posted on FB

    In her blog Jan Johnson describes what she learned being with Dallas. Like JanI enjoyed hearing Dallas hum hymns following him down the hallway during the 2 week Fuller Sem class at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center. I am so thankful that I often wake up singing worship songs and hymns spontaneously and they seem to flow out of my body–mind when I do prayer walks. This is wonderful blog, a must read.

    Love to you and everyone you hold in your heart–which is a lot of people!

  6. Jan,
    I’ve now read this blog posting twice. There is something so real about it and encouraging in it’s simple suggestions.

    First I have to confess a certain longing (is it jealousy?) that you are such good friends with DW. I can’t imagine what a gift that must be in your life.

    Secondly, I see his fingerprints all over your writing and love how you make Dallas’s teachings so practical. I am definitely one who needs an “example” of how an idea might look out there in the real world–and you constantly seek to do that– even in this blog post (humming hymns now there’s a concept)!

    Thank you for sharing your precious friendship with us and the small but significant ways you are learning to be like Jesus through DW’s example. Now I’m going to try them too. (Does it matter that I can’t carry a tune?)

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