If you are not familiar with the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer you need to be. Few individuals have impacted my life as much as the story and legacy of this German pastor has in the past three months. I received Eric Metaxas' recent biography of Bonhoeffer for my birthday this past December and once I began reading I could not set the book down. Metaxas brilliantly traces Bonhoeffer's journey towards glory with a craft and clarity that only a skillful author is able to do. Yet, the great advantage Metaxas has in his work is the magnificence of the content he had to interact with. The tale of one of the most influential pastors and theologians of his time embarking on a journey of prophecy, resistance, and espionage against the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, and ultimately facing his death as a result does not allow for heavy eyes. I strongly recommend this book (as well as Bonhoeffer's own writings) to anyone looking to be greatly challenged and encouraged.
I now offer you a few brief thoughts on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
What most consistently stood out to me while reading was the deep and genuine focus that Bonhoeffer showed throughout his life. In a world of German nationalism and pride that demanded attention in so many different ways, Bonhoeffer chose to focus entirely on the will of God. The text chosen at Bonhoeffer's memorial service, and the text he chose himself to preach only months before Hitler came to power, was 2 Chronicles 20:12b:
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
Bonhoeffer preached these words not simply in speech or ideas, but with his entire life. He understood that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ truly means to live every moment in complete focus and submission to His will. As best he could, Bonhoeffer sought to discern God's will for his life and to follow faithfully. When he had become convinced that his calling was to defend the true church, and true Christianity, in the face of great and terrifying evil, he found peace in the challenge.
My calling is quite clear to me. What God will make of it I do not know . . . I must follow the path. Perhaps it will not be such a long one (Phil 1:23). But it is a fine thing to have realized my calling
As Bonhoeffer focused his eyes on Christ and Christ alone, and discerned his calling, he was empowered to live they way he did. This focus led to his involvement in the resistance against Hitler, and ultimately led to his imprisonment and execution. Yet, this focus allowed him to live in the perfect freedom that can only be gained by giving up any "freedom" we have to the will of God. Bonhoeffer was a slave to Christ and no one else. So, even when he was stripped of his earthly freedom to preach, teach, travel, and directly fight for the cause he was called to, he was indeed a free man! This focus on Christ freed him from any bondage Hitler's Germany could place on him. This freedom allowed him to say hours before his execution, "This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood discipleship, he understood what it meant to take up his cross and follow Christ, he understood focus. My prayer is that God would be gracious to us all and grant us faith and focus like that of Bonhoeffer. We must live our lives with eyes fixed upon Jesus Christ and plead for the strength to see our utter weakness and follow His will, and His will alone, no matter what the cost. We cannot live disconnected from this present world, but at the same time we must look ever towards God and his Kingdom. For to live is Christ!
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust . . .
Make me to know you ways, O Lord;
Teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
For you are the God of my salvation . . .
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
For he will pluck my feet out of the net.