“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2
“A challenge I constantly face is making time for myself to get outside and reconnect with nature. I think this is true for a lot of people in today’s very busy world. We all have so many things going on, so many things we have to do, so much to keep up with.” Although I did not write these words, I could have. They make up the opening paragraph of Rob Sheppards’s most recent entry at his website, www.natureandphotography.com. In his blog he goes on to talk about how important it is that we all make an effort to find “nature time.”
I, like Rob, struggle with finding the time outdoors I’d like to have. My job keeps me plenty busy. Even though I read a lot about nature and even write a blog about it twice a week, there are periods when I go quite some time without any significant “nature time.” Reading Rob’s blog actually convicted me and made me more determined to do better. I even acted upon it. Thursday and Friday I was in Paducah, Kentucky, visiting my mother. I noticed that she had a large growth of mums in front of her place and that her rosebush was also still blooming. I went inside and grabbed my camera and a macro lens. Over two days I spent quite a bit of time up close and personal with my mother’s flowers. (You can view some of the images I took here.) I also noticed a pond across from her place that had quite a few cattails. I also photographed these, along with some sycamore leaves that were lying on the ground. Taking the time to enjoy God’s Creation truly proved therapeutic and heightened my sense of gratitude.
Practicing nature time isn’t usually listed as a spiritual discipline but I’m beginning to think it should be. Reading the Bible is considered a spiritual discipline so why shouldn’t reading God’s “Other Book” also be? I read the Bible every day. I’ve been doing that since I was quite young. I enjoy reading the Scriptures and benefit from it greatly. I feel, however, that I must also become just as disciplined in finding time to read the Book of Creation. If God speaks to us through His Creation, and I believe that He does, then it is both sinful and foolish of me not to make a concerted effort to read and study from this volume on a regular basis.
When I was a kid the church my family attended provided envelopes for us to put our offerings in. These envelopes, however, also served another purpose. Each one contained several boxes to check. We could check if we had read the Bible daily, if we were staying for worship, if we had invited someone else to church, if we were making a contribution that day, etc. I learned through this practice that these things were an important part of our faith. I don’t know if churches still use this type of envelope but if they do, I’d like to suggest that they add a new category. I would argue that “nature time” should also be included. I’ve never seen anything of the sort on a church envelope but at this point in my life, I can only wonder, Why?
In Psalm 61 David declares that his heart has grown faint. As a result, he offers the prayer: “…lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.” (vs. 2-3) In this petition the Psalmist uses both natural and manmade structures to describe God’s protection and power. I suspect most of us can relate to David’s prayer. When we find ourselves down and out we long to be lifted up. When we are afraid we want to be protected and kept safe. In God’s Creation we have some visual aids to help remind us that we, like David, have a place to turn to when we’re hurting, afraid or weary.
I happen to live in an area that is prone to flooding. A couple of years ago we had a severe flood that came quickly and without warning. Many people had to literally head for the hills to find safety. When the floods or trying times of our lives come, we too realize the need for a place that “is higher than I.” We recognize our need for God. In Him we find the safety, security and protection we need. When I look at mountains and hillsides I am often reminded of this and give thanks that God is always there for us.
Throughout the Bible you find references to towers. Towers were used for several different purposes. Some were agricultural structures where grain could be stored. They would be like the silos we see on farms in our country. Towers were also used as route markers to provide direction and as memorials or monuments. Another use for towers in biblical times was as defensive structures. From their heights a guard could watch for the approach of enemies and in times of danger people could find protection within the tower. It is most likely the latter usage the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 61 when he speaks of God being like a strong tower. In God David was able to find the refuge he needed as his heart grew faint.
In my travels across America I have been able to see and photograph some pretty impressive natural towers. Two of the most spectacular ones have been Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and Spider Rock in Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Such natural towers serve as visual aids helping me remember that God is greater than I and that in Him I, too, can find safety and protection.
