Living in the Divine Conversation and Character

March 15-18, 2011
Renovaré Institute - Denver Cohort - Residency 2

The Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation is a two-year online and in-person school that provides students with a solid framework for understanding and living out Christian Spiritual Formation. For the first 3 years of the Institute, Dallas was able to teach 2 residency weeks per year. The title for this particular residency (Camp St. Malo, CO) is "Living in the Divine Conversation and Character." The key themes for the week are:

  1. Learning how to hear God
  2. Christian spiritual disciplines: concept and history
  3. Salvation as a life


The 13 sessions include:

  1. Making Theology of the Disciplines Practical (will be added soon)
  2. History and Meaning of the Disciplines
  3. The Fruit of the Spirit as the Framework of Eternal Living (will be added soon)
  4. Attention to Christology and Atonement (will be added soon)
  5. Knowing Christ Today I - The Importance of Knowledge (will be added soon)
  6. Knowing Christ Today II - The Importance of Knowledge (will be added soon)
  7. You Were Created for Intimate Friendship with God
  8. What Hearing God is Not
  9. Trinitarian Fellowship
  10. The Still Small Voice and Its Rivals
  11. Q & A with Dallas Willard and John Ortberg
  12. Q & A Dallas Willard and Richard Foster
  13. Tabletalk with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and John Ortberg

We are grateful to our friends at Renovaré for allowing us to post this series. To learn more about the Institute, please visit the Renovaré website.


1: History and Meaning of the Disciplines

Dallas explains the unfortunate misunderstandings caused by the wrongful application of disciplines in Church history and why the modern American Church has widely rejected spiritual disciplines. He clarifies the purpose of disciplines, as well as offering the how to practice them and the how not to. He also defines the good life, gives us insights into the Beatitudes and redefines asceticism in a helpful way. This was Session 2 of a series presented at St. Malo's Retreat Center, Colorado. 

2: You Were Created for Intimate Friendship with God

What does God intend for us? What kind of life does he offer us? Dallas helps us understand the importance of embracing our role as Jesus's intimate friends and coworkers, and how we can live in that conversational relationship with God all day, every day. You'll be intrigued by Dallas's comments on numerous Scripture passages and if you've ever wondered about Jesus's parable of the "Unprofitable Servant" be sure to take note!  

This is Session 7 of the  @Renovare  Institute's March 2011 week-long residency session at Camp St. Malo, Colorado. This is the first four lectures given on Wednesday of that week, and John Ortberg and Richard Foster then spent Thursday morning leading times of discussion with Dallas to dig in deeper to the topics Dallas discussed. Stick with this playlist to hear it all, plus some bonus conversations at the end. And be sure to download the notes that go with each session!

#hearingGod #walkingwithGod #prayer #thewithGodlife #GodsVoice #listeningtoGod #GodSpeaks

3: What Hearing God Is Not

How can and should we seek God? What are our motives in doing so? In this session, Dallas makes important distinctions about what hearing God is not about and explains how God relates to us. If you've ever thought it difficult to pray, or to encourage others to pray, you'll greatly appreciate and be encouraged by this teaching. 

4: Trinitarian Fellowship: The Word, The Spirit, and Life Together

"The development of character, rather than direction in this, that, and the other matter, must be the primary purpose of the Father. He will guide us, but he won’t override us." Dallas opens this session reading E. Stanley Jones to remind us of the purpose in our conversation. He then expands on the theme of intimate friendship with God by diving into the Trinity as a model for the life of community we are made for. He explains how important it is to understand and recognize the different type of life that the birth from above brings. We are invited to live in this Trinitarian life that is literally out of this world, and that life is greater than anything that can happen to us! 

5: The Still, Small Voice and its Rivals

What is it like to be spoken to by God? How do we know when he's speaking? What is the form his voice takes? Dallas gives very practical ways to learn to recognize God's voice and live in that conversational relationship daily. He also works in an incredibly helpful teaching on what it means to love your enemy!

6: Q&A with John Ortberg and Dallas: Hearing God in the Context of the Kingdom of God

The final morning of the Renovaré residency opens with a question-and-comment time with Dallas and John Ortberg. They cover a lot of ground including: sleep and how to deal with difficulty sleeping, the Kingdom of God and its present availability, our crucifixion with Jesus, a very touching time listening to God through Psalm 121, disciplines as part of a curriculum for Christlikeness, and how this universe is a perfectly safe place to be.

