Excerpt from Becoming Dallas Willard

As Richard drove further out into the San Fernando Valley toward Canoga Park, the urban landscape began to morph into small farms and even a few miniranches. A girl on horseback looked at him as if he were out of place. It was a whole different world from downtown LA

He pulled into the parking lot of a church. It seemed pretty ordinary, a rectangular, brick building with a small wing, perhaps for the Sunday school classes. He got out of his car and checked his watch. He was a few minutes late and hoped that there would be an empty seat near the back. 

Stepping inside and through a small foyer, he observed a modest sanctuary, partially filled with a few front-facing pews, a wooden pulpit and a few dozen people. Quiet as a Quaker, he found a seat on the back row. He did not want to call any attention to himself, and he certainly did not want anyone to know that he was checking out the congregation to see what he’d be getting himself into if were to accept this first assignment as a pastor. 

A small, attractive woman with blond hair was playing the organ. While the song would have been more at home in a Baptist congregation, she was a talented musician. The person leading the congregational singing had a calm and distinguished look about him and a beautiful, baritone voice. This is encouraging, the young man thought. 

When the song was over the worship leader offered a prayer: 

Almighty God, you know how completely incapable we are of speaking or hearing what we need to hear and speak. None of us are here to ask anything this morning because of our worth, because of our excellence, our beauty, our intelligence, or anything else. We ask because of our need, because of your goodness, and because you love us. We ask for light this morning, for understanding; we ask to know better what your will is for us. We are painfully conscious that so many times in the past we have chosen what was wrong. We know many times we suffer not because of bad intentions but because we don’t understand. We are in the dark. But we are glad that you sent your Son to be the light of the world. Let him shine today for these people, for your glory. Amen.

Then, the worship leader changed hats, so to speak, and began to offer a word to the congregation, as the fill-in pastor. 

The crucial challenge to our faith in God,” he began, is to believe that this life is a good life. It isn’t to believe there is a God; most everyone believes that without trying. The question is, What kind of God do you believe in? In particular, do you believe in a kind of God who intends to give you a good life, a happy life, a blessed life?” 

While still staring ahead at the speaker, the young man could not help whispering to his neighbor, Who is that?” 

A soft reply came back, Oh, that is Dallas Willard. He’s a philosophy professor.” 

The young man nodded and did something he did not expect to do. He searched for a scrap of paper in his Bible and began taking notes, while musing to himself, Who thinks like this?

Now It’s Your Turn To Be In the Desert 

It was August 1970 and a new pastor was taking over at Woodlake Avenue Friends Church. The incoming minister was a rail thin, wet behind the ears, bright-eyed, introverted, twenty-seven-year old who was putting the finishing touches on a doctoral degree in pastoral theology at Fuller Seminary. 

His name was Richard J. Foster. 

The man he was replacing — the seasoned, scholarly, somewhat rotund Jim Hewitt — was walking away from not only that small congregation but also the Quaker world: he had decided to become a Presbyterian and would be serving a local flock of Calvinists in Arcadia, California. 

I remember what Jim Hewitt told me when it was announced at the California yearly meeting [of Quakers] that I’d be going to Woodlake,” recalls Foster. He said, Now, it’s your turn to be in the desert.’” 

It was a prescient comment in a number of ways. Because deserts — spiritually speaking, at least — are places of encounter. As we read Christian history we see how the desert fathers and mothers found in the deserts a laboratory of the soul. We read the Bible and see how characters from Old and New Testaments go into the desert and encounter God. 

Things happen in a desert.

Taken from Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary W. Moon. ©2018 by Gary W. Moon. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 – 1426. www.ivpress.com