Willard attended william Jewell College, and later graduated from Tennessee Temple College in 1956 with a B.A. in Psychology, and from Baylor University in 1957 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion. He went to graduate school at Baylor University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin with a minor in the History of Science in 1964.
Willard died on May 8, 2013, after a short battle with cancer. His last words were said to be "Thank you."
In this regard, being an apprentice of Jesus (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like him), involves learning about activities that might help one grow in the fruit of the spirit, namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Such activities might include spiritual exercises practiced throughout the ages such as prayer, fellowship, Service, study, simplicity, chastity, solitude, and fasting. Willard explains the crucial role of engaging in spiritual exercises in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives—a book that was written after In Search of Guidance: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.
In addition to teaching and writing about philosophy, Willard gave lectures and wrote books about Christianity and Christian living. His book The Divine Conspiracy was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year for 1999. Another of his books, Renovation of the Heart, won Christianity Today’s 2003 Book Award for books on Spirituality and The Association of Logos Bookstores' 2003 Book Award for books on Christian Living.