Just looking on? It’s not enough

I was reluctant to read this biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer because of its size. And its hard truths.


But trust me, it’s worth it. It’s challenging yet inspiring to read how Bonhoeffer struggled through difficult decisions, throwing himself on God’s mercy. My book review is here.

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Excerpt from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Here was the rub: one must be more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.

One must sacrifice oneself utterly to God’s purposes, even to the point of possibly making moral mistakes. One’s obedience to God must be forward-oriented and zealous and free, and to be a mere moralist or pietist would make such a life impossible.

Bonhoeffer said,
“If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.

Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.

“The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered.”

– Eric Metaxas

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23 thoughts on “Just looking on? It’s not enough

  1. Mia

    Dear Lisa
    This way of Jesus is very, very narrow and we do need to give up even our slightest efforts so that grace can work in our lives. But once we begin to live in Jesus in the power of His Spirit, we quickly receive the gift of discernment to know when wolves are wearing sheep’s clothing like Bonhoeffer and the Ten Boom family did during the Second World War.
    Blessings XX

    1. Lisa notes...

      And that gift of discernment is one we often can take for granted. It’s too easy to get disappointed sometimes with people new to faith when they make poor decisions (per our opinion anyway). I have no idea what kind of decisions I would have made had I lived during the circumstances of Bonhoefer or the TenBooms. I pray I never have to find out.

    1. Lisa notes...

      Having it is the first step. It’ll be there when you’re ready for it. I took awhile before I started it too because I knew it would be a time commitment. And who knows–maybe you’re meant to give it to someone else to read instead of yourself?

  2. Linda@Creekside

    One of my favorite go-to verses is 2 Corinthians 5:9 – ‘We make it our goal to please Him.’

    It cuts through all the stuff that clutters and confuses, it clarifies, it gives purpose. Pure and simple.

    1. Lisa notes...

      Sometimes I think my Kindle is a black hole for books. 🙂 I have them somewhat organized into groups, but still there’s too many to keep track of. I guess that’s not a bad problem to have though… If you do read this one, let me know what you think. I’m suspecting it will inspire you too.

  3. tcavey

    This is a HUGE book, but well worth the time to read! I loved it and learned so much. It inspired me to read some of Bonhoeffers’ own writings. “The Cost of Discipleship” is wonderful!

    Thanks for posting a review on this. It’s one of my top bio’s I’ve ever read.

    God bless and thanks for visiting my blog this week.

    1. Lisa notes...

      I agree that it’s a fantastic biography! That’s great that you dug into Bonhoeffer’s original writings after reading it–a sign of a good biography. I read “The Cost of Discipleship” a few years back and it was challenging to get through. Bonhoeffer was a deep thinker and writer.

      More recently I read “In Visible Fellowship” by Jon Walker. It takes excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” and makes them a little easier to read. I got a lot out of it.

  4. Caleb Suko

    Lisa, great quotes. Especially this one; “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.” I think we often get this wrong when we talk about “waiting” on the Lord. I tell people that the kind of waiting we are called to do is active waiting. We are serving, teaching, loving and helping as we wait! Certainly Jesus didn’t want us to sit our bottoms down on the couch until he comes!

  5. Barbara H.

    I’m going through this now. I had listened to the audiobook but too much of it went by too fast to grasp, so I am going through it on my Kindle app.

    I actually had trouble with some of his statements, like “one must be more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.” We’re supposed to do both, and I’m not quite sure where he gets things like that. But then I tend to over-analyze. 🙂

    1. Lisa notes...

      I have that same problem with audiobooks, especially when the material is dense. I still like a regular old book when I know I’ll have to go slow or return often to previous pages to look up something I didn’t catch or remember.

      The line that troubles you is one I had to think through as well, because yes, it IS pleasing to God when we avoid sin. But I think what was meant in the context was that sometimes we play it so safe to avoid any chance of wrongdoing that that in itself ends up being wrong and we miss out on opportunities to do good.

      Of course in Bonhoeffer’s situation he had the huge dilemma of whether or not to break the law or do other unethical things in order to do greater good for the glory of God and for the love of people. I really can’t even imagine….

    1. Lisa notes...

      Wow–that’s great, Dianna. I’m glad you have the book in hand now and got a good price too!

      Another great biography I read around the same time as this one that I think you’d also enjoy (if you haven’t already read it) is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I got it from our library and Jeff checked out the audiobook and we both found it totally fascinating and inspiring.

  6. David

    Dear Lisa

    I am here with my money in my hand *but* then I read the “one star” comments on the amazon.com page, raising what sound like sensible concern’s about Metaxas’ interpretation. Do you think the concerns are well-founded? (I’m not very clear on all these versions of Christianity.)

    I’ve found “Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0567034003/). Do you know that book?

    Bonhoeffer’s message seems very timely to me.

    (I’m gearing up to read another of your books. It’s between this and “Inside Out”. I’m going to have some time alove soon and I plan to fill it with “all this”).

    Thank you


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Hmm…I’m not clear on all these versions of Christianity either. I didn’t detect an American evangelical bias when I read the book, but since I am American, I just might not have noticed. 😉 So based on my (possibly blind) opinion, I’d still say it’s an inspirational read even if that is the case, if one could overlook the bias.

      I’m not familiar with the other book at all, but at first glance it looks reputable as well. I don’t think you could go wrong with either.

      Or perhaps try a third option and read something from Bonhoeffer himself? I found him a little tough to read straight up, so I prefer the more storied approach with excerpts of his writings. But you might be of sturdier stock than me and prefer his writings first-hand.

      1. David

        Good idea! … very difficult: Discipleship looks good, and he wrote a little book on the Psalms! However he sounds like one of those people whose actions spoke as loud as their words. I’ll probably get that German biography.

        Thank you for your help


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