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Birds, Lilies and His Kingdom
(originally posted June 18, 2014)
Matthew 6:33, a life-verse for me: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
The verses leading up to that verse speak of considering the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Events as of late have led my heart to do just that … may the following words encourage your heart to do the same.
Look at the Birds of the air
Last month, it became apparent that we had four types of birds that were nesting quite close to our home. The two that were dearest in my mind (and the two that stayed to raise their young) were chickadees and mourning doves.
Those doves are one of my favorite birds. So simple, gentle, dignified and humble, and seemingly everywhere, they remind me of our Savior, the "Man of sorrows".
One morning, while spending time with Him in the Scriptures, I noticed a bird that came flying by the window VERY close to the house. Upon closer observation, it turned out that a pair of mourning doves had made a rickety little nest right outside the kitchen door that leads to our deck. It was at the same time a blessing that these little ones would choose to come so close to us, as well as a cause for concern for them, that it would take a miracle for them to successfully raise their young in that spot, without the baby birds falling out of the little spot on which the nest rested.
The next four weeks were filled with some of the sweetest moments imaginable, during which time we had a close-up view of their lives, while they would surprisingly allow us unhindered access to the deck (they didn't flinch when we came out of the door, but would keep a steady eye on our every movement). They would allow us to take pictures very close up (many of which will be shared below).
The ways of these birds often seemed to speak a simple, pure wisdom, which is shared now with you, in the hopes that your heart will be encouraged and enlightened in some way.
Within the first day of realizing there was a nest there, we thought that perhaps one of the couple had been killed, since we saw a few feathers on the deck table, and only one bird on the nest. Thankfully, over time, and upon learning their habits, it became apparent that rather than one being all alone, these two birds split up their parenting duties seamlessly. The female would sit on the two little eggs over night, and the male would come to relieve her in the morning, usually between about 9 and 10 AM. First he would coo, calling her to let her know he was coming. Once he arrived, she would fly off, until she came to relieve him later in the day, about 4 PM or so.
Every day, this went on and on, and whichever bird was on the nest, there he or she stayed, with little or no break for hours on end.
Complete Each Other
During the few weeks prior to their arrival, my own heart had been moved with a phrase I had sensed in the Spirit, and these birds worked it out perfectly: "we need to stop competing with each other and start completing each other." This phrase had been resounding in my spirit in reference to both the body of Christ, as well as our individual marriages and families.
The amazing team work of these little birds was truly inspiring. Once the baby birds hatched, both parents, one at a time, fed and sat with (and usually ON) them, and again came to relieve each other as before. As the babies grew (VERY quickly over the next two weeks) the relief schedule sped up slightly, sometimes with the female relieving the male for an extra hour or so, mid-day, because the babies required increasing energy from them.
Over that month of watching these doves, their inherent qualities often brought scripture to mind. They were seemingly steadfast and quite fearless, while also being innocent, gentle and quite vulnerable in many ways. Their gentle habits were reminiscent of Matthew 10:16 "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."
The fact that they chose to place their nest so close to a human habitation, seemed questionable at first. Innocent, yes, shrewd, no…. However, even that spoke to my heart. We could certainly have caused them great harm if we had desired to do so, and they seemed to be defenseless. Of course, we made no attempt in that way, and it is not clear whether they would have allowed us to harm their offspring or would have fought back. A couple of times, a nosey squirrel came snooping around the nest, and I ran out and chased it away (so actually, it was good for them to have someone watching over them and perhaps scaring away true predators). Hence the possible wisdom in drawing near; in many ways, bringing to mind the encouragement from scripture: "Come near to God and he will come near to you.." (James 4:8a)
Surely, of all the mourning doves on the earth, these two specific ones are now the best known to me since they drew near, and let us observe them and enter in to their lives. How often in scripture are we reminded that He wants to know us? (Here are a few examples: Matthew 7:23, Jeremiah 2:8, I Corinthians 8:3 and Galatians 4:9.)
Coming near to a potentially "dangerous" God such as He, may SEEM to be less than prudent, but having Him close by to watch over one's affairs is wise indeed. Of course, drawing near to Him requires laying down a lot of our own ways, ideas, sin, etc. Perhaps the doves' choice of nesting location restricted them in some ways, but protected them in many others. That closeness reminded me of a line in one of my songs that is based on Psalm 84 (see the video below).
Here is Psalm 84: 3-4: "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, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God." The image of a little bird nesting near the very altar of God Himself is truly beautiful.
