of God Is Living and Active – Hebrews 4:12.
in Daily Scripture Meditation
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1. Why do I meditate?
Because I am a Christian. Therefore, every
day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s
Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with
certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God. And, as a Christian,
I learn to know the Holy Scripture in no other way than by hearing the
Word preached and by prayerful meditation.
Because I am a preacher of the Word. I
cannot expound the Scripture for others if I do not let it speak daily
to me. I will misuse the Word in my office as preacher if I do not continue
to meditate upon it in prayer. If the Word has become empty for me in my
daily administrations, if I no longer experience it, that proves I have
not let the Word speak personally to me for a long time. I will offend
against my calling if I do not seek each day in prayer the word that my
Lord wants to say to me for that day. Ministers of the Word are especially
called upon to perform the office of prayer: “But we will devote ourselves
to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The pastor must
pray more than others, and has more to pray about.
Because I need a firm discipline of prayer.
We like to pray according to our moods—briefly, at length, or not at all.
But that is to be arbitrary. Prayer is not a free-will offering to God;
it is an obligatory service, something that he requires. We are not free
to engage in it according to our own wishes. Prayer is the first divine
service in the day. God requires that we take time for this service. “Early
in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. My eyes
are open in the night watches, that I may meditate upon your promise” (Ps.
119:147-148). “Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous
judgments” (Ps. 119:164). God needed time before he came to us in Christ
for our salvation. He needs time before he comes into my heart for my salvation.
Because I need help against the ungodly haste
and unrest that threaten my work as a pastor. Only from the peace of
God’s Word can there flow the proper, devoted service of each day.
2. What do I want
from my meditation?
We want in any case to rise up from our meditation
in a different state from when we sat down. We want to meet Christ in his
Word. We turn to the text in our desire to hear what it is that he wants
to give us and teach us today through his Word. Meet him first in the day,
before you meet other people. Every morning lay upon him everything that
preoccupies you and weighs you down, before new burdens are laid upon you.
Ask yourself what still hinders you from following him completely and let
him take charge of that, before new hindrances are placed in your way.
His fellowship, his help, his guidance for the
day through his Word—that is the goal. Thus you will begin the day freshly
strengthened in your faith.
3. How shall I
There is free meditation and meditation that is bound to Scripture.
We advise the latter for the sake of the certainty of our prayers and the
discipline of our thoughts. Furthermore, the knowledge of our fellowship
with others who are meditating on the same text will make us love such
In the same way that the word of a person who is dear to me follows
me throughout the day, so the Word of Scripture should resonate and work
within me ceaselessly. Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word
spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said,
so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart
as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation. Do not look for new thoughts
and interconnections in the text as you would in a sermon! Do not ask how
you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this
word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken
possession of you.
Hold on to one word for the
It is not necessary every day to go through the entire text we have
chosen for meditation. Often we will hold on to one word of it for the
entire day. Passages that we do not understand we can simply pass over.
There is no need to take flight into philology. This is not the place for
the Greek New Testament, but for the familiar Luther text.
If during meditation our thoughts move to persons who are near to us
or to those we are concerned about, then let them linger there. That is
a good time to pray for them. Do not pray in general, then, but in particular
for the people who are on your mind. Let the Word of Scripture tell you
what you ought to pray for them. As a help, we may write down the names
of the people we want to remember every day. Our intercessions require
their appointed time, too, if we are to be serious about them. Pay attention,
though, that our intercessions do not become another means of taking flight
from the most important thing: prayer for our own soul’s salvation.
Begin with prayer for the Holy Spirit
We begin our meditations with the prayer for the Holy Spirit, asking
for proper concentration for ourselves and for all who we know are also
meditating. Then we turn to the text. At the close of the meditation we
want to be truly able to say a prayer of thanksgiving from a heart that
What text, and how long should the text be? It has proven helpful to
meditate on a text of approximately ten to fifteen verses for a period
of a week. It is not good to meditate on a different text each day, since
we are not always equally receptive, and the texts for the most part are
much too long for that. Whatever you do, do not take the sermon text for
the next Sunday. That belongs in your sermon meditation time. It is a great
help if a community knows that it is concentrating all week on the same
The time of meditation is in the morning before the beginning of our
work. A half-hour is the minimum amount of time that a proper meditation
requires. It is, of course, necessary that there be complete quiet, and
that we intend to allow nothing to divert us, no matter how important it
Occasional meditation with two or more people is quite possible in a
Christian community, although, sadly, it is seldom practiced. In such meditation
there is a narrow way that leads between false, pious talk and idle theological
4. How do we overcome
the problems of meditation?
Whoever seriously undertakes the daily practice of meditation will
soon discover great difficulties. Meditation and prayer must be practiced
earnestly and for a long time. So the first rule is not to become impatient
with yourself. Do not become confused and upset because of your distractedness.
Just sit down again every day and wait very patiently. If your thoughts
keep wandering, there is no need for you to hold on to them compulsively.
There is nothing wrong with letting them roam where they will; but then
incorporate in your prayers the place or person to which they have gone.
So you will find your way back to your text, and the minutes spent in such
diversions will not be lost and will no longer be any cause for worry.
There are many helps for special difficulties that each one may use.
Read the same passage again and again, write down your thoughts, learn
the verse by heart (indeed, you will memorize any text that has been thoroughly
meditated upon). But in all this we soon learn to recognize the danger
of fleeing once again from meditation to Bible scholarship or the like.
Behind all our uncertainties and needs stands our great need to pray; for
all too long many of us have known this need without finding any help or
direction. The only help is to faithfully and patiently begin again our
earliest exercises of prayer and meditation. We will be further helped
by the knowledge that other brothers are also meditating, that at all times
the entire holy church in heaven and on earth prays with us. That is a
comfort to us in the weakness of our own prayers. And if we really do not
know what we ought to pray and completely lose heart about it, we still
know that the Holy Spirit prays for us with “groanings which cannot be
uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
We dare not allow ourselves to cease from this daily engagement with
the Scripture, and we must begin it right away if it is not now our practice.
For in doing so we have eternal life.
[Instructions in Daily
Scripture Meditation were first given by Bonhoeffer to a group of seminarians
he was training at Finkenwalde, Germany in 1935-36. They were written down
by Eberhard Bethge, a seminarian who later became Bonhoeffer’s biographer
and editor of his collected works. Reprinted in Meditating on the Word,
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited and translated by
David McI. Gracie,© 1986, Rowman and Littlefield Edition, UK and Cowley
See related articles:
Unity of the Scriptures, An introduction by Don Schwager
In All the Scriptures, by Dr. John Yocum
to Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Authority of Scripture, by Steve Clark
Scriptures Are One Book in Christ, quotes from early church fathers
Scripture As God's Word, by J.I. Packer
the Bible It Is God Who Is Speaking to Us, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Can Understand the Bible, by Peter Kreeft
Versus Informational Reading of the Scriptures, by M. Robert Mulholland
to Silence the Scriptures, by Soren Kierkegaard
the Scriptures with the Early Church Fathers, by Don Schwager
Study Course, by Don Schwager