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The First Reason Dietrich Bonhoeffer Can Impact Us: Scripture Meditation

Introduction:

The first reason why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact our preaching is the high premium on the meditation on the Scriptures. To Bonhoeffer, meditation on God’s Word was absolutely essential for every follower of Jesus. In his work, Meditation of Psalm 119, he wrote:

Therefore, it is never sufficient simply to have read God’s Word. It must penetrate deep within us, dwell in us, like the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary, so that we do not sin in thought, word or deed.[1]

To Bonhoeffer, scripture meditation was even more important for pastors and preachers because if the word of God did not become full in his heart through meditation and prayer, how could he expect to properly explain the word to his congregation. He wrote, “I will offend against my calling if I do not seek each day in prayer the word that my Lord wants me to say that day[2]  

Biblical Foundation:

Meditation on the scriptures is a biblical theme based on passages such as Joshua 1. As Joshua succeeded Moses and was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land, God said to him…“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord  your God will be with you wherever you go” (vs. 8-9). God made it clear to Joshua that success and obedience will grow out of meditation on God’s word.

The Hebrew word for “meditate” means to “ponder” and “study.”[3] The word can be translated “recite it quietly.”[4] Matthew Henry wrote that Joshua was granted a “great trust” by God. Therefore, “he must find time…for meditation.” In regards to us, Henry continued: “Whatever affairs of this world we have to mind, we must not neglect the one thing needful”[5]

Psalm 1 also makes it clear that God will bless those who consistently meditate on his word: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

There is a connection between scripture meditation and being blessed by God. The Hebrew word for “meditate” is the same word in Joshua 1:8. God will bless the person who recites slowly and studies and ponders the word of God. To be blessed by God is more than being happy. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that the word “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 is a “very expressive word: 

The original word is plural…Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and the greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, “Oh, the blessedness!” and we may regard it…as joyful acclamation of the gracious man’s felicity. May the like benediction rest on us![6]

Benefits of Meditation:

As seen in Joshua 1, God will also bless with success and fruitfulness. Bonhoeffer knew that the promises of Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 were true. He offered the following reasons why he meditated on the word of God:

Because I am Christian. Therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me.

Because I am a preacher of the Word. I cannot expound the Scripture for others if I do not let it speak daily to me. I will misuse the Word in my office as preacher if I do not continue to meditate upon it in prayer.

Because I need a firm discipline of prayer.

Because I need help against the ungodly haste and unrest which threaten my work as a pastor. Only from the peace of God’s Word can there flow the proper, devoted service of each day.[7]

Bonhoeffer’s years of scripture meditation may have benefited him in his final years, months and days in prison. Even when he knew he would be executed, he continued to be characterized by joy and peace. Bonhoeffer’s outlook was witnessed by British officer Captain S. Payne Best. Best was captured by the Gestapo in 1939. They were fellow prisoners during Bonhoeffer’s final weeks. Best wrote that Bonhoeffer: was all humility and sweetness; he always seemed to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in the very smallest event in life, and a deep gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close to him[8]  

In a letter to Bonhoeffer’s family, Captain Best wrote that “Bonhoeffer was different (from the other prisoners); just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfect at ease…his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison.”[9] No doubt the promise of Psalm 1:1 was fulfilled. Bonhoeffer was blessed because be meditated on the word of the Lord day and night; and he was a tree planted by streams of water that yielded fruit (Psalm 1:3).

Scripture Meditation for Twenty-First Century Preaching:

Because twenty-first century preachers and pastors face many demands on their time, it is crucial that a portion of time be set aside daily to meditate on God’s Word. What would this look like in the daily schedule of a preacher?  John Piper explains the process of scripture meditation:

Now what does this meditation involve? The word “meditation” in Hebrew means basically to speak or to mutter. When this is done in the heart, it is called musing or meditation. So meditating on the Word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it—to mull it over, to ask questions about it and answer them from the Scripture itself, to ask yourself how this might apply to you and others, and to ponder its implications for life and church and culture and missions.

One simple way to do this is to memorize a verse or two and then say them to yourself once, emphasizing the first word. Then say them to yourself again, emphasizing the second word. Then say them a third time, emphasizing the third word. And so on, over and over again, until you have meditated on the reason why each word is there. Then you can start asking relational questions. If this word is used, why is that word used? The possibilities of musing and pondering and meditating are endless. And always we pray as we ponder, asking for God’s help and light.[10]

Piper’s understanding of biblical meditation is similar to Bonhoeffer’s perspective. In Meditating on the Word, he defined it as:

In the same way that the word of a person who is dear to me follows me throughout the day, so the Word of Scripture should resonate and work within me ceaselessly. Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation…Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.[11]

A twenty-first century pastor and preacher must possess the discipline to set aside portions of the day to meditate on God’s Word. In doing so, “we are taking the time to ponder the Word of God, allowing for the Holy Spirit to reveal the riches of wisdom.”[12]

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[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, (Nashville: Cowley Publications, 1986), 127-128.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 32.

