When I mentioned that I was preparing a devotional on this topic to share at a ladies' brunch, several of my readers expressed interest in what direction the message was going to take. I thought I would just share it here for those who are interested. Warning: it is lengthy. The theme for the brunch was "Keep Looking Up" and the decor featured birds in a beautiful way.
TAKING A BIRD'S EYE VIEW
Birds are some of the most beautiful creatures God made. And His word mentions birds a lot. We’re told that birds are mentioned more than 300 times in the Bible. Can you think of some of the various birds spoken of in Scripture? ( Sparrows, swallows, doves, peacocks, owls, ravens, eagles, quail, partridges, storks, turtledoves, ostriches, pelicans; possibly more. The most mentioned are doves, eagles, owls, ravens, and sparrows.)
In fact, more than once, Jesus used birds as an object lesson to teach His listeners various important concepts. In the two examples I’m going to mention, we will see what we might call a bird’s-eye view of anxiety and a bird’s-eye view of fear. And we could say that both involve a failure to look up to the care of our loving heavenly Father.
In Matthew chapter 6, verses 25-26 we see Jesus teaching:
“Therefore I tell you,do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
The birds of the air illustrate God’s care for His creatures. In a very real sense we could say that they preach a sermon to us as to how useless it is to worry. If our heavenly Father cares for the birds, He is surely able to take care of our needs. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we just sit back and not work while we expect God to provide, or that farmers should not plant, tend, or harvest crops. It does mean that we don’t worry, but trust God. Worry is not only dishonoring to God, it is also useless. It achieves nothing.
A little poem titled Overheard in an Orchard, by Elizabeth Cheney, is a wonderful reminder for us:
Overheard in an Orchard
Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend, I think that it must be,
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
We chuckle at this, but there is truth in it, isn’t there?
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus uses birds again, this time as an example to teach an important lesson to His followers concerning fear. He says:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
In the sacrificial system in ancient Israel, sparrows were sometimes used as a poor man’s sacrifice. If a Jewish person could not afford to sacrifice a sheep or a goat, it was permissible to bring a sparrow. From what I have read, sparrows were also occasionally used for food in Bible times, though it’s hard to imagine they made much of a meal. Yet God cares for every one. Jesus declared, “Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” He used this to illustrate our heavenly Father’s watchful care over His children.
In this lesson Jesus uses the ordinary sparrow as an example. Two of these very small, insignificant birds could be purchased for a copper coin. In fact, if we compared this account with the parallel one in Luke 12, we see something even more interesting:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)
Apparently an extra sparrow was thrown in for nothing when four were purchased. And yet not even that extra sparrow with no monetary value was forgotten in the sight of God. I remember reading about some well-known person in London —I cannot remember who it was — who, on noticing a dead sparrow in the street, said, “I have just missed seeing God, for He has just been here to a funeral.” God’s people are of more value to Him than many sparrows, so there is no need to fear.
Now I’d like for us to consider something more concerning the importance of taking a bird’s-eye view. Sometimes it is very necessary for us to make some adjustments in order to see an accurate picture. As I’ve considered this topic, I’ve been reminded of how often we have to adjust our perspective. For example, I’ve noticed how, as my husband has gotten older, seeing well has become more of a challenge for him as it does for many of us. He has several pairs of glasses — prescription bifocals, yes, but also several pairs of inexpensive glasses that he uses for reading, for the computer, and so on. And seeing well for him involves more than corrective lenses; often I will see him adjust his stance to see better out of a window, or inside the freezer case at the grocery store.
God gave me some inspiration for our theme of looking up one morning late in March, when I was out for my usual walk with my friend Rachel. We had stopped by the roadside to inspect an old apple tree, really not sure that it had survived the winter. It looked pretty scraggly and parts of it actually looked dead. A branch to one side showed quite a few red buds, however. And then I looked up! The entire top part of the tree was loaded with buds. There was still plenty of life in this tree, for sure. But we wouldn’t have seen it had we not looked up.
And then more recently as my husband and I were traveling down I-93 headed for our volunteer jobs at The Wilds of New England, we noticed the message boards reading: “Phone down. Eyes up”. Wow, what a great reminder! Looking up is hugely important to our perspective. When we face the challenges of life, we have to look up at the Lord, taking into account His character, attributes, and purposes. The more we know God, the more we are able to trust Him.
