May is migration month for many birds, and I’ve spent a significant amount of time outside lately, watching them fly north.
It truly is an amazing spectacle. I’ve seen tiny warblers (like the Yellow Warbler at left), five inches long and weighing about the same as a dime, who are working their way north from Central America to the boreal forest where they’ll nest and raise their families in the 24-hour sunshine.
Turkey Vultures soar along, perhaps from Texas or further south. Flocks of swallows return to build mud nests under our bridges and the eaves of our houses. You can see them filling intersections in town, swooping after flying insects.
If you go outside late at night you can hear the chirping as flocks passing by 5,000 feet above you. They fly all night, pausing only briefly during the day to eat on the run.
While Arctic Terns don’t live in Colorado, they are the migration champions. Each year they make the trip from Antarctica to the Arctic and back again, chasing an endless summer. They don’t even stop along the way to eat.
What really impressed me was the single-minded focus of all these birds. I was hiking along the Platte River watching the Violet-green Swallows flow like a second stream, turning and swooping, but always heading north. The warblers scoured treetops for tiny insects, fast food along their route, but always moving north from tree to tree. Tanagers, hummingbirds, sandpipers… they all had one direction in mind, and nothing could side-track them.
God uses all aspects of nature to teach us about life with Him, and this was no exception. I could “hear” His quiet voice, asking me if I could be this single-minded toward Him. Can I stay on the narrow path with the end goal in mind, if not in sight? Or will I be distracted by the cares of this world?
It’s hard sometimes to know which way we are to go, and what is a detour. Because God is a tour guide and not a travel agent, He doesn’t just hand us a destination and some tickets, and wish us bon voyage. Rather, He leads us step by step, moment by moment.
Even harder, those guiding whispers we hear may not always make much sense to us at the time. Back to the birds for a moment…
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird spends winters in Central America and summers in the eastern USA. When it’s time to head north, most of the population moves up through Yucatan and then takes a daring leap of faith. These tiny birds fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico! There is no food, no fresh water, and no place to rest. Their lose half their body weight during the three-day trip. (There are also very few predators, making this a viable alternative to flying north over land.)
I’m sure that if I was a hummingbird, I would come to that coastline and screech to a halt. “Is that really what you want, God? This is insane! I’m migrating so that I can be more successful at raising a family, not so I can drown in the ocean!”
Yet, this is truly the best route for this bird to take. It has to trust its instincts, and we need to trust God.
While we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, most of us have no inkling of what route God wants us to take to get there. We need to stay close to Him or we’ll get lost. Keeping our focus can be a challenge.
For example, most people have a desire and expectation that they’ll get married and have children. And in most cases, that’s fine. But I know several wonderful people who, having heard God’s voice, have purposely decided to remain single for the sake of the Kingdom. In their case, the good of having a family would be a distraction from God’s best.
If we have a passion to be used by God, the years we spend in preparation may seem unnecessary. Why get a college education when I want to be a missionary in India?
Or we may be passionate about a “secular” topic—medicine, engineering, photography (!)—and we wonder how pursuing that will contribute to God’s kingdom.
It’s good to hold everything up to the light of God’s priorities. He will give us discernment. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be significant! It’s just that we aren’t always the best judges of what God considers important. Rather, it’s essential that we keep our ears open for God’s direction, and then obey what we hear. In a sense, He is like the navigation system He built into migrating birds, pulling us in the right direction.
In my own life, it’s only at the ripe old age of 56 that all my experiences are starting to weave together. I’m finally beginning to understand what God is doing with and through me! (Pete’s life began to make sense years ago, which was nice for him!) For many of us, we may never find out what God is up to, at least on this side of heaven. Can we live with not knowing? Do we trust Him not to waste our life? Can we follow single-mindedly after Him?