Wildlife lessons

The lion in front of me has no idea I’ve been stalking him.

I have trained my camera, zoom extended, on his tawny face, waiting for him to do something a tad more ferocious than licking his paws. He momentarily opens his mouth and snap! I have my photo, false snarl secured.

My wife and I have come to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., to meet my son, daughter-in-law, and their two, small boys. The older of the two has been eager to see actual wild animals. This is his first zoo excursion.

I am taking pictures in order to create a photo book for him later. As I wander in the pressing crowds to each exhibit, I catch a bit of the wonder of not only my grandson, but of Psalm 104. It celebrates the complexity of the world that God has created and sustains.  For instance:

            The young lions roar for their prey,
                        seeking their food from God.
           When the sun rises, they steal away
                        and lie down in their dens.
           Man goes out to his work
                        and to his labor until the evening. (Psalm 104:21–23)

That’s interesting. Lions hunt all night. Man labors all day. That’s a pretty basic reduction of life. As I look at the creatures in the zoo, I consider how much of a wild animal’s existence consists of finding food. It is (along with reproduction) its primary task.

But here in the zoo, with food provided, there is little purpose for the not-so-wild life. I watch a worker carefully hide strands of grain in a large cage so that the returning monkeys can have some challenge to finding food. In another section of the zoo, cables stretch overhead for the orangutans to have room to explore. Without purpose, animals languish.

The same is true for humans. I’m acutely aware of the treadmill that verse 23 points to above. It’s easy to be reduced to the baseline purpose of doing one’s job, with the same languishing result – called by songwriter Bruce Cockburn as “pacing the cage.”

I need to find more clarity in my purpose. I live to follow Christ. To make disciples. To bring God glory. These are great things, indeed. Anchors for the soul. But this day in the zoo makes me realize that I need more connection to these in my “going out to my work.”

I want to be alert to the opportunities to enlarge my scope to include these bigger themes.

And not just have my head down in the tasks that have to get done.

Gracious God, maker and sustainer of all life, forgive us when we live like beasts – reducing our purpose to just getting through the day. Give us today a clear connection to your purposes for us. Raise our eyes. Enlarge our hearts.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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