It happens every summer.
We make plans to slow down and rest after a busy school year, only to realize in July that we have neither slowed down nor rested. Also, while we have been enjoying God’s creation, I realize that I haven’t allowed my time in nature to do what God intended or what creation itself longs to do. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been outdoors this summer, enjoying hiking, fishing, and canoeing. But it isn’t enough to be active or even to enjoy creation. The question is, “Are we listening to it?” And if we are listening, are we allowing what we hear to cultivate wonder and lead us to worship?
Far too often, our pace and plans take us from one activity to the next, or we visit beautiful places without pausing to listen and hear what God could be saying to us in those places. He is speaking, but are you listening?
Creation is Testifying
David begins Psalm 19, saying:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1–4)
The heavens that he spoke into existence with a word are constantly echoing back praise to him and testifying about his matchless glory to the ends of the earth. Are you listening?
In 2002, Paul Marcarelli broke onto the scene as the Verizon test man. Whether he was popping up out of sewers, trudging through swamps, sitting in a busy office, or walking through a desert, he always asked, “Can you hear me now?” It was brilliant advertising, asking a relevant question in those primitive days of cell phone usage for the masses as it was a question that all of us have asked: “Can you hear me now?”
That’s actually a question that we need to consider about God as we engage in a summer of fun activities in beautiful places: “Can you hear him now?” If creation is declaring his glory, are we listening? More than that, are we letting what we hear affect us in the way that it should?
Don’t get me wrong, we say things on our vacations like, “Aren’t those mountains majestic?” or “Isn’t the ocean so powerful?” But too often, I stop the meditation short in the realm of my personal enjoyment. I have to imagine that the mountains are saying something like, “If you think I am majestic, you should see the One who made me.” Or the ocean is declaring, “You should see the power of the One who put me in place and told me exactly how far I could go toward the land.”
In all of their beauty, the mountains and oceans that we enjoy on our vacations are merely signposts to a greater majesty and glory. Are we listening?
In Knowing God, J.I. Packer says, “Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.” This is true of our summer activities as well. We give deep thought and planning to what we think we want to see and do but give little thought to how God and his creation might invite deeper worship through the beauty we engage.
So how can we cultivate great thoughts about God in the middle of our summer activities?
Stirring Up Wonder Through the Word
One way that I do this is to let the poetic words of Scripture speak to me about creation’s testimony. Over the years, in addition to the creation account in Genesis 1–2, I have looked to poetic passages like Psalm 19, Psalm 33:6–9, Job 38–41, or Isaiah 40:12 to calibrate my eyes, my ears, and my heart to see, hear, and respond to creation’s testimony of God’s sovereign power and meticulous providence over his creation. But Psalm 104 has become a favorite place to recalibrate.
Psalm 104 is theologically breathtaking, doxologically provocative, and existentially reorienting. When my sight gets blurry, my hearing deafened, and my heart cold, it is like smelling salts for my soul. It is full of imagery of God as an eternal architect laying the foundation of the earth and setting its landscape by placing the majestic heights of mountains, pressing down the valley floors with his hand, and keeping the seemingly untamable might of the sea in place with the word of his power.
Now, when I go hike a mountain, I think, “God determined the height of this mountain to be exactly what I am looking at. And he determined the depth and contours of the terrain of that valley to be shaped exactly as they are.” When I think of the power of the ocean, I marvel at the fact that though the sand gives way under the weight of my kids, it cannot be overrun by the might of the sea because God says to the sea, “This far and no further” (Psalm 104:9).
The psalm goes on to consider the meticulous care of God providing the habitat and food for the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and for mankind. It talks about how he has set the daily rhythms for the sun, has given the moon to mark the seasonal rhythms, and has given rhythms of activity and rest for both man and beast. But one of my favorite lines is Psalm 104:21: “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.”
When I read that line, I marveled that the lion understands who feeds him more accurately than I sometimes recognize it. The psalmist says the lion’s roar is like Oliver Twist’s “Please, sir, I want some more.” It is the animal kingdom’s version of “give us this day our daily bread. Taking this picture a bit further, I can’t help but imagine that the bird songs I hear outside my window each morning are either a prayer or a word of praise to God for his provision.
The psalmist sums the thought of our creaturely dependence on God by saying in Psalm 104:27–30:
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.”
These all look to you. These words testify to God’s meticulous providence, our utter dependence, and creation’s watchful eye to the hand of God for sustenance that only he can provide. The only reason we have anything that we need is because God opens his hand to provide it.
These all look to you. When we see God rightly, it is the end of any thoughts of our self-sufficiency or grandeur. But what is more, when you hear the weight of “these all look to you” and realize the attentiveness and care of God to know the needs, as well as the love of God and the power of God to care for those needs—without ever worrying if he has enough or without ever dropping the ball—it should provoke nothing short of worship!
Slow Down and Stir Up Wonder
Creation is constantly testifying to the sovereign power and meticulous care of God. I challenge you to read psalms like Psalm 104 and ask God to open your eyes, to slow you down, and to stir up wonder in your soul. As we engage in the rest of our summer activities and enjoy God’s creation, I am praying that God calibrates our eyes, ears, and heart through his Word to receive the testimony of his creation, leading us to join the psalmist in saying, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great!” (Psalm 104:1)