Monday, March 17, 2008

Consider the Birds

Tomorrow is my birthday--and celebration plans include a day off from work (easy for the self-employed to arrange); dining out; and bird watching.

No doubt someone will read that last item and think, "That's your idea of a celebration? Getting dirty, wearing yourself out, being mobbed by bugs, maybe getting drenched by a rainstorm?" (Judging from the latest weather report, the latter may be a real likelihood.) There are plenty of people whose idea of celebration is purely formal and climate-controlled.

On the other hand, there are plenty of "hard core" birders who would call me a wimp because I prefer well-laid-out trails with easy access to working plumbing--as opposed to sloshing through marshes, bushwhacking through thorns, and sleeping in the wilderness. But insofar as the general respectability of bird watching is concerned, both they and I can claim Biblical support for the pastime. Didn't Jesus Himself say, "Look at the birds of the air" (Mt. 6:26a, NIV) as object lessons of God's concern for Creation--and for us?

Though birds have their moments of panic in times of real danger, they don't spend their idle times fuming and fretting over whether there will be enough berries on the trees when winter comes in eight months. They don't ruffle their feathers over habitat destruction, global warming, or other threats they can't personally do anything about. They just go on surviving on God's daily provision.

However--and this should keep us from becoming passive about the confidence God will supply our basic needs--birds, once out of the nest, don't sit waiting for food to be dropped into their mouths. They keep busy--very busy--gathering it. (The old saying "eat like a bird" is about as misleading as it can get; birds eat considerably more for their size than the most gluttonous human could ever come close to.) St. Paul, in 2 Thess. 3:6-13, warned against expecting others to feed us. To paraphrase: If we are too lazy to do the work we are suited for and capable of doing, we deserve to starve.

But, work or play, we must never forget the key principle: "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31b). Literally everything we undertake should be done in an attitude of thanksgiving and praise to Him.

Not least the times we spend drinking in the beauty of Creation and the songs of the birds.

(For a great modern theologian's perspective on bird watching as it relates to Christian living, check out John Stott's book The Birds Our Teachers.)

The waxwing has feasts of berries,
And the hawk has its daily meat;
The hummingbird has its nectar,
And the cardinal has seeds to eat;
Not one of them frets uneasy
Over fear for tomorrow's feed:
So let us, whom God loves even more than birds,
Have faith He will provide for need.

The flycatcher hunts from branches,
And the egret fishes the stream;
The woodpecker drills in tree trunks,
And the goldfinch plucks thistles clean;
Each one, from its time of fledging,
Works all day for the meals it's fed:
So let us see well to the work of our Lord,
For the idle deserve no bread.

The sparrow, at time of eating,
Lifts its head to the sky with each bite;
The mockingbird sings in the springtime,
With its tune heard through day and night;
Though birds are still far beneath us,
God's own glory shines through their ways:
So let us give God thanks for each daily meal
And continue to sing His praise.

No comments: