On Putting Our Hopes in the Right Place—Reflections on the Writing of Bonhoeffer

After this, many of His disciples drew back (returned to their old associations) and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus said to the Twelve, Will you also go away? —John 6:66-67 (AMP)

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remains as it was before.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it call us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.

Just as Christ is Christ only in virture of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion. Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus [emphasis added], and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.

Once again, everything is left for the individual to decide. When the disciples are half-way along the road of discipleship, they come to another crossroads. Once more they are left free to choose for themselves, nothing is expected of them, nothing forced upon them. So crucial is the demand of the present hour that the disciples must be left free to make their own choice before they are told of the law of discipleship.

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.” To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ [emphasis added] and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for use. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: “He leads the way, keep close to him.”

—From The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Following Jesus is not easy, especially if we pin our hopes to a specific outcome instead of on him. For example, when we lose a loved one to death and focus only on the event or cause of death, we deny the promise of Jesus to be the resurrection and the life. Thankfully the death of loved ones is not an everyday occurrence for us. Instead, the mundane tasks of daily living tend to challenge us the most as Bonhoeffer observes above. It is in this area that “Christian conferencing,” i.e., mutual accountability, can be most useful. I would like to relate one such story from my life that illustrates how putting my hope in an outcome instead of in Christ almost cost me my faith.

Two years ago, I had my job cut in the school district where I worked as educational technologist, and was faced with the prospect of having to return to the high school classroom, something I had not done in the 11 years since earning my Ph.D. My head was not into teaching social studies to high school kids nor was that where I wanted my career path to end. I called everyone I knew who was in a position to offer me a job elsewhere but to no avail. I prayed about it, asking God to save me from a fate I considered worse than death.

God didn’t answer my prayer, at least in the way I wanted.

I found myself back in the high school classroom in my 30th year of teaching and it was like an out-of-body experience. I was horrified. Here I was, a big-shot former college professor and upper-level executive for a state agency, back in a high school classroom, back where I did not want to be. What was my response? I did what anybody who doesn’t fully put his/her trust in Jesus would do—I cursed him. I told him if this is all he thought of me, he could go to hell (he replied that he’d already been there, thank you) and that I wanted nothing to do with a god who could be so cruel to me. Never mind the fact that I still had a job and that in so having, I would be able to retire with full pension benefits. Never mind the myriad other blessings I had in my life. No sir. I was determined to jettison this god and find one who would grant my wishes; after all, I knew better than God, right? So here I was. I had pinned my hopes and feelings on a particular outcome, not on Christ. In doing so, I had set myself up to be eventually disappointed because life does not always go the way we would like nor is it always fair.

Now to be honest, that year was the most difficult year of my professional life; I hated almost every minute of it, even after I tried to develop a better attitude about it. Clearly, it was not where I was supposed to be over the long haul. But thanks be to God that he did not abandon me even as I cursed him and was ready to abandon him because he didn’t let me have my way. As I reflect on this time, I cannot help but think of Paul’s words to Timothy: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13).

The last year of my professional career seemed like it would never end but mercifully it did in June 2005. In fact, God in his tender mercy actually sent me a student teacher during that last semester and it helped make those last months more bearable. I have since retired and am preparing to pursue the ordained ministry. To this day I am not quite certain what purpose it served other than to remind me again of God’s faithfulness to his people, to point out the bankruptcy of pinning my hopes on particular events, outcomes, or persons other than Jesus, and to develop some much needed patience that I suspect I will need as an ordained minister. Come to think of it, those aren’t bad lessons to learn! Thanks be to God in our Lord Jesus Christ!

In closing, I share this experience with you because I think things like this happen all the time in the lives of Christians and we must learn to develop positive assets in our lives to help us deal with life’s hurts, heartaches, and brokeness. The only sure way we can do that is to learn to put our whole hope and trust in the person of Jesus Christ, independently of life’s events, because he is faithful and will never abandon us, even in the midst of our most profound hurt and brokenness. In other words, we must learn to live in Christ, not ourselves. As I learned in a painful way, it is only then that we can go through life with the hope, peace, joy, and courage as men and women of faith. Make no mistake. I fully expect to have my faith challenged again. This time, however, I hope to be prepared because I have found my true center.

What about you? How have you had your faith challenged and how did you deal with it? What can we Christians do to help each other during hard times and in our discipleship journeys? How can we encourage each other to lose our lives so that we might save them?

2 thoughts on “On Putting Our Hopes in the Right Place—Reflections on the Writing of Bonhoeffer

  1. Nan,
    First, my apologies for this delayed response. Business on this blog has not exactly been booming and sometimes I forget to check for comments 🙁

    Second, thank you for your kind comments; I am very grateful. I pray God will use this blog as a source of nourishment for you in some way that is beneficial for you.

    More importantly, thank you for sharing your poignant story with us. I am touched by them and by your candidness. I will add you to my prayer list; you can count on that.

    Has your renewed devotional life been of help to you at all as you struggle to cope with arthritis that plagues you? You talk about finding a Peace but you also talk about wandering through the wilderness and so I am curious about this apparent dichotomy. I am also interested to know if you think things would be worse if you didn’t have a renewed devotional life.

    Any insights you can offer us would be helpful. Grace to you and peace.


  2. Thanks for your blog. the entries so far has given me much to think about. I found it a relief to think about my faith journey, how it has been shaped by the most unlikely things, and where it is leading me. I have been drowning in the heartbreaking politics and goings on in our denomination-ELCA. I am sure you can relate. My reading and study of god’s word has been neglected and it was only recently that an admonition by a very wise pastor set me back on that road of personal spiritual practices of reading, study and prayer. I hadn’t realized how malnourished my soul had become.
    but like you, circumstances have dashed hopes and dreams of what I expected my future to be like. Children almost raised, the future stretched out almost limitless. then 4 years ago I was struck down with Rheumatoid arthritis that is not responding to treatment. Everything shrunk down and I found myself at the mercy of things like weather, stress, fatigue, side effects of medications, etc.
    I thought I paid the price already surviving many difficult life expriences-somedays just grateful that I was still breathing. surely He would Restore all the years that the locusts had eaten.
    I would like to say I have come to a peace, and rest in Christ, my true center, but I still struggle daily. But the first step of realizing what is our true center is slowly sinking in.
    As to how God can use a body that is breaking down more each day, with no assurance that I will live out a full span, I wander in the wilderness right now.
    But traveling the Way with other pilgrims is one way to find strength and courage.

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