My husband had a classic thing that he did when our kids were little that we still laugh about. If we were hiking, or on top of a mountain, he would invariably pose the kids on the edge of a precipice to take a picture. They didn’t enjoy being out there, but they knew it was perfectly safe or he wouldn’t have put them there. They trusted his judgment. And just as they knew and trusted their earthly father, who was surely fallible, as we get to know our infallible heavenly Father, we grow to trust Him more and more.
The Bible tells us that we can know God. In Jeremiah chapter 9 we read: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,
“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight’, declares the LORD.”
Of course, the all-important first step in getting to know God is to have a personal relationship with Him. If you have never done that, it is very simple. We must realize that God is holy. He cannot look upon sin. And that is a problem because all people have sinned. And the Bible tells us that the wages, or payment for, sin is death. Because God is just, He cannot simply overlook the sin in people’s lives. Yet because He is loving, He has provided a way, through the death of His own Son in our place, for us to be right with Him. Jesus paid the penalty for sin so we would not have to. He not only makes a way for us to be right with God in this life, but for us to have a home in heaven with Him for all eternity. To receive this gracious gift, we simply have to admit our sin to God, believe Jesus died and rose again for us, and put our trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. If you have questions about God’s free and gracious gift of salvation, please speak with Amy or one of the other ladies from the church here, or even with me. We would be happy to explain it more in depth and be sure you understand.
Once we have taken this step in beginning a relationship with God, we will want to get to know Him better. And the very best way to do that is by reading His Word, the Bible. Surprisingly, many people who have been believers for many, many years do not know God well. They have never taken the time to get to know Him. And that is sad, because God wants us to know Him.
Reading through the Bible is a wonderful way to get to know Him. I suggest The Daily Walk Bible, which has wonderful devotionals and explanatory material for each passage. This has become my favorite way to read through the Bible. Another great way to get to know God is to meditate on Scripture. I use the SOAP method of meditating on God’s Word and I can recommend it as very helpful. Anther excellent way is by using, along with your Bible, Mardi Collier’s wonderful book What Do I Know About my God?. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Just to whet your appetite, here are a couple of wonderful passages about who God is. In Isaiah 45;22 God says, “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
Psalm 90:2 says of God, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
In Isaiah 46:9-10, God declares, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”
So very often, to get the right view of things, we need to look up, to what we know about our God. It truly will help our perspective on life as we look at who God is and how He works in situations and in our lives, and to look to the example of Jesus. Part of looking up would also be to keep a heavenly focus. I recently came upon the following quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “Keep looking toward heaven. Look around, and you’ll be dismayed. Look inside, and you’ll be depressed. Look up, and you’ll be thrilled.”
In addition to looking up, there are often other “looks” we need to take. For example, there are times when to get the right view of things we need to step back and look at the big picture. This is, I think, especially important in situations involving people or problems. It’s all too easy to become picky as we focus on the people in a situation and their flaws and personalities. Of course all believers are works in progress. But what is the big picture? Why are we all really here? The answer, of course, is to bring honor and glory to God with our lives, by using the gifts He equips us with.
2 Timothy 1:9 reminds us that God has “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We are all different, and we are not all going to approach ministry in the same way. But we do need to look at the big picture of glorifying God not just as individuals (although we absolutely are to do that), but as Bible-believing, God-honoring churches in which the members are working together to serve and glorify Him. We are all on the same team. It appears we may be entering an era when it will cost us something to be Christians. We must keep the big picture in our minds and willingly work together to glorify God in all that we do.
”So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
We also need to look at the big picture when dealing with problems or difficulties in our lives. It’s natural to just look at the pain, the grief, the inconvenience, or whatever the case may be, but we must consider the big picture. Why? Because God always wants to do something good through the difficulties He allows. He always has a good purpose in hard times He allows us to go through.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote in James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Wow, what a blessing! I know personally that God has used hard times in my life to help me grow in steadfastness.
