Sunday, June 12, 2011

On being thankful for the small things (Bonhoeffer)

As promised I'm back from a 2-week family vacation road trip -- though "family vacation" is an oxymoron when the family includes a toddler and an infant. Nevertheless a good time was had by all and I found time for a little reading, which included Life Together, a book I've read many times and quoted here often. No matter how many times I read it Life Together surprises me with its depth of insight. Here is some wisdom from chapter one on community.

Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. . . . If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer goes on to warn pastors, especially, against complaining to God about their congregations. Anyone who's in church leadership knows how easy it can be to become disillusioned. When a pastor or zealous church member becomes the accuser of the congregation he's set his own ideals and "wish dreams" (Bonhoeffer's phrase) up against the divine reality of Christian community. Instead of complaining he should be interceding for the brethren with an awareness of his own sin and weakness. Bonhoeffer reminds us that what seems weak or insignificant is often where Christ is most fully present -- "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor. 1:27)

What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

Quotes from pp. 29-30 of this edition

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