The Holiness of Work – Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (Listening to the Saints)

I am still wanting to share more of what I learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s amazing, classic book, Life Together.  Maybe I want to keep sharing on it because I am mad no one made me read it in seminary.  Or maybe I just really want others to read it.  Most of the books on the bookshelf of the local Christian bookstore will soon  be forgotten (probably like bookstores themselves) but Bonhoeffer’s will stand the test of time.

He made a few comments on work which I think Christians today could find helpful.  Growing up I always got the impression that work was somehow less important then the spiritual stuff that happened in church.  Pastors and missionaries were people who worked for God, everyone else had to settle for some lesser work to pass the time.  Hopefully they could evangelize their coworkers while there, or carve out enough time to do church work as volunteers on the side.  But there was never much about any sort of holiness or inherent goodness to work.  I have read and learned a lot more on this over the years (for one example, see what I wrote about here ).

Here is what Bonhoeffer says:

“Just as it was God’s will that human beings should work six days and rest and celebrate before the face of God on the seventh, so it is also God’s will that every day should be marked for the Christian both by prayer and work. Prayer also requires its own time. But the longest part of the day belongs to work. The inseparable unity of both will only become clear when work and prayer each receives its own undivided due. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer; and without prayer, work is not work. Only the Christian knows that. Thus it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes apparent” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 1491-1495). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).

“The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because finding the You of God behind the It of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5: 17)” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 1504-1506). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition)

“We will see at this point whether Christians’ time of meditation has led them into an unreal world from which they awaken with a fright when they step out into the workaday world, or whether it has led them into the real world of God from which they enter into the day’s activities strengthened and purified. Has it transported them for a few short moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and strengthens them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works?” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 1960-1964). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.)

Bonhoeffer calls for a balance of both prayer and work.  It makes me think that prayer is kind of like breakfast – just as we need food to give us strength in the beginning of our day and to set the tone, so we need spiritual food to set the spiritual tone each morning.

Looking ahead to another year of campus ministry, these words from Bonhoeffer leave me desiring two things:

1. That the students dedicate time each day for the discipline of prayer (and other spiritual disciplines)

2. That the students learn to integrate their faith with their major, seeing their study and work as a holy calling.

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