Photo by Lynn Freeny
So, I have been reading both the Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy- A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich” and “A Testament to Freedom: The Essential writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”. I had put off reading the biography as I did not want jump onto the “whatever is in” fad, which clearly the Metaxas book was for some time, that is, until a friend persuaded me to “READ IT!” already. The essential writings book was already part of my library, but I could not seem to get into it for what I came to realize, was a lack of context, that is no longer the case.
Once I began to read the biography and started to get a sense for the world in which Bonhoeffer lived I could better understand the origin of his point of view in his sermons and writings. And the many excerpts included in the biography just made me hunger for the complete sermons and letters, which are included in the Testament of Freedom book. Funny how things like that happen.
I am amazed at how many of the issues Bonhoeffer dealt with spiritually in his own service to Christ and especially with the church at large (both in Germany and America) are so relevant with what we are facing today personally and with the church at large. I am also much convicted by his zeal and sense of urgency in not only proclaiming the Gospel, but ensuring the Gospel he is espousing is the correct Gospel. A very real need in his time as it still is in ours. So many of the internal battles he faced are faced by many today, one such battle I witness people fighting today is illustrated very well in an Advent Letter Bonhoeffer wrote in November 1938 discussing the relationship between faith and patience. I find in the excerpt a wonderful solution to the trials I see many going through today- patience in trusting God.
“We have been doing a great deal of work here recently, thinking together about the New Testament concept of patience, during which it has become quite clear to me that all along the line we have got to the point where there is only one fundamental question. Do we want to learn the meaning of patience from the gospel? … Somehow, I’m not quite sure how, we have largely got into a way of thinking which is positively dangerous. We think that we are acting particularly responsibly if every other week we take another look at the question whether the way on which we have set out is the right one. It is particularly noticeable that such a “responsible reappraisal” always begins the moment serious difficulties appear. We then speak as though we no longer had “a proper joy and certainty” about this way, or, still worse, as though God and God’s Word were no longer as clearly present with us as they used to be”
Sound familiar yet? How often have you uttered, or heard someone voice a similar expression when struggle arose in the path that before was certainly in “God’s will” but then suddenly, due to the new found difficulty, perhaps no.
“In all this, we are ultimately trying to get round what the New Testament calls “patience” and “testing”. Paul, at any rate, did not begin to reflect whether his way was the right one when opposition and threatened, nor did Luther. They were both quite certain and glad that they should remain disciples and followers of their Lord. Dear brethren, our real trouble is not doubt about the way upon which we have set out, but our failure to be patient, to keep quiet. We still cannot imagine that today God really doesn’t want anything new from us, but simply to prove us in the old way. That is too petty, too monotonous, too undemanding for us. And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God’s cause is not always the successful one, that we could be “unsuccessful” and yet be on the right road.”
Surely I will meet with constant and perfect success in my venture if God is in it, right? How many times have you repeated this phrase to yourself the moment your ministry encounters a bump in the road? For confessions sake I have muttered it too many times. Just because to our eyes it appears to be a failure or encountering a hindrance, does not mean it is so- God’s vision is far greater than ours.
“But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm.”
Matthew 24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Hebrews 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
Have we begun in faith? Then let us continue therein.