“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6)
Sometimes I go birdwatching if I wake early in the morning. I like to leave early, but usually spend a bit of time with the Lord before I go. (The prayer time also involves coffee…) If we abide in Him and He abides in us this will involve our leisure pursuits (assuming they don’t involve ungodly activities!) as well as everything else we do, and He will use them to His purposes – sometimes just to bless us, because He loves to do that – and sometimes because He has something else in mind. Here are three examples of why it matters.
An important aspect of my hobby is taking photographs of interesting birds that I see. Taking the pictures and looking at them afterwards is a big part of the enjoyment for me. A few weeks ago I woke at about 6.30 and decided to go up onto Cannock Chase, our local beauty spot, and see what might be around before the dog-walkers and joggers started to turn up. Because my “window” of hopefully uninterrupted time was relatively short, I decided on that occasion not to even bother with the coffee or the prayer time – I’ll do that when I come back, I thought – and headed straight up to Cannock Chase. I parked the car, and my head was full of what I might see at this time of day. I switched off the engine and reached for my camera. It wasn’t there. I had gone out to photograph birds but I had left my camera behind.
It doesn’t take a word of knowledge to work out what the Lord said to me through this. Proverbs 3:6 tells us “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” As I have written more than once before, the word “acknowledge” here means to know, not just refer to. The sense is closer to “abide in” than what we understand by “acknowledge,” which is just to accept or admit the existence of something or someone. I didn’t acknowledge the Lord in the sense of Proverbs 3:6 before I went birding, and He quite categorically did not direct my path.
There have been a couple of times since ten when, equally categorically, He has. One was on my birthday, which was nine days ago at the time of writing. I woke at about 6.00 am and decided to go birding. There are various hotspots within half an hour’s drive of our house, and I decided I would go to one of those rather than just go up onto the Chase. This time though, I had my coffee with the Lord. When I left, I felt strongly that I should go to a particular reservoir that is actually managed as a nature reserve by West Midlands Bird Club, of which I am a member. My favourite birds are warblers – little two ounce balls of fluff that migrate thousands of miles to breed in the UK and bless us with their various tweets and twitters from our woods, heaths and hedgerows. There are about ten warbler spieces in the UK, including some rarer types, that an informed birder has a reasonable chance of seeing in the UK, depending on where they are. One of the rarer warblers is the grasshopper warbler, and a few breed on a patch of heathland about the same distance from me as the reserve I was heading for.
As I drove down the motorway, I thought: “Perhaps I’ll go to Norton Bog in the hope of seeing a grasshopper warbler, and not the reservoir?” “No!” came the thought back. “Go to the reservoir. Stick to your original decision.” So I stuck to the plan. When I arrived I found that a small team from the bird club were ringing birds. They put up nets in strategic places, a bit like volleyball nets, catch the birds, inspect them for their general health, their age etc, ring them and of course release them. The activity plays an important part in the scientific study of bird populations. When I saw them I said “Have you got anything interesting?” “Yes, said one of the ringers. We have got something special.” I could spin this out, but I won’t. It was a grasshopper warbler. That morning I saw six different spieces of warbler, including another one that I hadn’t seen since I was a boy of about 11 (that’s sixty years ago!) and took some lovely photos. What a birthday present from the Lord! Why did He give it to me? Because He loves me, and wanted to bless me on my birthday! He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Eph 3:20) and we can so easily forget this. I could, probably would, have traipsed around Norton Bog and seen nothing of interest. Instead of that, His power at work in me directed my paths and blessed me with a birdwatching birthday present that I am going to remember for ever, and which I would like to think I will thank Him for personally when I get to Heaven. Not only will His immeasurable power do such wonders for us, but He will do them for others, through us, if we will only seek His presence and believe His word.
The final example of how He directed my paths on a morning birding excursion has got more of an immediate “Kingdom” aspect to it, and happened just three days ago. Again, I had my coffee with the Lord, and felt that I would go a bit further afield, to a place called Barr Beacon. I left at about 6.30, but when I was nearly there I was slowed down by the first wave of commuter traffic so by the time I arrived the first dog-walkers were already out. However, I was blessed almost as soon as I got out of the car by a little family of yellowhammers, and once again I tried to allow the Holy Spirit to “direct my paths.” After about 20 minutes I was on a particular path, trying to get a picture of a willow warbler in a tree, when a man came in my direction with his dog. “Oh, well; bye bye willow warbler,” I thought, and made a fuss of the friendly little dog which came up to me with its tail wagging. The man and I exchanged pleasantries, then he called his dog and went on.
I was going to move on myself, but I felt a prompting to stay around there. Maybe the willow warbler will be back, I thought. Actually it was the man and his dog that came back after a few minutes. In fact the warbler hadn’t gone far, because I could hear it calling from the hedgerow. Max (the dog) stopped to say hello, and the man stopped and we chatted some more. He told me he had heard something in the hedge, and we started chatting about warblers and the wonders of migration. I started thinking, “Lord, is this where You come into the conversation?” Soon He did, and I was talking about the God of Creation. He was agreeing with me, and before long we were referring to the Bible and I was thinking the Lord may have led me to a brother in Christ. I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said with a little smile, “No. Actually I’m probably the devil to you, because I am one of Jehovah’s witnesses!”
I had been directed to that place at that moment to testify to a Jehovah’s witness of how I had been led to our conversation by the Holy Spirit that he didn’t believe in.
We had a couple of the inevitable conversations and he fished a tract out of his pocket and gave it to me (I was convicted: why didn’t I have one in mine?), but I felt strongly that God hadn’t sent me there to argue with him. Just like Paul with the Corinthians, I don’t believe that we convince JWs “with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” (1 Cor 2:4). Like a lens on a camera, they have their own lens that they put on the Bible, and they view everything through it. The Holy Spirit has to get them to change lenses. I felt that my mission was to make two declarations of truth concerning the Trinity, and to leave them with him. I said, “Born-again Christians and Jehovah’s witnesses always argue, and I don’t want to do that. I just want to make two declarations to you: there is a personal Holy Spirit (they believe that He is a force), and Jesus isn’t a created being (They translate John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was a God.) At that, we parted company amicably. His name is Kevin. Please pray for him!
One last little story. The next time I went out after the episode where I had left my camera behind, I opened my Bible to the psalm I had been reading the previous day. It was Psalm 84. Straight away I noticed verse 3, which says: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God”
We will even find an anointing on the subjects of our leisure interests if we stay near the altar of our King and our God.