Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23

Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23

by Dallas Willard


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Now including an accompanying study guide, available only in the paperback edition.

Learn the secret of living with contentment, peace, and security.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself what your life would be like if it were completely without fear? If you did not fear death. If you did not fear life and what it might bring. If you did not fear any man, or woman, or any living creature. Would you live differently?
In Life Without Lack, Dallas Willard revolutionizes our understanding of Psalm 23 by taking this comfortably familiar passage and revealing its extraordinary promises: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . . I will fear no evil.” The psalmist claims to live without any need and without any fear. How is that possible?

Written with Willard’s characteristic gentle wisdom, Life Without Lack reveals the secret to enjoying God’s presence and becoming utterly caught up in his abundant generosity. The more we practice living in his presence, the more we experience the peace and freedom from worry that is promised in the psalm. Based on a series of talks by the late author and edited by his friend Larry Burtoft and by his daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley, Life Without Lack will forever change the way you understand and apply the most well-known passage in all Scripture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400208210
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 02/26/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 93,715
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dallas Willard (1935–2013) was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy from 1965 until his retirement in 2012. His groundbreaking books The Divine Conspiracy, The Great Omission, Knowing Christ Today, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart,and Hearing God forever changed the way thousands of Christians experience their faith.

Read an Excerpt


God in Himself, Part 1

The Glorious, Self-Sustaining, Eternal Being of the Shepherd

The God of love my shepherd is, And he that doth me feed; While he is mine and I am his, What can I want or need?

— George Herbert

The experience of a life without lack depends first and foremost upon the presence of God in our lives, because the source of this life is God himself.

In his goodness, God has arranged things so we are able to use our minds to understand and enter his glorious and plentiful kingdom. I am going to rely on this truth as we wrestle with matters that require serious thought. I am not asking that you believe them just because I have written them; I want you to think about them, deeply and often, using your mind to seek God. Belief will come as you experience the truth about God.

We must come to an awareness in our own minds concerning the nature of God. That is, we must think about God in ways that match what God is like. Without harmony between our ideas about God and his true character, we will never be able to make the kind of contact with God that will give us confidence, grounded in our experience, in the complete sufficiency of God to provide for our needs.

It is worth noting that the only definition of eternal life found in Scripture is John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Jesus is the way to the knowledge of God for us, and through his teachings about God we can grow in our experience-based knowledge of him. So I hope you have your thinking cap on.

The Most Important Thing About You

It is crucial to our whole outlook about ourselves and our understanding of God that we think correctly about two fundamental things: minds and people. We will discuss the importance of people in chapter 3, but now we will focus on the most important thing about you: your mind. Not your brain, but your mind. You are, more than anything else, a mind. That is what makes you precious in a special way. Categorizing people and treating them in specific ways just because of their bodily features violates the central worth of the person as a mind. The body is important, but the mind is all-important. And the most important thing about your mind is what it is fixed upon.

I'm using mind as a general term in this case, not distinguishing it from spirit or soul. Heart could also be used here, as is often found in the Old Testament in cases such as Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he," and 1 Chronicles 22:19 (NRSV), "Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God." The mind, thought about in this way, is the most significant aspect of our lives because it is through our minds that we make effective contact with reality.

The ultimate freedom we have as individuals is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon and think about. By think we mean all the ways in which we are aware of things, including our memories, perceptions, and beliefs. The focus of your thoughts significantly affects everything else that happens in your life and evokes the feelings that frame your world and motivate your actions.

The Transforming Power of Ideas

Thoughts are where we make our first movements toward God and where the divine Spirit begins to direct our will to God and his way. We have the ability and responsibility to keep God present in our minds, and those who do so will make steady progress toward him, for he will respond by making himself known to us.

One of the most powerful elements within the realm of our minds is that of ideas. Our ideas form the belief system upon which we base our actions and decisions, and these in turn determine the trajectory of our lives. Living a life without lack involves recognizing the idea systems that govern the present age and its respective cultures — as well as those that constitute life away from God — and replacing them with the idea system that was embodied and taught by Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul warned us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12 NASB). These higher-level powers and forces are spiritual agencies that work with the idea systems of this world. These evil systems have been used to dominate humanity through fear and self-obsession, so that the uppermost thing filling our minds is likely to be our selves. That is why Jesus' teachings emphasize the importance of death to self, giving up your life and not seeking to save yourself. What does Jesus say about your life? "If you seek to save your life, you will lose it." But, of course, that is what nearly everyone does, especially everyone who lives according to the ordinary, fallen course of the world. They spend their whole earthly existence trying to save, enhance, and enrich their lives. And what happens? They lose the most important things in their life: an intimate relationship with God and with others.