7: Q&A with Richard Foster: Hearing God as a Life

Dallas and Richard Foster enjoy a rich time of discussion, which starts with a reflection on God's presence with his people from Genesis to Revelation, a very helpful look at the unity of the Bible and how God has been working throughout human history. They then discuss the two types of life we have, physical and spiritual, and the importance of understanding that different kind of life that is available. We get to be people living now, an eternal kind of life, wherever we are, because we’re really living from the Kingdom of God! Finally, they conclude by discussing Jesus's statement that we will never experience death, and Paul's affirmation of the same. 

History and Meaning of the Disciplines


  • Understanding Spiritual Disciplines: Dallas opens by emphasizing the crucial role of spiritual disciplines in growth and development. He suggests that the practices which are essential at the beginning of spiritual life may change as one matures.
  • Concept of the Good Life: Dallas explores the vision of the "good life," noting that it's central to understanding and practicing spiritual disciplines. 
    Jesus’s Teachings and Discipleship: Dallas delves into how Jesus’s methods as a rabbi were uncharacteristic for his time, focusing on his choice of disciples who were “poor in spirit.” 
  • Historical Context of Disciplines: He provides a historical perspective on the emergence of monastic disciplines, noting that they developed from a deep desire to follow Christ authentically, contrasting with societal norms of glory and acceptance.
  • Misconceptions of Poverty and Suffering: Dallas discusses common misconceptions about poverty and suffering, clarifying that these conditions are not ideal for spiritual growth and that the historical view of disciplines has often been distorted.
  • Power of the Good Life Now: He passionately argues that living the good life according to the kingdom of God transforms not only the individual but also their community.
  • Holiness and Self-Denial: Dallas talks about the real meanings behind holiness and self-denial, suggesting they're about aligning one’s desires with God’s will rather than mere deprivation. 
  • Disciplines and Asceticism Redefined: Dallas clarifies asceticism and disciplines as not merely about self-imposed suffering or austerity but as practices of purposeful training that lead to a well-ordered life by focusing on what is genuinely good and beneficial.

You Were Created for Intimate Friendship with God


  • Spiritual Transformation and Intimate Friendship with God: Dallas emphasizes that spiritual transformation into Christlikeness arises from a conversational relationship with God. He illustrates this with the Genesis account of God walking in the garden, highlighting God's desire for personal interaction and giving humans the freedom to engage or withdraw.
  • Nature of Conversational Relationship: Dallas discusses the dynamics of a conversational relationship with God, where we are both speakers and listeners. He points out that this interaction isn't just about receiving commands but involves a mutual exchange that fosters spiritual growth and deeper understanding of God's nature.
  • Humility and Dependency on God: Dallas reflects on biblical verses that encourage humility and seeking God's presence as a foundation for the relationship. He stresses that this stance is not about gaining material benefits but about recognizing our dependency on God's goodness and aligning ourselves with His will.
  • Continuous Conversation and Presence of God: Exploring the teachings of Brother Lawrence and other spiritual figures, Dallas highlights the importance of continual conversation with God throughout daily life. This practice deepens our awareness of God's presence and integrates our spiritual life with everyday actions.
  • Role of Human Desires in Spiritual Life: Dallas argues that God shapes our desires to align with His will, transforming our wants into expressions of His goodness. This process underscores a partnership where our desires and God's purposes intermingle, enhancing our individuality and creativity as part of God’s creative work.
  • Community Aspect of God's Plan: Dallas extends the discussion to the communal nature of God’s plan, emphasizing the Trinitarian model as a blueprint for human community. He connects this to the concept of dominion, where exercising responsibility and creativity should always occur within a community of love and support.
  • Restoration and Healing Through Spiritual Community: Dallas articulates how embracing a life of intimate friendship with God can lead to healing and restoration of broken human communities. He describes this process as part of the larger biblical narrative where reconciliation and communal healing begin now but will be fully realized in the future.
  • Living as Friends of God: Dallas concludes with the transformative impact of living as friends of God, a theme echoed by the Quaker movement. This friendship transcends traditional servant-master dynamics, fostering a relational depth where followers of Christ engage with God, the Holy Spirit, and each other in a life of continual learning and mutual respect.

