I love spring. Spring is a time when we see evidence of new life all around us through nature. I love spring because I love nature.
You know who else loved nature? Jesus. We see evidence of the many ways Jesus used nature to connect with God throughout the scriptures.
Jesus Withdrew to Nature to Connect with God
- He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray. (Luke 5:16)
- He climbed mountains to be by himself with the Father. (Matthew 14:23)
- In the midst of great success, he pulled away to solitary places to pray. (Mark 1:35)
- He went out to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12)
- He withdrew by boat to mourn the death of his cousin John. (Matthew 14:13)
Jesus looked for outdoor spaces where he could be alone to spend time with the Father. In these sacred spaces, he received his identity as God’s Son who was dearly loved. He was receiving all he needed in order to live in God’s kingdom here on earth.
Jesus Taught Others In Nature
We see that Jesus spent time in nature teaching his followers about living life with God. He was sharing the incredible upside-down, cruciform way of God’s love before he ever went to the cross.
- On the side of a hill, he preached his most famous sermon. (Matthew 5-7)
- He taught along the way from one village to another. (John 9:1)
- He found Zaccheaus in a tree. (Luke 19:1-9)
- He often sailed from the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile side. (Mark 4:35)
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, he spent time teaching, singing and praying with his disciples and eventually took them there on the last night of his earthly life. (Matthew 26:30-55)
Jesus Taught Others Through Nature
Spending time outdoors allowed Jesus to observe how the natural world revealed the love and care of the Father. His parables shared stories of farmers, land owners, shepherds, seeds, and fig trees. When we look through the Old Testament, the Scriptures that Jesus would have carried with him during his life and ministry, we see a continual connection between the creator God with the God who sees, hears, speaks and comforts his people. Psalms 145-150 are beautiful poems written to celebrate this connection.
Jesus’ Love for Creation Shows Up In His Teachings
One place we see this clearly is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Here, Jesus teaches important lessons about living a kingdom life. At a critical moment in the sermon, Jesus addresses how to overcome negative thinking and worry, two of the most difficult challenges we face; and Jesus does this by using creation. He points to birds and flowers. He uses common illustrations so that the crowd can understand his way of thinking and incorporate it into their lives.
In Mark 6:26 Jesus says: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Jesus Illustrated Kingdom Truths Through Nature
I think Jesus spent a lot of time bird watching. Each autumn about 500 million (not a typo!) birds fly over Israel from the north to the south, to spend the winter months in Africa. Thousands of birders flock to Israel each year to observe this extraordinary migration.1
I imagine Jesus saw this migration and thought about much more than sparrows.
Jesus translates his observations on birds and flowers into kingdom truths. He was confident that in order to combat worrying or negative thinking, his followers needed to seek his kingdom over everything else. He wanted them to comprehend that we are lovingly made in God’s image and to trust in him through any circumstance. We are blessed in any circumstance, not because of our circumstance but because of who God is. Gaining confidence in these experiences, we can reflect his love into the world.
Recent research on the benefits of our interactions with nature is just now catching up to what Jesus already knew. In the last few decades, science has been able to conduct evidence-based research on the benefits of human interaction with all aspects of nature. The benefits of this interaction increase the health of the whole person; from the way our brain works down to the oxygen we breathe.2
Besides oxygen in the outdoor air or Vitamin D we receive from the sun, here are a few other ways time in nature helps heal you:
- An antidote for stress: Green areas reduce cortisol levels. This stress hormone can be helpful but too much of it for too long can be bad for you.
- Reduce depression and anxiety: Living close to green areas helps reduce feelings of anxiety in teens and adults, and going for a walk in nature can help people diagnosed with depression.
- Improve cognition: Your brain does a lot of work and it needs to recover from this effort. Spending time in nature gives this organ the break it needs to improve your cognitive functions.
When Jesus says: “Look at the birds,” he obviously thought there was something there to see. I believe his hope was we would experience the love of God. We would know he created all living things, including ourselves, and that he sees us, knows us, and will provide everything we need to live. Jesus knew creation invites us to a life of awe, wonder, contentment, peace, and trust.
This demonstration of the complete care of creation reveals the Father’s heart towards every living thing, especially his children. When you truly watch birds and flowers the way Jesus invites you to, it will change the way you think and live.
You will experience:
- Less worry, more trust.
- Less stress, more peace.
- Less anxiety, more contentment.
- Less blasé, more wonder.
- Less boredom, more awe.
God Wants to Teach Us Too, In His Creation
I was just beginning to study the many benefits of spending time in nature when I learned of Horicon Marsh. Each May, over 300 different bird species will fly through and make their summer home around this marsh. It is the largest freshwater marsh in America and only a 30 minute drive from our church! I spent many days exploring this vast marsh which spans 33,000 acres.
On one hike I came across more egrets and white pelicans than I had ever seen. I rounded a corner so that my presence caused them to take flight and it was a glorious sight. I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the moment. My heart overflowed with awe, which quickly became a thank you to God for his creative beauty. It was a moment of gratitude and serenity for being under God’s care. I have had many small moments of the same experience in my backyard observing just one bird. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with access to county and state parks.
Come outside and let the Father, Son and Holy Spirit speak to you; whether through beauty, bird song, or quiet reflection and prayer. God is waiting to spend time with you in his creation. He longs for you to be with Him and know his love and watchful care over your life. Spending time in nature, as Jesus did, helps us learn to experience God’s presence in powerful ways.
I would encourage you to spend some time in God’s creation enjoying God’s presence. Here are a few nearby options:
Crosspoint Prayer Trails
Crosspoint has a beautiful natural area in the back of the church building. We developed hiking trails we often refer to as prayer trails. Alongside the trails there are six posts with prayer prompts. Each prayer post has a bench where you can sit and engage in time with Jesus.
This May, with the help of a local Eagle Scout, we will be adding six bluebird houses and four wren houses throughout the area. Please feel free to use these trails to enhance your spiritual health, physical health, emotional health, and soul-care. You can also invite others into this sacred outdoor space to journey with you.
This 33,000 acre marsh is the site of both a national and state wildlife refuge. The state refuge (in Horicon) is the southern area with a lovely visitor’s center and miles of trails. The northern area (near Waupin) is the national area and also has a smaller visitors center but a lovely 3 mile paved auto tour, plus miles of trails. You can bike, canoe, kayak, fish and hike in many areas. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day they open the old dike roads that give access into the heart of the marsh to see the most variety of birds. It’s best known for the geese migration in the fall from mid-September to October with up to 200,000 geese coming through.
1 I highly recommend this video on Israel’s magnificent bird migration.
2 Article published by the University of Minnesota revealing the results of research into how nature impacts our wellbeing.