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I was struck while talking with Dallas Willard last week at Trinity International University by the philosopher’s similarity in spiritual practice to a number of Asian Christians I have known. In my trips to China and Korea, as well as my experience with Asian Christians in the U.S. they consistently have a deep and living relationship with Jesus Christ. They seem to have Jesus alongside them, as if they could be holding his hand.

I don’t know how to explain this sense–of Jesus’ living presence with these Christians. But I know it when I see it, and I know I want it too. Dallas Willard has it as well in his writing, and talking with him confirmed for me that his prescription for the spiritual life is one I need to follow.

I edited a lecture Willard gave and turned it into an article. The piece is on the use of Scripture in spiritual formation. Willard says, in essence, memorize it. Some excerpts:

We have the accepted situation of multitudes of Christians who are by their own admission not disciples of Jesus. If that’s the situation you have, then the remedy is to turn to discipleship. And if you turn to discipleship, then you’re going to Scripture as a means to personal transformation.

For the Christian, spiritual formation is nothing but the procession of the individual taking on the character of Christ. What does that look like in practice? We have all kinds of illustrations of it, but here is a version of spiritual formation. Romans 5, says in part “Since we have been justified through faith … we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” You will find parallel passages in Rom 8:1-11Col 3:8-14 and 2 Peter 1:4-10. These are descriptions of a procedure, a process that human beings go through as they live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Christian spiritual formation is the process through which the inner and outer dimensions of human personality take on the character of Jesus Christ himself.

What would that look like? That would look like someone who loves God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, with all their strength, and their neighbor as themselves. That would be the outcome of spiritual formation in Christ.

Once you have made the decision to be transformed—by the power of God and by your action as well—then you have to decide where you can take hold of the process.

Word itself is a power that enters us. it doesn’t just stand before the mind giving us something to aim at. Rather it becomes a powerful force in us.

Memorization is fundamental to spiritual transformation. At a retreat, I will normally ask people to memorize Col. 3:1-17. I watch the effect, often to their own astonishment, of memorizing passages of scripture. Are we doing enough with that?

Willard has convinced me, and I’m going to attempt to memorize Col. 3:1-17.

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4 thoughts on “Knowing God

  1. Memorization is not for everyone. I associate memorization with being oppressed. Someone insisting that I do something. Rational or not, it is what is, and no amount of memorization will make me feel more spiritual. To feel more spiritual; I serve, I write, I read.

  2. I think I understand where you’re coming from, Bob. As a kid I memorized hundreds of verses, and while I can still remember a couple of them, I can’t say they made me closer to God. And when used as a mark of spirituality, it’s certainly counterproductive. Willard recognized this point. However, he said that the memorization of long passages of scripture was extremely helpful for him. Because of my own schedule and difficulty finding time for some of the things you mention, I think I’m going to give it a shot–not as a mark of spirituality, like I have seen practiced, but simply as a way to draw closer to God.

  3. I can understand why Willard would say that, and I like his thoughts and writing, but they are thick. It makes me believe that memorization would come easy to him. If so, this would allow it to be spiritual. Sport analogy (we are guys after all): baseball can be spiritual, but only if one is good at it, or enjoys watching. I am not good at memorizing and I am not one to be on the sidelines, so for me memorizing bible verses will never be spiritual. Reading them, yes.

  4. That’s another good point. There’s lots of ways to get the juice out of the Bible–mash it, squeeze it, suck on it–the juice is there for savoring.

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