I find it amazing how often God’s “other book”—Creation—helps me better understand the Bible. There are so many things in nature that point to God if we will only pay attention. The more a person reads and studies the Bible the more often he or she will begin to see the visual aids God has provided for us in Creation. I strongly believe that Christians should be good students of both of God’s books. I have dedicated my life to the study of both and hope you have as well.
(The top image shows El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The middle image is Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument and the bottom image shows Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.)
As I read the Scriptures I continue to be amazed at how often the biblical writers use nature imagery to make theological comparisons. A case in point is the passage I’ll be discussing tonight at church, Hosea 6. Starting in verse 3 the challenge is made to “acknowledge the Lord” and to “press on to acknowledge him.” Then we read: “As surely as the sun rises he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Here we see God compared to the sun which rises each morning and to the winter and spring rains that you can count on like clockwork. Such images prove helpful to us. Since we must deal with an unseen God, it is beneficial when the biblical writers reveal that God is like something we can see with our own eyes. “What is God’s faithfulness like?” we might ask. The Bible says it is like the sun that comes up everyday—without fail. It is like the rains that return each winter and spring. In other words, God is as faithful as you can get!
In Hosea 6 nature imagery is also used to demonstrate our own unfaithfulness. God says to His people here, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears?” (v. 4) By pointing to the “morning mist” and “early dew,” both which come and go quickly, God declares that His people’s loyalty to Him is fleeting at best. Here again, by referring to something in nature that everyone is familiar with, the point is driven home powerfully.
One of the primary goals Rob and I have in sharing our thoughts with you on SeeingCreation.com is that people will realize that by paying attention to the world God has made they can learn much about God and about themselves. As Hosea 6 shows, the Scriptures can help us do that. When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I encourage you to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. If you happen to experience a morning mist or see dew around you, you may want to consider whether these may be a reflection of your own loyalty to God. There is so much in nature that makes us think about things that really matter.
(The image above of an Indian paintbrush surrounded by dew covered leaves was taken last month at Mount Rainier National Park.)
I have been a student of the Scriptures my entire life. As a pastor I teach a lot of Bible studies, something I enjoy immensely. I believe the Bible is a very special book and that Christians should read and study the Scriptures on a regular basis. Since the Bible is God’s revelation to us, one tip I often share with people is that when they read a passage they should pause to ask “What can I learn about God in this text?” God seeks to make Himself known to us in His Word but if we fail to ask this question we might miss learning what God wants us to discover.
I think the same advice applies to God’s “second book,” the book of Creation. As we observe the world around us—whether it be an animal, plant, or vista—we should pause to ask the question, “What can I learn about God from what is before me?” Failing to ask this question may keep us from learning something God is trying to teach us about Himself through His Creation.
By being careful observers of Creation we can learn much about the Creator. We quickly learn, for example, that God values diversity. This is evident in the wonderful variety found in Creation. He has made lots of different animals and plants. Some are large, some are small. Some are colorful, others are not. The God revealed in Creation is not into sameness; He is into diversity.
We learn by observing nature that God is compassionate. He has provided each species with a purpose and that which it needs to survive. The more I observe and come to understand the world the more I am amazed at God’s love and compassion.
In order to get the most out of a Scripture passage one has to invest a good bit of time and prayerful reflection. Commentaries may need to be consulted, word studies might need to be pursued, and you may have to refer to any number of reference books. It is much the same when it comes to seeing God in Creation. You may have to put forth a good bit of effort to learn what He wants to teach you. This may mean turning to field guides to learn more about the flowers you have seen or the creatures you have observed. It may take watching some nature documentaries on television or reading a few good natural history books. Learning about God, whether in the Bible or Creation, takes time and effort but it is well worth it. It also takes remembering to ask the right question: “What can I learn about God from what is before me?”
(Whether it’s a field of asters or a lamb finding security near its mother, Creation has much to teach us about God.)