Jack Adams made this helpful distinction: “If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle.” Today, we want to talk about the miracle of free advice, so let’s start with a quiz. Which of the following is good advice and which is worthless twaddle? If it is good advice, say, “amen,” after reading the statement.
Here we go. . . .

  1. “Never insult the alligator until after you have crossed the river.”
  2. Never do anything you wouldn’t want to explain to a paramedic.”
  3. “If you find a toilet in your dream, don’t use it.”
  4. “If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler.”

We are looking at chapter 3 in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. It is odd for a book on Christian community to devote a whole chapter to being alone, but that is the focus of chapter 3. It examines the disciplines of solitude and silence, meditation, personal prayer, and intercession—all of which are to be done alone. Now, these are all important skills; and yet, they make for a very poor discussion (Who is going to argue against intercession?). But if this post is not a discussion, what is it? Perhaps, today’s blog could be best served simply by highlighting some spectacular advice from Bonhoeffer on each of these topics (with little comment from me). And since this is free, it qualifies as pure advice.  

On Solitude and Silence

  1. “Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they can’t stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. As a result, when they enter into a community, they are disappointed. Worse, they often blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault.”


On One’s Daily Personal Meditation on the Word

  1. “It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. Often this only diverts us and feeds our vanity. It is sufficient if the Word, as we read and understand it, penetrates and dwells within us.”


On Personal Prayer

  1. “The most promising method of prayer is to allow oneself to be guided by the word of Scripture, for us to pray on the basis of a word of Scripture.”
  2. “It is one of the particular difficulties of meditation that our thoughts are likely to wander and go their own way, toward another person or to some events in our life. When this happens, it is often a help to incorporate into our prayer the people and the events to which our thoughts keep straying.”


On Intercession for Others

  1. “It is impossible to mention in the intercessions of corporate worship all the persons who are committed to our care, or at any rate, to do so in the way that is required of us. Every Christian has his own circle who have requested of him to make intercession for them or for whom he knows he has been called upon especially to pray.”
  2.  “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another or it collapses.”
  3.  “l can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise that it will gain its goal.”
  4. “To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”
  5. “The more definite my intercession becomes, the more promising it is.”


Concluding Thoughts

  1. “Since meditation on the Scriptures, prayer and intercession are services we owe; and because the grace of God is found in these services, we should train ourselves to set apart a regular hour for it. This is not ‘legalism’; it is orderliness and fidelity.”
  2. “There is no personal sin, whether it be in thought, word or deed, no matter how public or how secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship.” 
  3. “Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.”


We often are astonished by an athlete’s performance in a game, but the skill exhibited there comes from hours alone in the gym and practice. So it is with us. To build up the community we must be strong and mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared. This is Bonhoeffer’s big idea from this chapter. Unless we devote the proper alone time with God and with his Word, we will never be able to make a profound impact upon those people with whom we live in community. Alone time is critical.  That is why at the end of the chapter, Bonhoeffer makes this paradoxical statement:  

“Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the fellowship,
and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness.”

The last habit Stephen Covey talks about in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is to sharpen the saw; to find time to reflect on what you are doing so that you can grow and know how to invest yourself wisely for the greatest return on your investment of time and effort.  Here’s today’s question: Where do you need “to sharpen your saw” when it comes to your time alone with God?  

Thanks for reading. We will look at chapter 4 next week. In the meantime, here’s some free advice:

Be a Caterpillar. Eat a lot. Sleep a lot. Wake up beautiful.”