The Poison of Self-Obsession

The truth of the matter is that people are obsessed with themselves. This is often caused by the wounds they have received. When you hit your thumb with a hammer, what happens in the following days? You are very mindful of your thumb. The same is true when we are hurt; we become conscious of ourselves to such an extent that we are imprisoned in that consciousness. Of course, we are all hurt in one way or another, with our families and our communities being primary sources of that hurt. Then we, in turn, become sources of the hurt and pain of others. Thus we have, literally, "a world of hurt." And it does no good to say, "Now, now, don't think about yourself." We are locked into it, and by being locked into it we end up turning away from the only one who can deliver us — God himself.

So we live in a world filled with people trying to be their own saviors. They can't do it, which, of course, makes them all the more desperate and obsessed with themselves. Then, finally, the resulting anger and desperation leads to the many ways we attack one another. I must confess, I am astonished at the subtle ways that I have attacked people: the calculating tones of voice, the careful selection of words I come up with so easily in order to needle someone. Often someone I love. And sometimes I come after them with a hammer instead of a needle.

The Antidote to Bad Ideas About God

Anger and desperation run deep in ordinary human life, which is why people provoke one another the way they do. This fury and despair flow from the hopelessness of their situation. Yet there is every reason for hope if they would just stop looking at themselves and look at God instead. But how do we learn about God? Primarily through the message that came in and through Jesus Christ.

That is why the preaching of the gospel of Jesus is absolutely fundamental. We preach and teach his gospel to let people know the good news about God and to allow them to think rightly about God. The preaching of the gospel will bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word, which will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately — in a way that brings us to think of God steadily. Thus he will always be before our minds.

When we fill our minds with the gospel, it must be in its fullness as Jesus presented and embodies it. If we limit the gospel to what Jesus did during a few days at the end of his earthly existence, we miss most of the picture. We shouldn't reduce the saving work of Christ to his death on the cross or we will miss the fullness of God as he is in himself and as he provides for us and all his creation.

The gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed, manifested, and taught was about more than his death for the forgiveness of our sins, as important as that is. It was about the kingdom of God — God's immediate availability, his "with-usness" that makes a life without lack possible. There is so much more to our relationship with God than just his dealing with our guilt and sin. Once we have been forgiven, we are meant to live in the fullness of the life that Jesus came to give us (John 10:10).

In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul gives us a picture of the world apart from God. Please notice his emphasis on the effect that the world apart from God has on the mind:

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph. 4:17–19)

How does Paul describe the mind caught up in the world? Futile, full of things that do not matter, darkened, blind. Why? Because it is alienated from the life of God.

Taste and See That the Lord Is Good

When we have heard the gospel, if we are not prepared to use our power of choice to turn our minds to God, then we do not have contact with God. You may very well say, "Can't God just move in on us and touch us or do something to us?" Yes, he can do that, and he does that on many occasions. But when it comes to experiencing the sufficiency of God, we are not talking about what God can do; we are talking about what we need to do. And what we need to do is to turn our minds to God.

Saying this may sound like recommending that we turn our minds toward an oblong blur of some sort. This results from a failure within our churches and Christian organizations to make God knowable to us. We have allowed God to remain an impersonal, distant mystery. Our own minds are often darkened, blind to the truth. We have no graspable conception of God — no realistic idea of what God is actually like.

You may remember the case of Nicodemus. He was just tied in knots by Jesus' simple question, "Don't you know that you must be born from above? Don't you know you need a life in you that goes beyond the natural one in your body? Don't you know that this is a reality, Nicodemus?" Jesus chided him and said, "You, being a ruler in Israel, you don't know these things?" (John 3:1–16 PAR). He said this because the history of Israel was full of the reality of God, and yet Nicodemus was totally oblivious to this. It didn't mean anything to him because he had not personally experienced it.

It is a sad but true fact that many of our "rulers in Israel" today — those who have taken on the duties and responsibilities of teaching, preaching, and manifesting the Word of God — have a diminished concept of the nature of God. Their knowledge of God and his nature does not carry the weight of experience. Consequently, when they are faced with the need to help others live as those who "will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17), they have no more experience of God and his kingdom than Nicodemus and simply have nothing helpful to offer. For all practical purposes, God might as well not exist.

