Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A recurrent subject that arises often with young people attending NHOP is the topic of simply how to pray, or useful methods for creating and maintaining an active prayer life.

There is a general desire to pray or an understanding of its importance, some even are coming from Christian cultural prayer hot spots of prayer. Yet when being open there is often a frustration communicated when approaching prayer personally and not corporately or at a worship service etc.

I have seen this first hand in our Internship programs at NHOP. During prayer times with teams or worship & prayer sessions Interns seem to continue to grow or many can jump right in depending on their background.  But within a few weeks comes the struggle of maintaining personal prayer without the familiarity of the group setting or the sounds of worship.

This term I began to incorporate some material gleaned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as others on the subject of meditating on scripture. These principles proved valuable for helping to act as a guide for growing in ones personal prayer life and I thought I would share some of the principles as many are looking to kick start the new year with spiritual resolutions.

First off I think the term ‘meditation’ can cause some puzzled looks and hesitancy. This is understandable most of us have a view of meditation from an eastern religious mindset. Perhaps when you read the word ‘meditation’ mentioned in scripture it puzzles you. Images of eastern guru’s, new age personalities and the likes may come to mind and you wonder, “what’s the bible doing with meditation in it”?

The eastern religious methods of meditation involve the practice and the pursuit of emptying ones mind in order to reach a desired state of being. “Enlightenment” for example in Buddhism or “Nirvana” (Buddhist term for salvation) is liberating oneself from the existence of the self. The self is a source of spiritual unrest for the Buddhist, rest is found by realizing the unreality of ones existence.

So the emptying of ones mind serves the purpose of attempting to stop the inner turmoil of the human condition when out of relationship with God. Compare this with Psalm 62:1 -2  “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken”, and we see a radically different view of where rest is found for the Christian and the source of salvation.

Not only this but the bible also commands us to love God with all of our heart soul and mind, I cant see how emptying ones mind would fulfill this.

So what does the bible mean when it speaks of meditating?

Simply put it is to prayerfully read and deeply ponder the word of God in pursuit of knowing Him better.

In Joshua chapter 1 we see God telling Joshua to meditate on His word both day and night for wisdom as he lead the Israelite people. Joshua 1:8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; 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.”

As we prayerfully consider and ponder the word of God during our reading, turning it over and over in our mind to understand all of its truth and implications, allowing God to apply His living word to specific areas in our life, we begin to participate in what it is to meditate according to Gods word.

As in any discipline the benefit of a having guidelines for direction is imperative for success. Bonhoeffer recognizing this laid out these principles for his pupils at the underground seminary in which he brought leadership.

The goal of meditation according to Bonhoeffer was “to meet Christ in His word”.  Here are some of the principles he employed to do just that, taken from excerpts from “Meditating on the Word” by Bonheoffer.

  1. “Meet Him first in the day, before you meet other people. Lay upon him everything that preoccupies and weighs you down, before new burdens are laid upon you. Ask yourself what still hinders you from following him completely and let him take charge of that, before new hindrances are placed in your way.
  2. As you read scripture “Do not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would in a sermon! Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has possession of you.
  3. “What Text and how long should the text be? It has proven helpful to meditate on a text of approximately ten to fifteen verses for a period of a week. It is not good to meditate on a different verse each, since we are not always equally receptive.”
  4. “If during meditation our thoughts move to persons who are near to us or to those we are concerned about, then let them linger there.  That is a good time to pray for them. Don’t pray in general, then, but in particular for the people who are in your mind. Let the Word of Scripture tell you what you ought to pray for them.” (This point I find most useful for keeping on task when your mind wonders as it pulls the passage back to the forefront and refocuses your mind back to the selected scripture).
  5. Bonhoeffer recommends a half hour to get the maximum from your time but also complete quiet so as to remove any distractions. Your aim is to let the Word guide you not any other external triggers like music etc.

I hope these five points begin to lay the foundation for building up your personal prayer life. For sure there will be difficulties in this age of distractions. But the rewards are great for those that continue to persevere.

Bonhoeffer encouraged his seminarians not to be impatient with themselves, as they began to learn the practice of meditating on scripture. If your thoughts wonder do as the 4th principle wisely instructed and allow wherever your mind has wondered to be part of what your scripture meditation is for that day. By doing this you incorporate the person or place to which it has wondered and it assists in finding your way back to the text.

Rob Jr.