Westminster Seminary California
Bonhoeffer and Patience
Bonhoeffer and Patience

In our day people are used to getting immediate results on a number of fronts. You go through the drive-thru to get your fast food in a matter of minutes. The longest minute of the day can be when you punch in “6-0” on the microwave and slowly watch each second tick by. You can now file your taxes and get your money instantly. We live in a world where waiting is considered a liability. This type of mentality often affects ministers in the church.

Newly minted ministers show up at the churches and want to see instantaneous results. If the church is small, they want to see it grow quickly. If people are struggling with sin, they want to see them sanctified immediately. We want instant results. The problem is, God may have other ideas; he does not work according to our schedules but according to his own.

Case in point: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like many freshly graduated doctors of theology, sought to get his dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, published. He secured a publisher, and then, like most publishers, the clock ticked very slowly. The publisher moved with glacier speed and released his dissertation three years later! Not only did they take three years to publish the book, but they also sent Bonhoeffer a bill because printing costs exceeded the planned budget. As a young and cash-strapped minister, Bonhoeffer could not afford to give any copies of his book to his friends. No one in the academy noticed the book and therefore it was ignored in the scholarly literature of the day. And theology professors did not use the work as a textbook (98). In a word, there were no instantaneous results. Some might have deemed Bonhoeffer’s work a failure and a waste of time. But as time has passed things have changed; one can see by perusing the book at Amazon that it now is purchased quite frequently. Oh sure, it does not sell as well as It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton, but the point still stands: sometimes it takes a while for the bread to bake.

In other words, in the ministry, or in theological writing for that matter, if you are looking for instantaneous results, you are on a fool’s errand. We have to be prepared to be faithful to what God calls us to do and then leave the results up to him. Sanctification does not happen quickly—it is a life-long event. Churches that grow overnight might not be rooted in fertile soil. Sometimes churches grow like oaks—they take a while but once they have grown they are sturdy and large. And when you preach that sermon or write that book, it may very well be that God will use it tremendously to his glory . . . after you are dead. Our calling is not to success but to faithfulness. And while it may seem as though God’s timing may be late, he is always right on time.