What Is the Essential Virtue?: further insights about the easy yoke from Dallas Willard

Renovation of the HeartYesterday I shared an excerpt from Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart about what Willard sees as the essence of discipleship in the easy yoke of Jesus referenced in Matthew 11:28-30. I wanted to share one additional thought from Willard on this, which flows directly from living as a disciple of Jesus within His easy yoke.

When we abandon outcomes to God, living in true soul rest in God through Jesus Christ, we live with honest assessment of our inability to live the “with-God” life on our own. As you would guess, to truly live the life with God calls us to life, not relying upon ourselves and our own strength, but upon God and His strength. This leads us to a fundamental posture of humility, which Willard describes further in what follows.

Humility is the framework within which all virtue lives. Angela of Foligno observe, ‘Our Lord did not say: Learn of Me to despise the world and live in poverty . . . but only this: Learn of Me for I am gentle and lowly of heart.’ And ‘One of the signs by which a man may know that he is in a state of grace is this—that he is never puffed up.’ Accordingly, we are to ‘clothe [ourselves] with humility,’ Peter said (1 Peter 5:5), which certainly means loss of self-sufficiency. ‘God gives grace to the humble,’ he continues. ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you’ (verses 5-70. Humility is a great secret of rest of soul because it dose not presume to secure outcomes.

Here is a simple fact: We live in a world where, by God’s appointment, ‘the race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all’ (Ecclesiastes 9:11). The Lord ‘does not delight in the strength of the horse; He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man’ (Psalm 147:10). He has a plan for our life that goes far beyond anything we can work out and secure by means of strong horses and good legs.

We simply have to rest in his life as he gives it to us. Knowledge, from Christ, that he is good and great enables us to cast outcomes on him. We find this knowledge in the yoke of Christ. Resting in God, we can be free from all anxiety, which means deep soul rest. Whatever our circumstance, taught by Christ we are enabled to ‘rest [be still] in the Lord and wait patiently [or longingly] for Him’ (Psalm 37:7). We don’t fret or get angry because others seem to be doing better than we are, even though they are less deserving than we.

[From Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ(Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 209-210.]

For more on the topic of humility, you may enjoy reading my ten reflections on Andrew Murray’s short but powerful book Humility, which begins here.

Bibliography on Prayer

Throughout our series, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” we looked at passages of Scripture in which prayer is the central activity. Along with study of those specific Bible passages, I turned to the wisdom of many authors far more brilliant than me and from many different eras for help. At times people ask me whether I have books I recommend alongside of certain preaching series. I find that a difficult question to always answer briefly, so here is a bibliography I have been gathering (and reading) over the last twenty years on the topic of prayer.

Bibliography on Prayer:

Ruth Haley Barton. “Prayer.” In Sacred Rhythms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.

Anthony Bloom. Beginning to Pray. New York: Paulist Press, 1970.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prayerbook of the Bible. DBW, vol 5. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

E. M. Bounds. Power Through Prayer in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1967.

Walter Brueggemann. Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

George A. Buttrick. Prayer. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1944.

David Crump. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Ronald Dunn. Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

Jacques Ellul. Prayer and Modern Man. Translated by C. Edward Hopkin. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970.

Richard Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

Ole Hallesby. Prayer. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1931.

James Houston. The Prayer (previously title The Transforming Friendship). David C. Cook, 2007.

Joyce Huggett. The Joy of Listening to God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Kenneth Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980

C. S. Lewis. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1964.

Richard N. Longenecker, ed. Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Paul E. Miller. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2009.

Andrew Murray. Teach Me to Pray. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1982/2002.

Eugene Peterson. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989.

________. Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

J. C. Ryle. A Call to Prayer. Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2002.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel. The Life of Prayer. New York: E. P. Dutton & Sons, 1927.