What Hearing God Is Not


  • Friendship with God: Dallas emphasizes the importance of viewing God as a friend and exploring this friendship as the basis for understanding God's intent for humanity. He suggests that initiating conversations about friendship with Jesus can open pathways to deeper spiritual discussions and understanding.
  • Misconceptions About Hearing God: Dallas points out the common misconceptions surrounding the concept of hearing God. He stresses that God can communicate in various forms—like dreams, visions, or through the Bible—but misunderstandings arise when individuals approach these communications with the wrong mindset or expectations.
  • Danger of Scriptural Misinterpretation: Dallas warns about the risks of approaching the Bible with preconceived notions, which can lead to misinterpretations. One often sees in the Bible what they bring to it, emphasizing the need for humility and openness in reading scripture.
  • Issue of Control in Spiritual Communication: Dallas discusses how the desire to control the narrative or dictate the terms of communication with God can hinder true spiritual understanding. He critiques the common preference for certain types of divine messages over others within the Christian community, highlighting the internal conflicts it creates.
  • Role of Responsibility in Spiritual Life: He emphasizes that understanding and fulfilling one's responsibility is crucial in one's relationship with God. Dallas challenges the notion of using divine guidance as a way to evade personal responsibility, instead advocating for active, initiative-taking roles in one’s spiritual journey.
  • Problem with Forced Divine Guidance: Dallas criticizes practices like "Bible roulette" and other methods that attempt to force clarity or directives from God. He discusses historical examples where such practices led to misguided spiritual lives, emphasizing a more respectful, patient approach to divine communication.
  •  Misinterpretation of God's Will and Authority: He addresses the issues arising from misinterpreting or misrepresenting God's will, especially by those in positions of authority. Dallas points out the dangers of blindly following leaders who claim divine insight, advocating for personal discernment and understanding in spiritual matters.
  • Understanding the Immediacy and Presence of God: Dallas concludes by discussing the nature of God's presence, explaining that God is not constrained by physical distances or boundaries. He uses metaphors and thought experiments to illustrate the immediacy of spiritual interaction, encouraging a more intimate, continuous conversational relationship with God.

Trinitarian Fellowship: The Word, The Spirit, and Life Together


  • Development of Character Through Divine Guidance: Dallas begins by reflecting on E. Stanley Jones's insights, emphasizing that God's guidance is designed not to micromanage but to foster spontaneity and character development. He points out that while God guides, He does not override our autonomy, promoting growth through personal decisions and experiences.
  • Trinitarian Foundation of Life: Dallas discusses the concept of the Trinity as the foundational model for our relationship with God, describing it as a dynamic of personal interactions and mutual enjoyment that existed before the creation of the world. 
  • Human Experience as a Reflection of Divine Reality: Dallas explains that experiences are not merely physical but spiritual, shaping who we are. He argues that understanding and valuing these experiences is crucial, as they are central to our identity and our relationship with God.
  • Unity in the Trinity and Its Implication for Humanity: Dallas explores the unity found within the Trinity—without subordination—and extends this concept to human relationships. He suggests that true community and intimacy, mirroring the relational dynamics of the Trinity, require a removal of barriers and vulnerabilities.
  • Crucifixion as a Path to Unity with Christ: Dallas discusses the idea that Christ’s crucifixion invites us to join Him in a form of spiritual crucifixion where our individual desires end, and a new life in alignment with God's kingdom begins. 
  • The Kingdom of God as an Ever-Present Reality: Explaining the omnipresence of the Kingdom of God, Dallas emphasizes that Jesus's mission was not to bring the Kingdom to Earth anew but to reveal its longstanding presence. He stresses that the Kingdom is active in everyday activities.
  • Continuation of Life Beyond Earthly Existence: Dallas addresses the misconception that life diminishes with age, asserting instead that life within the kingdom of God only begins to unfold fully as we grow older. He encourages a perspective that views earthly life as a precursor to an eternal, illuminated existence with God.
  • Integration of Spiritual Power in Human Effort: Dallas discusses how the Holy Spirit enhances and expands human capabilities, allowing individuals to achieve what would otherwise be impossible. He uses the analogy of an appliance powered by an external source to illustrate how divine power intermingles with human effort, transforming actions and outcomes.

