“Do Birds Know Best?”
Robert D. Cathcart, Jr.
Last Sunday morning, as I arrived to make final preparations for worship, I noticed that a group of tree swallows had returned to nest in the portico protecting our sanctuary for the second straight year. Unquestionably, these beautiful, acrobatic birds make a mess, but it's a joy to watch the mothers care for their young and then, for the little ones to launch themselves from the nest in just a few short weeks. In addition, as they sing their songs of praise to their Creator, they provide our congregation with a stunning biblical illustration. How can we see these birds and their annual migration back to these columns and not think about Psalm 84?
"Psalm 84:1-4 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!"
The question is - Do these birds know best? Or at least better than we do? What I mean by that is this: Do these birds find a better refuge than we each summer? Yes. I know that summer is a time for resting, for relaxing, and for travelling. We praise the Lord for this refuge promised each year! At the same time, our summertime activities shouldn't take our hearts and our bodies too far away from "the courts of the LORD." No! We should long for the lovely dwelling place of the LORD of hosts, the place where He reveals Himself most fully in Word, Sacrament, and Prayer.
If we fail to find joy and pleasure in God’s presence, regardless of our luxurious location, we'll find ourselves much like the Psalmist who has been cut off from worship in the temple for some reason. Maybe he's ceremonially unclean; perhaps he's at war, far away from Jerusalem. What's not in question, though, is that he's languishing spiritually, as he passes through the valley of Baca (verse 6), which is sometimes translated a Valley of Tears (others translate it as a dry and deserted place). It also seems that there's been some major defeat as the psalmist prays for the Lord's blessing on king and country (vv.8, 9). His hope, though, soars in his anticipation of glorious worship in the Lord's house:
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
For the psalmist, and for the pilgrims who later adopted this Psalm for use as they trekked through the wilderness on their way to Jerusalem, the hope of worshiping the Lord in the beauty of His holiness (Ps. 29:2) even makes the Valley of Tears, or the dry and deserted place, into " a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools" (vs. 6).
In our area of the country, we often experience drought once the summer months are upon us. How true this can be for the church of Jesus Christ June - August, regardless of where we live. Our charge from this passage is this: Don't become spiritually dry this summer by neglecting the Lord's worship! Remember this vivid illustration of the tree swallows and take your place among God's people as you worship our Savior Jesus Christ this summer. Here are a few practical suggestions:
1. If at all possible (and it's almost always possible!), begin your vacation after worship on the Lord’s Day. Remember, the 4th Commandment is still in effect during the summer, as well as Hebrews 10:25 : "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. "
2. Likewise, make plans to return on Saturday instead of Sunday.
3. If your vacation does require that you be away, find a place to worship while you're on vacation. Here's a link to PCA churches throughout the US. http://www.pcaac.org/church-search/ Most likely, there'll be one near you! Think of how much your church loves visitors. You can be a great encouragement to another church in the same way and get to know our denomination a little bit better!
4. Don't forget to support your local church financially when you're gone. This is for your own spiritual good (Mal. 3:6-12; Phil 4:17), as well as for sustaining ministry during the summer months.
In closing, think of what glorious things happen when we worship! How much greater is our privilege now that God's beautiful presence isn't only manifested in the Holy of Holies, or to be approached by the High Priest once per year? Yes! Jesus Christ dwells in each of our hearts through His Holy Spirit and He especially fills us with His glorious presence when we gather together for worship, revealing to us His love and mercy. And while we worship, He slowly and expertly crafts us into His perfect image. As we leave with His benediction, He gives us meaning and purpose for the week ahead, calling us to take His life-giving presence through our witness into a dark and dying world. He truly withholds no good thing from those who obey His command to worship Him (vs. 11)! That's why one day worshiping the Risen Christ among His people is infinitely better than a thousand spent at any destination we might choose this summer - whether basking in the sunlight on a beautiful beach, witnessing an exciting final back nine at the US Open, enjoying a theater filled with top-rate actors in New York City, or flocking to magnificent art museums in Europe flooded with the finest treasures of western culture, or wherever we might be dreaming of vacationing! These don’t hold a candle to the lovely place where our Lord dwells among His people (vs.1) when we gather in His Name to worship.
Don't let the birds know better than you this summer. Fly to the Lord's presence in worship and sing for joy to the living God!