Our Minds: The Key to Our Lives

I interact with all the sources of power in the universe through my mind. If I am an African bushman making bows and arrows to shoot birds, it is through my mind that I become knowledgeable about things like shafts of wood and points of stone, birds, strings and bows, and so forth. If I do not make the choice to use my mind to understand and interact with them, then all of this remains shut away from me. It is through my mind that I learn about electricity, and I can use my mind in conjunction with that knowledge to do any number of practical things, like turning on lights, starting my car, or picking up a phone and listening to someone speaking from the other side of the world.

We grow in our knowledge of God in the same way. We bring the reality of God into our lives by making contact with him through our minds, and our actions are based on the understanding that results from the fullness of that contact. There is nothing mysterious here. This is why the mind, and what we turn our minds to, is the key to our lives.

Of all reality, spirit is the most basic. We know this because "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). He made us to live and to work in the domain of the mind and the spirit. I am afraid, however, that often the concept of spirit seems like another oblong blur, escaping our understanding. This means that we need to take the necessary time to think carefully and diligently about these things. So I ask you to hold on, and may the Lord give you both patience and insight as we engage in a deeper analysis of what God is like.

The Knowledge of God as a Human Responsibility

Let's begin with a close look at the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, where the full weight of our responsibility before God rests on the claim of our knowledge about God. This responsibility, and the whole human condition, is based on our failure to think about God as he is. Here is Paul's stunning and sobering claim:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom. 1:18–21)

Consider that statement for a moment. What percentage of people in the United States would you say profess to believe in God? Religious polls are taken regularly, and while it vacillates from year to year and between age groups, recent polls indicate it is about 90 percent. How many people do you suppose believe in God in the jungles of Africa? About 100 percent! If you go to countries where there is an ideology such as Marxism, you will find the percentage is less because people are taught not to believe in God. But the natural human response to the world which they see about them is to believe in God.

What kind of a god is it that they believe in? This god is always an invisible power, and with a few arguable exceptions, it is an ultimate invisible power. This invisible power is always, to one degree or another, personal. In some animist religions there is less of a personal emphasis, but in all these religions the god in question is treated as someone who interacts with individual human beings. That is what we call a personal being.

A Really, Really Big God

Paul is telling us something that is still true today. We can know important truths about God — his eternal power and divine nature — by paying attention to the things he has made. God has shown these things to all of us. Now, considering the world around us, how big would you say the God is who created that world? Pretty big. Immense. In the ancient world, which lacked our contemporary scientific knowledge, they could not even begin to calculate the vastness of the universe. And still today, the God who is responsible for our universe is great beyond our comprehension.

As you continue to read, keep in mind two fundamentally important things we have covered so far:

• God is an invisible being who has great power and dominion over everything he created.

• God is personal. He has personality. He thinks. He wills. He feels. He values.

A joyous God fills the universe. Joy is the ultimate word describing God and his world. Creation was an act of joy, of delight in the goodness of what was done. It is precisely because God is like this, and because we can know that he is like this, that a life of full contentment is possible.

A God of Energy

One of the great discoveries of modern science is that what we call matter is really energy. We know about this through nuclear reactions. Imagine holding just one uranium atom, rolling it around in your hand like a marble. How much would it weigh? Very little. How much space would it occupy? Very little. But the power in that tiny, lightweight piece of matter is incredibly immense — thousands of times more than what it consists of merely as an atom. Energy is the basic reality.

What does this have to do with God and his ability to care for us? Just this: God is energy. Mind is energy. Your mind is energy. You have energy at your disposal, and in this respect, you are like God. You are like God. God has made you so you have energy at your disposal, and that energy comes in the form of your thoughts and your feelings. By these you are able to exercise your will.


Excerpted from "Life Without Lack"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Willard Family Trust.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Opening Prayer xiii

Introduction xv

1 God in Himself, Part 1: The Glorious, Self-Sustaining, Eternal Being of the Shepherd 1

2 God in Himself, Part 2: Living in Mindfulness of Our Magnificent God 24

3 Why There Are People on Earth 49

4 Why Such Lack and Evil? 67

5 Trust in God: The Key to Life 94

6 Trust Completed in Death to Self 124

7 Sufficiency Completed in Love 157

8 All the Days of My Life 186

Closing Prayer 214

Study Guide for Individuals and Groups 217

Appendix A Passages Testifying to the Abundant Provision of God 246

Appendix B "Humility and Death to Self" Andrew Murray 253

Acknowledgments 258

Notes 260

About the Author 265

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