A couple of years back, my son, age 5 at the time, gave his usual prayer over our food, “Thank-you-for-the-food-Amen.” It took all of .05 seconds. Hunger will do that to a little guy.
So I asked him if he'd like to thank God for anything else. He said, "Thank you God for nature."
Short and on point, I like that. But more than that, I was immensely proud because I love the natural world too.
And today, if you’ve checked your calendars, you know it’s Earth Day.
As Christians, how do we respond to Earth Day? Do we hug a tree? Should we just throw something extra into recycling? Is it just a day that Christians are free to ignore?
I would argue that we should engage fully in events like Earth Day.
My son, David, thanked God for nature because he loves hamsters, parakeets, lizards, butterflies, caterpillars, snakes and more. He cares for goldfish in distress. Of these he’s seen many a burial and cried over his losses.
David, God's beloved, reflects his Creator in his love for creation. And he’s also growing in his awareness that something has gone drastically wrong in the natural world, something that Jesus addressed at the cross. In his death, he set in motion the redemption of his creation.
But in creation, I see so much detail. It’s so finely tuned and so full of information. Did you know that there’s more information in your body’s DNA than in trillions of standard DVDs? You are literally packed full of messages being sent and received.
And I think that my deep longing to be connected to the natural world around me is a universal human trait.
If you could drop any individual off at the top of Everest, the last thing you’d hear them say is “Well, this view is lame.”
Or picture yourself in the Pacific Northwest standing under massive evergreens beside a river. You crouch down to watch salmon work their way to the headwaters hundreds of miles inland. Their shadows dart through the spectrum defying colors of water across boulders. Now try and say, “That’s not pretty.”
No, nature is incredible! It has all the strokes we’d expect from a master artist. And it’s our duty, as scripture teaches, to care for the environment. Of course we are to be aware of how spirituality in today’s culture leans towards worshipping nature, as this can be as degrading as believing that there is no Creator and that matter is all there is.
But more on point, I believe nature is one of the most powerful tools we have in worship and evangelism.
Mark Brown with Lifelines, the outdoor ministry of Cru, agrees. He says, “The Lord didn’t just give us the Gospel to explain the world; He gave us the world to explain the Gospel.” Mark believes that the natural world points us to God. The staff members with Lifelines often have spiritual conversations with students while backpacking, rock climbing or whitewater rafting.
You could use Earth Day to start a spiritual conversation with your neighbors. Ask them what they think of Earth Day, if they’ve done anything special for it, and why or why not. A discussion about nature could be a pathway to talking about spiritual topics.
Here are 5 questions Mark uses in his ministry that you might consider:
Download a Scripture Field Guide from Lifelines or read Mark’s thesis on The Utilization of Nature in Christian Outdoor Ministry.
Please comment below if you’ve had any spiritual conversations that have been triggered by God’s revelation through nature.
Also if you’re interested by discussions of science and faith, please comment, as I’m working on a series of articles addressing the topic. I would love to hear any ideas and resources you may have.
Also see these devotionals on nature:
writes for Cru's publications as a missionary journalist. He earned a master’s degree in Christian studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Philip balances family life along with bike riding, drawing and whittling toy cars. Contact him at Philip.Long@cru.org.
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