The Still, Small Voice and its Rivals


  • Challenge of Divine Communication: Dallas discusses the complexities and misunderstandings that often accompany God's communication with humans. He notes that dramatic methods of delivering messages can obscure their true meaning, emphasizing that the less dramatic the message, the fuller the content and the more spiritually mature the recipient.
  • Still Small Voice vs. Dramatic Events: Dallas elaborates on the concept of the "still small voice" and contrasts it with more dramatic divine interventions like earthquakes. He suggests that the true meaning in divine communication often comes in subtle, less conspicuous forms, which can sometimes be as quiet as a thought or a whisper.
  • Three Lights of Guidance: Dallas critiques the reliance on the "three lights"—circumstances, impressions of the Spirit, and Scripture passages—as sole indicators of God's will. He argues that these elements should not be seen as definitive signs of divine guidance but rather as components of a broader, more discerning approach to understanding God’s communication.
  • Recognizing God's Voice: Dallas explores the nuances of discerning God's voice, emphasizing the importance of experience over seeking signs. He relates this to the biblical story of Samuel, who initially mistook God's voice for Eli's. Dallas suggests that recognizing God's voice often involves learning from repeated encounters and reflections.
  • Role of the Bible in Divine Communication: Dallas highlights the significant role of the Bible in discerning God’s voice, describing it as a primary source through which God often speaks. He discusses the dynamic of being "grabbed" by the words of Scripture, which transcend their literal meaning to convey deeper spiritual insights.
  • Nature of Divine Speech: Dallas discusses the characteristics of God's voice as perceived through human thought. He describes this voice as having a distinct "weight" and "confidence," conveying authority and authenticity without coercion, reflecting the peace and joy associated with divine wisdom.
  • Challenge of Interpretation: Dallas emphasizes the need for humility and openness in interpreting divine messages. He discusses the pitfalls of misinterpretation, particularly when dealing with ambiguous or symbolic messages like visions or dreams, and stresses the importance of seeking clarity in communication with God.
  • Applying Divine Guidance in Practical Life: Dallas concludes by discussing the practical application of divine communication in everyday life, including making decisions and understanding God's broader purposes. He encourages a personal and active engagement with God's voice, which he believes is crucial for nurturing a deep and meaningful spiritual life.

Q&A with John Ortberg and Dallas: Hearing God in the Context of the Kingdom of God


  • Role of Sleep in Spiritual Life: Dallas views sleep as deeply connected to one’s spiritual state, emphasizing the need to address soul disturbances for peaceful rest. He suggests that managing these issues through prayer and reflection is key to improving both sleep and spiritual well-being.
  • Seeking the Kingdom of God: The discussion highlights the importance of seeking God's presence in all aspects of life, rather than just through religious activities. This involves a deeper engagement with the world as God's creation, recognizing His actions and goodness in everyday experiences.
  • Necessity of Crucifixion for Liberation: Dallas introduces the concept of embracing one's own crucifixion as a pathway to liberation, allowing individuals to detach from their egos and align with God’s will. This perspective challenges traditional views of suffering, framing it as an opportunity for spiritual growth and freedom.
  • Hearing God as a Whole Life Experience: Hearing God is presented not merely as a spiritual discipline, but as an integral part of living a life aligned with God’s will. This approach calls for continuous communication with God, shaping one’s actions and decisions in accordance with divine guidance.
  • Spiritual Disciplines as Remedies: Spiritual disciplines are likened to remedies for specific spiritual ailments, not ends in themselves. Dallas stresses that the ultimate aim is to cultivate a deeper relationship with Jesus and integrate the principles of God’s kingdom into daily life, beyond the practice of disciplines.

Additional Assets

Q&A with Richard Foster: Hearing God as a Life


  • Aim of God in History: Richard Foster recalls a profound statement from Dallas Willard made 40 years ago, stating that the aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with God Himself at the very center as its prime Sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.
  • With-God Life: Dallas introduces the concept of "the with-God life" as the unity of the Bible, emphasizing that from Genesis to Revelation, the narrative showcases God placing humans in positions of responsibility, suggesting a direct involvement of God in the human story, emphasizing stewardship and the overarching presence of God throughout human history.
  • Abraham - Friend of God: The transition from individual to family to nation marks a pivotal moment in holy history. Abraham being called the friend of God symbolizes a new depth in the relationship between humanity and the divine, establishing a pattern of familial and communal relations with God.
  • Presence of God and the Spiritual Journey: Dallas discusses the continual presence of God despite human disobedience, highlighting significant biblical moments where God's involvement is evident, like His conversations with Cain and Abraham, and His directive presence throughout Israel's history, from the Exodus to the building of the nation.
  • The Incarnation and the Church: Jesus embodies the "with-God life," marking the fullness of God's plan to dwell among His people. This leads to the formation of the Church, a community of believers living out the reality of God's kingdom on earth, demonstrating the power of the resurrection and the eternal life available through Christ.