Hello again, my friends, we will tackle both chapters 3 and 4 this week, so here we go. Chapter 3 is used to contrast the rhythms of the day with others by presenting Bonhoeffer’s suggested model for individual discipleship practices that he believes will best compliment what experience the Christian has with the rest of the Christian community. Sometimes I find it hard to reflect on Bonhoeffer because I find myself just wanting to regurgitate the whole text… I think the opening paragraphs of the chapter do a great job of establishing the importance of both the day with others and the day alone. Its best summarized by this quote, “We recognize, then, that only as we are in the fellowship can be we alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone, and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. (P. 78). In other words, what is the point of personal discipleship if you don’t let it be shaped by the practices and wisdom of those around you? What is the point of having those conversations if nobody has anything personal to share? How can your experience in a Christian community be healthy if you are too afraid to be alone with God?
If you thought last chapter was fruitful in terms of discipleship practice tips, this one will knock you off your feet! Bonhoeffer outlines three times during the day when aloneness is critical: scripture meditation, prayer, and intercession. Here’s Bonhoeffer’s challenge concerning scripture meditation,: to read God’s word for YOU. Here’s a helpful quote, “In our meditation we ponder the text under the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God’s word for the church, but also God’s word for us. Individually, we expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally, and when we do this, we are doing no more than the simplest untutored Christian does everyday. We read God’s word as God’s word for us, we do not ask what this text has to say to other people (P. 82).” Most of the readers of this blog are members of council or leadership, so you find yourself responsible for communicating the word in some way or another. Sometimes that means you fall into the trap of reading a passage of scripture and thinking, ‘how am I going to preach/teach on this? How would I explain this to a friend? How do I read x, y, z news story into this scripture…’ We have to remember that God’s word is always in some way personal to us. If we outback our coverage and start trying to find sermons in everything we read, we will suddenly find that we no longer have that personal relationship with and love for God’s word.
We read that scripture meditation should lead directly to prayer, here is my favorite quote from that section. “Prayer means nothing else but the readiness and willingness to receive and appropriate the word, and, what is more, to accept it in one’s personal situation (P. 84).” I think this explanation calls us to adopt verses of scripture as our prayers during all circumstances. In times of great joy and abundance, we praise the Lord for his goodness. In times of trial and pain, we praise the Lord because we know he is faithful. Tony and I were chatting about the practice of lecctio divina, which is a multistep method for meditating on the word. One of those steps is called, “oratio,” and it refers to the step during which you write a prayer based on the verse of scripture that you have read. Personally, this is an element I would very much like to improve in my devotional time. I feel like it’s important for us to find methods of response that are expressive, and I think prayers can do that well.
The last of these three times of meditation is the intercession, that is, the lifting up of our brothers and sisters in prayer. I had never thought about it this way, but Bonhoeffer suggests that intercession helps us to see our brother or sister as a fellow sinner, to picture them at the cross, and to then feel their pain and suffering as our own. Bonhoeffer’s humble approach led him to say on page 86 that we can no longer hate and condemn one another when we fully understand that we each have crosses to bear just like our neighbors do. I encourage you to intentionally add some time for intercession in your daily time with God and ask that he help you to be sincere in that time so that when you pray, “Lord, have mercy on my brother or sister,” you really mean it out of compassion for them.
The rest of chapter 3 is really great, but let’s move on to chapter 4 for now. I said a few lines ago that most of you are very involved in the leadership here at Wesley, well chapter 4 is for you! There are four types of ministries outlined here, and they all fall under one theme. There is this general idea that the world tells us that everyone has a place, a place of authority or submission, a place of weakness or strength, a place of poverty or wealth. Bonhoeffer’s argument is that these positions, good or bad, aren’t supposed to impact the way that life happens together. When we minister to one another and to a community at large, we must move past the dynamics of power, because the ministries of listening, active helpfulness, bearing, and proclaiming, are for all people. I will pose one question per ministry and leave it to you guys in the comments to achieve world peace with your answers. :)
- “He who can no longer put up with listening to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God as well (P. 98).” In what ways is conversation helpful for discerning God’s will for a person or a community? How does God speak through people?
- Where do you believe is the balance between serving your brothers and sisters and idolizing the ministry of helpfulness?
- “It is only when he becomes a burden that he becomes a brother, and not merely an object too be manipulated (P. 100).” How do you see your brothers and sisters as burdens, without acting like you see them as burdens?
- “We are concerned with that unique situation in which one person bears witness to another person by speaking the whole consolation of God, the admonition, the kindness, and the severity of God (P. 104).” When we do our duty to proclaim the word of God to our brother or sister, we have a responsibility to include the admonition, kindness, and severity. Which one do we have the hardest time with?
I hope you enjoy the reading, and I hope you let the Spirit work this in you mind a little bit. Let me know what you think in the comments. Shoutout to Mr. Bo Sigrest for dropping a comment last week!