[4] The NET Bible: First Beta Edition (2001), 434.

[5] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume Two (Old Tappen: Fleming H. Revell Company), 5.

[6] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume One (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), 1.

[7] Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, 30-32.

[8] S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident (London: Hutchinson and  Co. LTD, 1950), 180.

[9] Quoted in Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A  Testament to Freedom, (San Fransico: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 43.

[10] John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 125.

[11] Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, 32-33.

[12] Douglas J. Rumford, Soul Shaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996), 252.

By Matthew D. Hamilton

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spiritual disciplines

Dietrich Bonhoeffer largely derives his fame from his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazi regime. Under immense stress, Bonhoeffer’s religious convictions prompted him to fight for the true good of the German people against genocidal tyranny. Understandably so, less attention has been paid to his theology and his understanding of private Christian faith. However, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings demonstrate a vital nuance to personal, spiritual practices that ought to inform our private faith today.

Before his involvement in the assassination plot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer retreated to relative obscurity and operated an underground seminary in the German town of Finkenwalde. Here, removed from the political activities of his day, Bonhoeffer gives us the best glimpse of his expectations for personal spirituality.

Practicing spiritual disciplines

To prepare his seminarians for ministry, Bonhoeffer mandated disciplines very familiar to us.

Bonhoeffer required his students to read Scripture privately, writing, “We are not permitted to neglect this daily encounter with Scripture.” Bonhoeffer intentionally uses the word “encounter” here as he disallowed that this time would be an academic or pastoral pursuit: The ministers-to-be were not allowed to search for sermon material or use a Greek New Testament; rather, Scripture study was meditative, or prayerful, and enabled the Finkenwalde seminarians “to encounter Christ in his own word.” Thus, the “goal [of Scriptural meditation] is Christ’s community, Christ’s help and Christ’s guidance.”

Bonhoeffer also insisted that his seminarians fasted. Arguing that it reminded them of their “estrangement” from the world, he regarded this practice as nonnegotiable. Just as prayerful Scripture reading ultimately looks to encounter God, Bonhoeffer does not see fasting as an end in itself but rather a response to faith in Christ, a means of orienting one’s life to God.

However, Bonhoeffer appears to speak out of both sides of his mouth, paradoxically railing against retreat from the world. In Ethics, he writes firmly, “For the Christian there is nowhere to retreat from the world, neither externally nor into the inner life.” In After Ten Years, he develops this criticism a little further:

In flight from public discussion and examination, this or that person may well attain the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But he must close his eyes and mouth to the injustice around him. He can remain undefiled by the consequences of responsible action only by deceiving himself… He will either perish from that restlessness or turn into a hypocritical, self-righteous, small-minded human being.

Developing a moral backbone

How then are we to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s actions and commands?

While condemning withdrawal from the world, Bonhoeffer appears to do the very thing he hates, retreating to Finkenwalde and exhorting his students toward inward-focused, privatistic practices

In her essay “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” Victoria J. Barnett, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust, notes Bonhoeffer’s awareness of this exact contradiction: “The Finkenwalde experiment opened up the risk inherent in any kind of internal exile, which is that it becomes a flight into a privatized kind of discipleship.” Barnett thus indicates that while the Finkenwalde period may appear apolitical, Bonhoeffer understood this apparent contradiction.

However, his other writings—as well as more insight from Barnett—provide a fascinating dimension to Bonhoeffer’s personal spirituality which resolves this tension. Rather than seeing spiritual disciplines as a retreat from the world, Bonhoeffer understands spirituality as the necessary foundation for Christian political action.

Retreating to Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer was not neglecting or refusing the world. Rather, Barnett’s essay highlights how he here sought “the creation of moral backbone and the establishment of the discipline his students would need if they were to stay on the right path” under the attractive Nazi regime.

For the rest of the post…

“The Psalter is the great school of prayer.”

Image result for the psalter bonhoeffer

“Furthermore, [the unchristian environment] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified. Has it transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day can decide.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Life Together 

Image result for Life Together 1954

First Thoughts: Biblical meditation (part 1)

By Adam Bradley

As I continue to share with you some of the things God spoke to me about whilst on sabbatical, I want to focus this week on the important but often neglected tool (or, in old money, discipline) that is meditation.

It’s amazing how, as I write the word meditation, my mind drifts swiftly to images of people with crossed legs, chanting some repetitive religious mantra. Why is it that, as Christians, we so quickly lose sight of the central place that biblical mediation has played in the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) for the last two thousand years? Take for example Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by the Nazis. When asked why he meditated he replied, ‘Because I am a Christian’. In addition to the witness of so many in the church over the last 2,000 years, we find the practice of mediation used by those faithfully following the Lord again and again in scripture – at least 55 times in the Old Testament alone! Find examples in Genesis 24:63, Psalm 63:6 and Psalm 119:148.

