Life Together – The day with others

Dietrich_BonhoefferThis is the second in a series, taking an in-depth review of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, Life Together (Community, The Day Alone, Ministry, Confession & Communion).

After having considered the nature and purpose of the Christian community and the foundation on which it rests, Bonhoeffer begins to establish a rule of life. A pattern to be adopted by believers in community or simply by a family.

Bonhoeffer sees hope and victory in dawn, a sign that the night has been defeated, darkness gives way to light. He issues a passionate call to begin each day in Christian hope:

“At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs. ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’ (Eph 5:14)” (p.29)

The family or community are urged to begin the day at dawn for praise and thanks, reading of the Scriptures and prayer and finds plenty of encouragement in the scriptures in rising early to meet the day. Bonhoeffer’s rule isn’t rigid, ‘different fellowships will require different forms of worship’ and a family with children ‘needs a different devotion from that of a fellowship of ministers’ but says all should contain the same basic elements; Scripture, singing and prayer and then proceeds to look at each element.

He begins with a reflection on the place of the Psalms both as the basis for our worship and our prayers. We should pray the Psalms corporately and takes his cue from Oetinger who argued that the sweep of the Psalms ‘was concerned with nothing more nor less than the brief petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.’

“The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.” (p.35)

From the Psalms, Bonhoeffer moves to the daily reading of Scripture and argues that ‘brief verses cannot and should not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole’ and comes against the idea of using Scripture as some blessed thought for the day. His prescription, I imagine, will jar with many modern families; “A Christian family fellowship should surely be able to read and listen to a chapter of the Old Testament and at least half of a chapter of the New Testament every morning and evening.” (p.36)

I’m unsure as to whether I should be encouraged or discouraged by the fact that Bonhoeffer laments the lack of knowledge of the Bible. It is at least a failing that has been around for 80 years now.

“If it is really true that it is hard for us, as adult Christians, to comprehend even a chapter of the Old Testament in sequence, then this can only fill us with profound shame; what kind of testimony is that to our knowledge of the Scriptures and all our previous reading of them? If we were familiar with the substance of what we read we should be able to follow a chapter without difficulty, especially if we have an open Bible in our hands and participate in the reading. But, of course, we must admit that the Scriptures are still largely unknown to us. Can the realisation of our fault, our ignorance of the Word of God, have any other consequence than that we should earnestly and faithfully retrieve what has been neglected?” (p.36-37)

After all, ‘one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian.’

From Scripture we move to song, himself an accomplished musician, Bonhoeffer had been greatly impacted by the churches in Harlem, New York. Songs and hymns remained of vital importance. Bonhoeffer encourages the family to sing daily, to memorize hymns and encouraged separate times in the week for the community to sing and praise God together.

‘The more we sing, the more joy will we derive from it, but above all, the more devotion and discipline and joy we put into our singing, the richer will be the blessing that will come to the whole life of the fellowship from singing together.”

Singing, for Bonhoeffer, also became an expression of unity, not just within the fellowship but with the global church;

“All singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian Church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the Church.” (p.45)

From singing to prayer, regular, faithful, daily prayer in your own words forms with everyone taking turns to lead the fellowship in prayer to God.

From prayer Bonhoeffer moves to breakfast; ‘eternal bread before temporal bread’. He identifies in Scripture three kinds of table fellowship: daily fellowship at meals, the table fellowship of the Lords Supper and final table fellowship of the Kingdom of God (p.49). Meals become as important as prayer, we see them as the blessing of God.

“Christians, in their wholehearted joy in the good gifts of this physical life, acknowledge their Lord as the true giver of all good gifts; and beyond this, as the true Gift; the true Bread of Life itself; and finally, as the One who is calling them to the banquet of the Kingdom of God.” (p.50)

Meals should be festive and enjoyable, reminding us of rest in God, of fellowship, of blessing and learning the habits of rejoicing.

Only then are we ready to go to work, ‘prayer is entitled to its time. But the bulk of the day belongs to work.’ Yet Bonhoeffer sees the necessity of prayer in laying the foundation for a productive day.

“The prayer of the morning will determine the day.”

“The organization and distribution of our time will be better for having been rooted in prayer.”

“Our strength and energy for work increase when we have prayed to God to give us the strength we need for our daily work.”

Break from lunch, meet with the fellowship if possible. Reset your gaze and then at the end of the day meet again, give thanks, forgive and be reconciled where necessary and commit yourself to the Lord.

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