I am an Audible junkie. Seriously, my favorite day of the month is the 20th, when my Audible subscription renews and I can dive into the life of a different historical figure whose story is often stranger than fiction. Last month, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, I decided to listen to the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was executed for his involvement in the conspiracy to take down the Nazi regime. He was a deeply faithful man who left us beautiful writings such as “The Cost of Discipleship,” and “Life Together.”
Hour 8 of the 22 hour biography tells of Bonhoeffer’s attendance at a youth conference in Fano, a small island off Denmark. It was 1934, and Christian leaders had gathered together to pray and discuss how the Christian Church should exist in Germany as it was falling under Nazi control more and more each day. As the author described Bonhoeffer's time at the youth conference, he commented, “What made him stand out to some as an inspiration, to others as an oddity, and to others as an offense was that he did not hope that God heard his prayers but knew it.”
When I heard this line, I had to stop my household chores and rewind the audiobook. I listened again. Bonhoeffer lived through the darkest times his country had ever seen and he would eventually become a martyr. Through it all however, he knew without a doubt that God heard him.
I felt like I had been found out. I asked myself, “Do I pray because I believe as a good Catholic I am supposed to or do I pray because I have full confidence that the living God hears me and responds in my everyday life? Do I know that my life, lived in the folds of Christianity, actually makes a difference in my life and relationships, now, and forever? Or, do I live my life as a Christian because I made the choice out of passion years ago and I am now cruising on autopilot?”
I have to confess that I am not even sure that I answered these questions before just shrugging and moving on. Life is so busy after all, but in my heart of hearts I knew the answer. While I know somewhere deep down that God hears and answers prayers, a large part of me doesn’t believe it. While I know somewhere in my heart that my actions as a Christian make a difference, my daily behavior suggests otherwise as I make excuses and tell myself that it doesn’t matter all that much.
As a result, I sit down to pray and talk myself out of asking for the big stuff because well, it’s just me in my house, this problem is too big, and God is going to do what God is going to do. Too often, I talk myself out of a simple kindness because I am too busy and I don’t think the gesture won’t matter anyway. Too often, I talk myself out of sharing the truth that knowing Jesus Christ has been the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, because I don’t want to be perceived as a weirdo and it won’t change a life anyway. These are all lies that I subtly believe, and they keep me from fully participating in the type of prayer and action that helps redeem society. How smart of the devil to take my passionate conversion and quell it into moderate belief divorced from action, because at the heart of it, I just don’t think it makes a difference.
Two Saturdays ago, all of this changed as I sat down to pray. I, like everyone else, have been shaken to my core from all the tragedies of 2020. From the angst and uncertainty of the lockdowns, to the horrifying death of George Floyd, and the division, hurt, and misunderstanding that has followed, I forgot to remind myself that my prayers don’t matter and I cried out to God for the big stuff, out loud, for a long time. In the middle of my lamenting, the Lord reminded me that He hears me. He hears the cry of His people and weeps with us. His heart breaks with ours at the reality that things are not as they should be and He answers us even when we can’t see it. Our actions also make a difference now and in eternity, even the small ones, even those little acts of kindness that we pass over because we think they aren’t enough to change anything. They do bring about change. They will be enough.
Pastor Bonhoeffer knew that God heard him. It shaped the way he prayed, and it shaped his actions in such a way that he had an impact everywhere he went. As my former youth minister used to say, “Someone who is on fire with the love of God can’t help but leave a spark everywhere they go.” Bonhoeffer’s love for God changed his friends, his family, his jail inmates, and even some of his jailers.
This is what the Lord wants for us. No matter where we are or what we are doing, He wants us to live as though our relationship with Him makes a difference. Every single prayer and act of kindness is an offering that He can use to change a life, or possibly even a society. Where are you today? Are you scrolling through your social feed wondering where we go from here? Are you wondering how you could possibly make a difference? Put down your phone, close your computer, and get on your knees. Ask God for the biggest things you can possibly imagine and expect to see Him working. Follow through on those acts of love that you dismiss when they enter your mind. They make a difference.
 Mataxas Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy (New York: Thomas Nelson 2020) Audible edition