A Wilderness Experience is Like a Trip to the Dentist | Bonhoeffer 101

Like Going to the Dentist

A wilderness experience is a gift. A gift of time–plenty of time for silence, solitude, and reflection on the condition of one’s soul. Yet a wilderness experience sometimes feels like a trip to the dentist. No one likes going to the dentist for fear of having to get a filling, or even worse a root canal! But at the end of the day, if your tooth is wrecked, it would be better, sooner than later, to dig out the decay and move on to greener pastures.

Scraping the Plaque Off Jaded Souls

A wilderness experience scrapes the plaque off of jaded souls like going to the dentist makes the enamel smooth again.

Let’s imagine that you spend some time in solitude and you discover that your soul is dry or has been lulled to sleep. What do you do to awaken your soul? What do you do first?

How to Awaken a Soul that has Been Numbed by Apathy?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a radical man for his time. He lived during the era of Nazi reign in Germany. And being a leader of the underground church, he had much criticism and rebuke for the church of his day. In his view the state church of Germany had been lulled to sleep into complete apathy and decay–even to the point of turning a blind eye to the evils of Adolf Hitler. How does that happen to a church?

Jesus ask the same question of his followers:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other. -Mark 9:50

In other words, how can someone who professes to follow Jesus lose their saltiness, i.e. become totally apathetic toward injustice and cold to the need for evangelism? Bonhoeffer’s answer to that question highlights the need for spiritual formation and soul nurture in the church. If the branch stops abiding in the vine, it slowly dies and stops bearing fruit (John 15)

Wilderness ministry is a way for churches to shape Bonhoeffer-type leaders for mission today. I have certainly seen it bear many fruitful leaders. We need more leaders who have the moxie and the resolve to set their face like a flint toward capturing the attention of cultures that cannot hear the Good News through the roar of the crowd. Wilderness experiences produce such leaders.

The Remedy | Two Simple Steps

So here is some good news. There is a remedy. Here is Bonhoeffer’s tried-and-true antidote to apathy: If the church becomes ineffective or irrelevant to the world, then the starting place for awakening the souls of men and women is 1) prayer, and 2) righteous actions:

If the church cannot interpret Christian faith in language meaningful for the ordinary person in our secular world, then, Bonhoeffer believed, it must limit itself to two things:  prayer and righteous action.  Out of that it might be born again and discover a new language that would impress the world with its freshness and power (Christian Biography & History).

Bonhoeffer believed that one’s feelings and passions will follow one’s decision to do what is right. What decision do you need to make today that will re-ignite your First Love?

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Revelation 2:4

Action Reflection

Lets be honest. Are prayer and righteous actions central to your life?  If not, get away for some solo time and ask yourself: How might a simple strategy for serious prayeracts of service to the lost and vulnerable in my city change the culture of my church?

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