One of the blessings (and honestly one of my favorite parts) of being a Christian Education major is the regularity with which we hear and plan class devotionals or lessons. For my Tuesday night Spiritual Theology class, I had to lead closing reflections and prayer this week. These passages from Bonhoeffer had been on my mind recently and as I prayed through them, I realized it was what I should share with the class. Wouldn’t you know, the topic of the class session was the church and Christian community. . .
“In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. 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 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. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? 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 under God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for all of us in Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
I am all about expecting God to do big things. I have a firm belief in the power of prayer and the call of believers to intercede for things that seem impossible. I think we often forget that the one we speak with is He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
That being said, Bonhoeffer is onto something here that I think is a real danger for Christians, especially those living in Christian community. Honestly, the more prominent and pervasive the community, the easier it can be to fall into. We formulate these expectations of what our community should look like and we are left disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Or when we realize the people around us are messy, broken, sinful people that are capable of hurting us and letting us down. We start asking God to move in big ways, peering over to see what He will do like a kid on Christmas morning. But we miss what He’s doing right in front of us. In praying for the Red Seas to part, we miss the ways the Lord is loving us and moving in the midst of our everyday (whether that’s in Egypt or the Promise Land).
The people that the Lord has put around us are a blessing. They are a privilege. Christian community is not something we deserve, have earned, or are good enough for. There are hundreds of thousands of believers around the world who are lacking fellowship with brothers and sisters.
I get it – your community may not look the way you want. You may be living among broken people and in messy situations, situations where you are expecting God to move in mighty ways. God may not be bringing the relationships you want, whether that means He’s not bringing them at all or He’s bringing different ones than you wanted. Or maybe your community is amazing and you are in danger of elevating the people in your life on an unrealistic pedestal.
I’m convicted by Bonhoeffer’s words about receiving both the big and small things from God. The thing is, I often can’t see the small things with my own human vision (how often do I even miss the big things!). Which means that this growth is going to require the Lord’s grace and Spirit to open the eyes of my heart to see all that He is doing.
The good thing is, He loves to do that.