So what is biblical mediation?

Richard Foster describes biblical meditation as ‘very simply, … the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word‘. How does it differ from just reading the Bible?

For the rest of the post…

I am praying and writing in my journal and meditating on Hebrews 3:13…

“But exhort one one another every day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

 Oh yeah, in the background on TV is the World Series! My team, the Red Sox are playing the Cardinals.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stressed the value of meditating on God’s Word when he was the Director of the underground seminary at Finkenwalde. Students were required to meditate 30 minutes per day on a passage selected by Bonhoeffer.

Today, I have focused on Lamentations 3:26…

“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (ESV).

With the pressures of ministry, I found peace when I waited quietly (No phone, no Facebook, no TV, etc.) on the Lord through prayer and meditation.

How is your meditation coming? I still have a long ways to go!

Bryan

Leap-of-Faith-Face-FearA Soul Shepherding Devotional
“Inviting God’s touch in your soul”
By Bill Gaultiere © 2013

What do you do when you’re afraid? What helps you to face your fears and endure pain? Recently I faced fear and pain when I went through a colonoscopy without sedation or anesthesia.

The nurses kept trying to talk me into letting them give me medicine. The doctor said the pain level would be close to the pain of labor in child birth and that only one person in five hundred goes without medication. I persisted with my request and finally they said I could do it “natural” if I signed a waiver.

Why would I do this? Why willingly suffer pain and fear when you don’t have to? Avoiding the sedation and anesthesia side effects of feeling lousy and loopy for hours afterward wasn’t my motivation. Neither was it about staying awake and alert during the procedure. For me it was a spiritual exercise.

A Leap of Faith?

“We live by faith, not by sight,” the Bible says (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV). It’s easy to say this, but do we actually do it? Do we venture out into the unknown that scares us with confidence that God will actually be with us to sustain us? Here was an opportunity for me to trust that the risen Christ truly was with me in Spirit to comfort me and give me strength.

This was not a “leap of faith.” Many think it’s a virtue to leap blindly, even impulsively, into the dark, expecting God to catch us before we fall. That’s a romantic notion, but it leads to lots of bruises! Or to playing things safe because you don’t have any real faith to leap with.

True faith is confidence in God which is based on knowledge of God and his loving care. it’s our knowledge of spiritual reality that enables us to extend beyond that knowledge into the unknown. That’s why the writer to Hebrews says, “Now faith is the substance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). Substance. Evidence. Faith is tied toknowledge of spiritual reality. (See our Bible Study on “Knowing Christ Today.”)

The Power of Scripture Meditation

It wouldn’t be wise for me or anyone to endure a colonoscopy “natural” without having come to know another resource to count on in times of distress. I knew I didn’t need drugs but could be transported to an alternate reality through Scripture Meditation. I was not seeking an empty Nirvanah, but the unseen spiritual reality of God’s Kingdom. I was not detaching into nothingness, but into a personal connection with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

It’s important to understand that to attach to the Lord we need to detach from controlling things. And there’s a lot I wanted to control about the colonoscopy! I didn’t want to experience pain for thirty minutes. I didn’t want to face feelings of fear. I didn’t want to submit to such an embarrassing, intrusive procedure. I let go of all that to trust the Word of God.

I used a “Watch and Pray” (Matthew 26:41) discipline of imagining myself undergoing the trial of the colonoscopy and as I anticipated this I drew nourishment from Psalm 91, which I had memorized years ago. I was at peace. I carried this right into my colonoscopy, sometimes breathing the words in and out, and I found that I was indeed transported beyond the medical clinic and into the heavenly realms.

As I laid on my side in my hospital bed I became like a little chick, cuddling in the soft feathers of El Shaddai, hiding under his wing. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1, NIV). I was at rest. So much so that by God’s grace I didn’t just “grin and bear it” to get through the pain, which was considerable at times, but I remained peaceful. God even helped me to be cheerful and to offer words of appreciation to the doctor and nurses during the colonoscopy!

For the rest of the post…

To be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey.

~Dietrich BonhoefferMeditating on the Word

Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together, quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the danger of spending many hours in with non-believers…

Every day brings to the Christian many hours in which he will be alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. These are the times of testing. This is the test of true meditation and true Christian community. 

Walker writes that The Big Idea is…

After meditating before God in the morning, we will be tested throughout the day. Bonhoeffer says this will reveal whether or not our time with God “lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in our heart that it holds and fortifies us, moving us “to active love, to obedience, to good works.”

Walker added…

When we head into the day, we quickly see if our time spent with God in the morning or slips away. Are we walking in the reality of God’s grace or are we living in in a fantasy where we live as if we are independent from God? 

…Jesus is…Jesus consistently spent time with God in the morning and it strengthened him when he faced temptation.

…To be like Jesus…By faithfully meeting God each morning, we can enter the day confident that God is at work in and around us!

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 20)

Let us take the time each day to meditate on God’s Holy Word!

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