One of the most important things I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer ever said relates to human prosperity. In an autumn 1931 sermon, this German pastor and theologian told his congregation that seven million people in Germany would be without jobs that winter, and likely experience the threat of hunger. He went on to define what material possessions constitute: “Possessions are not God’s blessing and goodness,” said Bonhoeffer, “but opportunities for service which God entrusts to us.”
If you spend a little time with that idea, you may find it to be an awesome thought. What he was saying was that good food to eat and prosperity in a household aren’t mere blessings to relish or assets to give thanks for. They’re actually the definition of opportunities and responsibilities placed in our lap by God.
I’ve never thought of my blessings in life in quite the same way since first reading that. Everything I have and enjoy in my life, I now realize, equals an opportunity and/or a responsibility.
So, this morning while still in bed, staring up at the ceiling during a prayer moment, I got to thinking that maybe I need to take this idea regarding opportunity and plug it into my prayer life. When I pray for humility, for example, what if God’s real interest is in giving me opportunities to be humble? Or when I pray to be instilled with courage, maybe God is really looking to give me more opportunities to be courageous. Or if I pray for more understanding, I wonder if God’s response isn’t to give me plenty of opportunities to exercise patient understanding.
Praying in these ways, it seems to me, would get us off of our grocery-list-for-God kick. Instead of waiting around for God to answer our prayers, as if God can’t wait to give us everything we want or believe we need, I’d rather think of prayer as conversation with someone who loves me and who I also want to love more. If it’s a genuine conversation, all I need to really be ready for are big and small opportunities the Lord may be placing in my lap today.
Seizing any one of these opportunities might mean that I’d better be ready to create instead of destroy, dignify instead of deny, and build up instead of tear down. When I look at prayer this way, as God giving me fresh opportunities, the act of praying suddenly takes on new excitement and urgency.