Preface: Life Without Lack
By Larry Burtoft
God is able to make all grace abound toward you,
that you, always having all sufficiency in all things,
may have an abundance for every good work.
—2 Corinthians 9 :8
The world is a perfectly good and safe place to be.
Twenty-six years ago I was introduced to the possibility of a life in which I was never in need. Of anything. At any time. From anyone. A life that knows no fear or fluster. No anxiety or angst. No perturbation of any sort. It was, in short, the offer of a life without lack.
This offer was delivered by a messenger who knew well of what he spoke. Not because he had heard about such a life from someone else, although he certainly had. Rather, it appeared that he knew it by personal experience. Here was one who exuded peace, patience, and the freedom from self-absorption that is the hallmark of the truly unworried, the unconcerned, the carefree. Carefree, but not without care for others. Indeed, his freedom from any sense of personal threat was the other side of his freedom to show the compassion, openness, and kindness that anyone who knew him received.
The messenger, as you have probably guessed, was Dallas Willard. He had discovered the secret to gaining what many people have sacrificed so much in time, money, and relationships trying to possess. In a word, contentment. Here was a man, his face exuding serenity, who could say, in the words of one of his favorite authors, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”1 It was a lesson he had come to share with a small group of ordinary people who had found their way into a life connected, in various ways, to that of Jesus.
What you are about to read are the words this lackless brother shared with a little flock of ragtag Christians who gathered together in an upper room in Van Nuys, California, for eight weeks in the early months of 1991. Most of these folks were members of a small congregation, Valley Vista Christian Community, which I served as pastor. Dallas and his lovely wife, Jane, were a part of the congregation at that time, and they had been with us since I took over the shepherding responsibilities in 1985.
It was an intimate affair; there were usually about thirty of us gathered together to sit under Dallas’s teaching and then interact with him in a free-flowing question-and-answer time after each presentation. He knew most of us by name. The gatherings would usually last about an hour and a half and were informal and relaxed. I am tempted to draw parallels to other Upper Room experiences I have read about, and I am certain that the same Spirit who visited those previous rooms was present when we came together as Dallas opened up the Word of God and fed us with the Bread of Life.
This book now exists because, after Dallas had finished the series, I recommended that he turn the talks into a book. He responded by saying that he did not have time and that I should use the recordings to write it instead. Although I started the project many times, I never managed to complete it as I originally imagined it, and eventually I gave up. Yet in May 2013, upon Dallas’s death (I use the word figuratively, given Jesus’ promise in John 11:26, “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die,” a promise Dallas fully believed and surely experienced), I decided to revisit the project.
This teaching series was very meaningful to me, and I am convinced that others will benefit from the opportunity to read Dallas’s own words—words that flowed from both his deep immersion in the Bible and his many years of following tirelessly in the Way of Christ. His experience with Jesus had convinced him that the Twenty-Third Psalm was not merely a pretty poem with charming sentiments but an accurate description of the kind of life that is available to anyone who will allow God to be their Shepherd.
So this book is my attempt to keep a semblance of an implicit promise I made to Dallas so many years ago when he offered me the gift of bringing the insights he shared with our little group to a much wider audience. It is my way of honoring my brother, mentor, and fellow pilgrim on the road that is marked by God’s great sufficiency for all—all!—our needs. My heavenward request is that you, too, might experience the life that Dallas knew, that I and countless others are coming to know, and that is available to anyone and everyone.
You will encounter here the life-giving truths that Dallas shared with us during those rich evenings together. Those who attended the talks were truly blessed—given a priceless gift—by being in Dallas’s presence, of seeing his facial expressions, of hearing his intonations, and of laughing with him as he reflected on some of the foolish ways we try to cope with life apart from the sufficiency of the Shepherd. It is my hope that we have been able to translate Dallas’s spoken words into written form adequately, and to give you an opportunity to gain a sense of what it was like to be there. I have tried to bring out some of this by visually emphasizing some words and phrases, or with some of my editor’s notes found in the footnotes.
In many ways, Dallas was a genius of theological jazz, often breaking out with insightful, free-associating “riffs” that are not easily or directly transferrable to the printed page. On occasion he expressed regret at not having time to further discuss some topics during the sessions. We have made only the minimal changes necessary to accommodate this while adapting his spoken words into an understandable and easy-to-follow format.
While writing, I have had the encouraging pleasure and decided privilege of keen and sensitive editorial assistance from Dallas’s daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley. Drawing upon her intimate acquaintance with her father’s heart and vast knowledge of his seemingly endless trove of articles and talks, she has given invaluable suggestions that have clarified and enlarged the teachings Dallas presented during this series of talks. So, in places when Dallas said, “I wish we had more time,” or did not develop a point sufficiently, we have supplemented his original presentations with material taken from other published and unpublished sources.
Finally, it will come as no surprise to those familiar with Dallas’s teachings that he placed particular emphasis upon our choices and habits and practices, on how we live our daily lives, and above all, on what we do with our minds. Next to the reality of God, which is the substance and source of a life without lack, there is nothing more important to the experience of that life than keeping our minds on God as much as possible. Dallas believed it was possible to keep our minds constantly on God and that this was the heart and soul of spiritual formation in the kingdom of God. This is a book about why this is so, and about how it can be so for us.
Continue to the Introduction
1. The author is Saint Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. The quotation is from Philippians 4:11, the King James Version, great swaths of which Dallas had memorized.