Philip Yancey. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Learning to Pray with Jesus [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_BannerOne day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

In order to become a person of prayer, we must want to learn. Like Jesus’ disciples in Luke 11, we must not only want to learn to pray, but we must also ask the Master Teacher to show us the way. There were many things the disciples noticed about Jesus, but one of them was His life of prayer. We read in the Gospels that Jesus drew away by Himself to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12-13). The disciples undoubtedly noticed not only the actions of Jesus, but the character that resulted from this life of prayer. As they noticed it, they also desired it.

Because of what they saw, the disciples reached out to Jesus, requesting that He teach them to pray. In a few days, we will examine Jesus’ teaching on prayer, known as the Lord’s Prayer, but it is enough for us now to notice that the disciples’ request is met with Jesus’ willingness to teach. As Andrew Murray points out:

Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, only how to pray. He did not speak much of what was needed to preach well, but much of praying well. To know how to speak to God is more than knowing how to speak to man. [1]

Do we desire to pray like Jesus? Are we ready to learn from Him? Let this be the moment in which we stop all the rushing thoughts about what will come next in our day so that we might humbly approach Jesus in prayer. Let this be the moment in which we also say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Lord, teach me to pray
 as You taught Your original disciples to pray.
Ignorant and humble as I am,
  bring the riches of wisdom about prayer to me.
Although I will always be a beginner,
  let me start today
as a student of prayer
  with You.


[1] Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (Chicago: M. A. Donohue & Co., 1885), 15-16.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 10]

Andrew Murray 2This week I continue “Thursdays with Murray” by concluding my study of Andrew Murray’s short book Humility. Last week, I jumped ahead and talked about the final chapter in relationship with chapter ten. So this week I return to chapter eleven, “Humility and Happiness,” as the last part of the book about which I will write.

Beginning with similar themes seen throughout this book, in this chapter Murray says “the highest lesson a believer has to learn is humility.” However, lest we begin to think that Murray is set on a bleak picture of the life of faith crowded with dark shadows, he also writes: “the place of humiliation is the place of blessing, of power, of joy.”

How can this be true? Murray helps us to understand that if humility is the expulsion of the self, it can only truly be expelled with the presence and glory of God. And if our souls are filled not with ourselves but with the fullness of the presence and glory of God, this can in no way be anything else but the experience of the greatest joy in God.

In trial and weakness and trouble He seeks to bring us low, until we so learn that His grace is all, as to take pleasure in the very thing that brings us and keeps us low. His strength made perfect in our weakness, His presence filling and satisfying our emptiness, becomes the secret of humility that need never fail….

I feel as if I must once again gather up all in the two lessons: the danger of pride is greater and nearer than we think, and the grace for humility too.

These two realities underly the entire breadth of Murray’s book. He wants us as believers to experience both the depths of humility in the Cross of Christ and the heights of exaltation in the resurrection of Christ so that we might enter into the abundant life through Christ. It is his conviction that there is no other way to this great reality than to walk the pathway of humility upon which Jesus walked. That is truly the way of the disciple.

Christ humbled Himself, therefore God exalted Him. Christ will humble us, and keep us humble; let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; and the power of Christ will rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret of the truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.

[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 9]

Andrew Murray 2Continuing my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter ten, “Humility and Death to Self,” and chapter twelve, “Humility and Exaltation.” While I admit I’m pulling these two chapters slightly out of order, I believe they fit together as two book-ends around chapter eleven (which we’ll look at next week) on “Humility and Happiness.”

“Death to self” is a phrase that we don’t hear too often any longer but derives from Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2:8 (“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death”) and Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in Luke 9:23 (“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”). On this theme and its connection with humility, Andrew Murray writes:

The first and chief of the marks of the dying of the Lord Jesus, of the death-marks that show the true follower of Jesus, is humility. For these two reasons: Only humility leads to perfect death; Only death perfects humility.

This chapter comes into strong conflict with the prevailing approach to Christianity in our day as strongly as any other aspect of Murray’s book. In a time when we are focused so much on self-actualization, finding our gifts, understanding our personality, living out our uniqueness, the call toward death to self and its defining mark of humility seems like a message from another age. Read More »