I have imagined myself as one attempting to imitate Christ, but Willard shows me for what I really am. I tend to read the Gospels with an almost exclusive focus on the red letters (well, they used to be red anyway). Much of the narrative black print between the red lettered sections had become fly over country for me. Interesting terrain to look down at from thirty-thousand feet, but I'm more or less biding my time until I arrive at my destination: the rich teachings of the Master.
The call to "follow me" had been reduced to "follow my teaching." I have spent far more energy trying to follow what Jesus taught than I have attempting to mimic how he actually lived his life in those long stretches of black print.
And Willard calls our attention to this. If we hope to become Christlike, we follow the Master's way of life, not just his amazing teachings.
Willard points out that Jesus was, well, Christlike--sermon-on-the-mount-like--in the crisis moments of his life not simply because he was Christ, but because he had been training for these moments all of his life. Reading the narratives we see how he wove into his life a pattern of spiritual disciplines that kept him connected to his Father and developed deep patterns of Godliness that enabled him to react in a Godlike way when the evil moments were thrust upon him.
Willard contends that it is ludicrous for followers of the Master to expect that we will be able to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love our enemies, hide the good that we do--to be like Jesus in these more extreme moments--if we have not trained as he did in the everyday flyover country of our lives.
We cannot behave "on the spot" as he did and taught if in the rest of our time we live as everybody else does. The "on the spot" episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness. Our efforts to take control at that moment will fail so uniformly and so ingloriously that the whole project of following Christ will appear ridiculous to the watching world. We've all seen this happen.The secret? Jesus' secret? Spiritual disciplines. I did a quick scan of the Gospels, and the numerous disciplines Jesus practiced jumped off the pages. Some were not so obvious: though we don't see it described, his discipline of scripture memory must have been astounding--word-perfect recall after not eating for forty days? In my quick sweep of the black-lettered narratives, I frequently caught Jesus in the practice of solitude and of prayer.
Alone. On a mountain. Praying.
And he says, follow me.
If there was an easier way,
you better believe Jesus would have been the first to tell you.