Romans 8:28 is a familiar verse to many. I will read both verses 28-29. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
God’s purpose in allowing trouble in our lives is always to cause us to become more like Jesus — to grow in Christlikeness. He tells us that He is working all things together in our lives for this good purpose.
Another important facet of taking a bird’s-eye view is to occasionally take a look back. I’m not saying we should live in the past or that we should ever rest on the laurels of ways we may have served God in the past. Neither should we dwell on past sins or look backward and wish things had taken a different turn in our lives. “If only” thinking is inaccurate thinking.
But I do think it is very, very healthy to occasionally take a look back and remember all that God has brought us through in the past. I have a dear friend whom I met through blogging. We met in 2008 and were actually able to meet in person several times. The Lord really helped us to stay in close touch over the years and to sharpen one another in so many ways. Then, unexpectedly, her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. After he died, my friend bravely carried on, eventually selling her home and moving to a retirement community. There, in God’s timing she met a godly widower and they were married in 2020. We have recently been back in touch, and she mentioned looking back at our old correspondence over the years and seeing how much God had helped her to grow spiritually since her first husband’s death. I believe that He also grew her spiritually to help prepare her for widowhood.
An occasional look back can be a blessing! For many people, the start of the new year is often a good time to look back and see what God has done. Your birthday or even your spiritual birthday might be a good time to do this.Or if you have never done so, today might be a good time! There are some excellent examples in Scripture. I’ll share just one.
Just before his death, Joshua reminded Israel’s leaders in Joshua 23:14, “You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God has promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.”
Sometimes we have to look up to get a bird’s-eye view; sometimes we have to take a step back. We need to glance in the rear-view mirror occasionally, and we always need to look ahead with purposeful hope. We can run the race of the Christian life “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
And interestingly, there are even those times when we have to look down. I remember for several years in a row that my daughter Carrie’s family had a robin’s nest under their deck. In order to get the very best view of what was happening with the robin’s eggs, and later the baby birds, it was necessary to look down. And the same thing is very true for us in seeing what God wants us to see. Sometimes it’s necessary to look down — to take a low view and get the proper perspective of ourselves. I’m talking about humility — a quality that God tells us is very important in our relationships with Him and with others.
1 Peter 5:5-6 instructs us, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility one toward another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you.”
Philippians 2 exhorts us to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves … Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus is our Example, and we know that He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross, as the passage in Philippians goes on to point out. Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus came into this world “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He wants us to be servants, too. In order to do that we must humble ourselves.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of old, said, “Humility is the proper estimate of oneself.” He was right.
Well, it may seem that we have taken quite a “flight path” as we’ve looked at lessons Jesus taught from the birds and then moved to the various ways we can look up and also take a bird’s eye view. But I hope that as we’ve considered these topics together, you’ve all been encouraged. I certainly was as I did the study for this devotional!
As I close, I’d like to share a poem that was very near and dear to my mother’s heart. I am not sure if this should be categorized as a spring, fall, or even a winter poem. I often think of it in fall when the birds are leaving for warmer climates. Sometimes it can make us a bit sad to see the birds leaving and to realize there is a long winter to get through. But they always come back in spring! So I often think of this poem in spring too.
My mother loved this poem so much that my sister had it done in calligraphy and framed for Mom to display in the living room. It would make a lovely cross-stitch, too, and oh, how I would love to stitch this verse! It’s called When the Birds Go North Again, and the poet is Ella Higginson.
When the Birds Go North Again
Oh, every year hath its winter,
And every year hath its rain
But a day is always coming
When the birds go North again.
When new leaves swell in the forest,
And grass springs green on the plain,
And the alder's veins turn crimson
And the birds go North again.
Oh, every heart hath its sorrow,
And every heart hath its pain--
But a day is always coming
When the birds go North again.
'Tis the sweetest thing to remember
If courage be on the wane,
When the cold dark days are over
Why, the birds go North again.
~ Ella Higginson
Why do the birds go north again? Of course, it’s because God has created them with the built-in instinct to do so. It happens every year, with order and regularity. This poem is a wonderful reminder of everything we’ve looked at concerning God’s sovereign wisdom and care for the birds — and for us. This spring, as we look up and enjoy watching all of the beautiful birds God has created, let’s learn from them and begin taking a bird’s-eye view!