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The Habit of Keeping Divine Company

A warning against the overcrowded life

To see Jesus is to see the unrelenting needs of the crowds (and his tireless compassion). It is also to glimpse their impossible expectations and unreliable love. Though the crowd reveled initially in Jesus' power, their praise proved murderously fickle. The crowds who once were so eager to touch the hem of his robe were the very same crowds who delivered him into the hands of Roman executioners. “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” turned to jeers just days later: “Crucify him!

As Jesus' life bears out, the crowds cannot be trusted. They will give more than they take, and their love will prove unreliable. We need “the day alone.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's “The Day Alone”

Long before the era of the smartphone, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against the overcrowded life. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community,” he wrote in his book Life Together. It will seem ironic that a book intended to teach Christians about living in community would include a chapter called “The Day Alone,” but Bonhoeffer understood that even in ministry we often selfishly seek from the crowds love and affirmation they were never meant to give.

To protect from using the crowds for selfish purposes, Bonhoeffer suggested that every Christian consecrate an hour of silence to daily meditation on Scripture, prayer, and intercession for other Christians. In the day alone, we heed the voice of the Father, who launches his children into ministry with the bold affirmation of his love: “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” (Mark 1:11).

Bonhoeffer insisted on three crucial components to the practice of the day alone. First he attested to the need for serious engagement with the Scriptures—though not as preparation to preach a sermon or lead a Bible study. “We do not ask what this text has to say to other people,” Bonhoeffer writes. “We are rather waiting on God's word for us.” Meditation on Scripture must be an expectant, attentive, and patient act of listening, anchored in the grace that God is willing to speak.

Second, Bonhoeffer affirmed that meditation on God's Word would lead organically to prayer, which he described as “the readiness and willingness to receive and appropriate the Word.” To read the Scriptures is to seek to be formed as God's obedient people. We don't simply accumulate knowledge. Rather, we ask for God's kingdom to come to earth and surrender ourselves to become part of the answer to our own prayers. Through prayer, we become the conscripted and commissioned. “Here I am. Send me.”

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