Observation

We must learn to listen and look.

He Speaks to Me Everywhere (2)

If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If He moves past, I do not perceive Him…
Job 9.11

A witness in creation
Imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of those pagans in Lystra, as the Apostle Paul declared to them that “the living God, Who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,” had left a “witness” to Himself in the annual harvests, and the food and gladness He had granted these people from time out of mind (Acts 14.14-18).

“What’s he talking about?” they must have asked one another.

The people of Lystra had been sowing, harvesting, walking their fields, preparing their meals, enjoying their table, and having a good old time of it, all in the presence of the God of heaven and earth, and yet they didn’t have a clue. God was going by them and around them, moving in and through the work of their hands, but they could not see Him. He was bearing witness to Himself, leaving a trail of evidence that should have induced the people of Lystra to seek Him (Acts 17.26, 27), but, like Job in his distractedness, they did not perceive Him.

Most of us are just like Job and those pagans. God is speaking to us everywhere, going on ahead of us, flashing forth from niches, nooks, and crannies, moving on before, beside, and behind us, but we are not in the least mindful of His presence. We just aren’t paying attention. We fail to note His presence or to discern the revelation that He pours out, day by day and night by night, to tell us of His glory and love. So we miss abundant opportunities for engaging God in His glory, leading to wonder and worship, and making us better prepared to relay His witness to the people around us.

Learning to read creation
Creational theology is the discipline that can help us learn to “read” the book of creation and culture, and the work of creational theology begins by training our eyes to see and our ears to hear the witness God is speaking to us everywhere.

Creational theology begins in observation.

Those who want to observe the revelation of God will need a notebook or a stack of 3 x 5 cards, and keep them at the ready. We won’t always remember what we’ve seen, much less take the time to reflect on any observations; but if we jot down even the slightest impressions, these can lead to fruitful seasons of hearing the voice of God in the things He has made. And these meditations will make us more sensitive to the presence of God, so that we may perceive Him more readily, and enjoy Him more completely.

But what should we observe? First, sounds: “This is my Father’s world, and to my list’ning ears, all nature sings…” The ominous rumble of an approaching thunderstorm, the hum and whir of a well-tuned engine, the sweet whisper of a gentle breeze, a lilting melody, the various songs of garden birds – all these and more can provoke us to ponder the wonder, mystery, majesty, and delight of God. Write down the sound, how it appeared to you, how it made you feel, or what you thought of when you heard it.

Next, sights: “the morning light, the lilies white, declare their Maker’s praise…” Note the gentle, sloping lines of a mountain ridge, the symmetry of a beautiful tree, the destruction of a natural habitat by flood or fire – reminders of the consequences of the fall – even the different smiles of the people we see each day.

Write down colors – how many different shades of yellow, orange, and red can you note in an autumn forest? Note the shapes and sizes of birds, flowers, and foods.

Then let your senses of taste, touch, and smell be enlisted in this royal quest to discover the glory that God has concealed in the things He has made (Prov. 25.2). Touch a fallen leaf, and note its texture; savor the smells emanating from the kitchen as dinner is being prepared; note the taste, texture, and temperature of the food you eat. Jot it down. Describe it as best you can. Together, our senses can become a research team for making notes or sketches, recording immediate impressions, raising questions to ponder – all of which can become fodder for deeper meditation at more convenient times.

Just observe
To begin the work of creational theology, don’t worry about trying to discover something “theological” in your observations; simply get them down as fully and as clearly as you can. Look carefully, note well, and don’t take for granted anything about the world around you. God is moving, working, and bearing witness to Himself as surely in our experience as in that of the people of Lystra to whom Paul spoke.

There will be time later to layer on the insights of Scripture, and to ladle over your observations the theological and cultural tradition of the faith. Remember that, in a good painting, a well-crafted poem, or a powerful musical composition, nothing is included by chance. Every line, phrase, stroke, note, color, meter, and rest has something to bring to the glory of the whole.

How much truer is this of the creation all around, where our Lord Jesus Christ continually upholds and renews His creation by His powerful Word (Heb. 1.3)?

God is speaking to us everywhere, every day of our lives. Let us not be so distracted by our own agendas, or become so accustomed to our daily routines, that we fail to perceive Him present with us, near us, in and around us, and bearing witness to His glory, and beckoning us to know Him better.

For reflection
1.  Do you believe that God is bearing witness to Himself in creation and culture? Why is He doing this?

2.  Think back over the past 24 hours. What might you have jotted down as an observation to reflect on at some later time? What did you hear or see that might have been the Lord, bearing witness to you?

3.  How can making observations like this help us in learning to pray without ceasing? If this is the only benefit we gain from being more observant, would it be worth the effort? Explain.

Next steps – Conversation: Look at a space one foot square, right where you are, right now. Jot down what you see. Thank God for what you see. Keep your observation with you throughout the day, and take it out and meditate on it, asking the Lord to bear witness of Himself to you. Before the day is over, share your observation with a Christian friend or family member.

For a fuller study of the disciplines of creational theology, order the book,
Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology, from our online store (click here). The glory of God is always at hand, if we know how to discern, enter, and express it. Our booklet, Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars, can help you learn to recognize the glory of God, and to glorify Him in even the most everyday details of your life. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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