This version of Psalm 84 was recorded live at LGM's Worship in the Woods Retreat in 2010:
Psalm 84 (Lisa Prokopowitz)
Even if they WERE afraid at any point, they didn't show it, remaining consistently focused and calm. They continued to do exactly what was needed to accomplish the goal to which they were called--inspiring indeed. How often would it serve me well to not allow my fear or emotions to distract me? In several ways it is reminiscent of Paul's attitude in Philippians 3:14 "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
I mentioned earlier that we also had Chickadees nesting in a birdhouse on our property. One morning, while exercising in the cool of the day outside, I was focusing my attention squarely on the birdhouse to learn their habits so I could try to get a picture of them later. As I exercised, using a mini-trampoline, bouncing and running in place, I noticed something that caught my attention. It was most likely an optical illusion, but it startled me somewhat and made me think. Since my eyes were so (unnaturally) focused on one spot as my body was moving, eventually only that one spot was clear. The surrounding visual field began to change in appearance, with each bounce creating color, pattern and form, but nothing as distinguishable as the birdhouse. It was intriguing to say the least, making me think of how it could be for us, if our focus on Jesus were clear, consistent and unwavering. Our perspective about other things in life would gradually change and become altered in relation to Him.
Brought to mind what He said in Luke 9:62: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." I have heard that the reason for this image is that while plowing, it is important to keep your eyes on one spot in the distance, so that the row will be straight. It felt much that way as my focus was so intently on the birdhouse; everything else paled in comparison. The more keenly our attention can be focused on Jesus and His purposes, the less our attention will be drawn to other, distracting and less important things in life. And actually, He will change our view of those things altogether, giving us a higher perspective, while making our path straight.
Consider the Lilies
One evening when the baby doves were about a week old or so, while doing the dishes at the kitchen sink right inside the door to our deck (literally about 5 to 6 feet away from the doves' nest), I happened to be listening to one of my songs "Lily of the Valley" in preparation for some upcoming recording of the song.
A dear friend of mine, who had always been so supportive of me and loved all of my songs, considered "Lily of the Valley" to be her favorite. She had lived with Cancer for several years (far outliving her original diagnosis, by God's grace), and several months ago she departed this life and went on to her new home in Glory. As I listened, and the song brought her to mind (and how much I miss her), I realized that the Lily of the Valley in my garden had been "coincidentally" blooming in the recent weeks, and was just finishing up. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the lyrics to a verse of the song took my breath away: "Lily of the Valley, my Shelter from the storm, like a baby bird beneath Your wings, You keep me safe from harm…"
It was a profoundly personal and comforting moment, thinking of her, and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring some closure and peace to my heart in that moment.
I had the blessing of singing that very song at her funeral this past February. Here is a video of those moments:
Lily of the Valley (Lisa Prokopowitz)
Hunger, and Follow After Him
When the babies were about two weeks old, it was time for them to leave the nest, and again, the habits of these birds spoke volumes. The parents had gradually moved further from the babies over the days leading up to then, feeding them, but giving them more distance, sometimes hopping down to the other end of the deck structure on which the nest sat. One of the parents (most likely the father, who was the more competent singer) would walk or fly a short distance away and coo, beckoning them to follow him. Eventually, surely with his growing hunger getting the best of him, one of the babies flew up to the tree branches nearby following his parents. It took about another day for the other baby to be as brave, but eventually, they were both ready to depart their nest and fly freely into their new life.
This transition brought two things to mind. First, our Christian life is often so similar, as we are protected and sheltered under His wing. As we grow, He often gives us a little more space, increases our spiritual hunger, walks ahead, calls to us, and bids us to bravely follow Him out of our comfort zone. Only in doing so can we truly achieve all that He would desire for, of, in and through us.
In another way, it seems that in the Spirit, we are in so many ways like the little baby birds, all through our lives. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 : "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Our perspective needs to shift to see ourselves as He does. We are merely little children in the Spiritual realm. We are going through all sorts of tests, trials and lessons to prepare us for the day when we will finally be ready, willing and able to take flight, winging our way to Glory with (and in) Him.
Seek First His Kingdom
So that's pretty much the end of the story. I had heard that mourning doves often will reuse a nesting sight that they like. A day or two after the family had flown off, my husband and I were sitting on the deck. Suddenly, the father bird arrived with something like a small twig in his beak, seeming to be ready to refresh the little nest. He sat for a moment and we all looked at each other. Then, he turned and flew off into a tree….
There have been many moments of sweet cooing in the distance since then, and no doubt the pair are up in one of the trees around our yard, repeating their acts of devotion. Whether this was a once-in-a-lifetime blessing or they will come back for a repeat one day remains to be seen. On several occasions since they left, they have returned to the nest briefly. Whether visiting their old home, or hoping to move back in remains to be seen … you never do know, do you? :)
Wondering, as this discussion winds down, if any of these lessons/questions hit home in your own heart. Are we competing with our spouse, children, parents, friends and/or church brethren, or seeking to complete them? Do we keep God safely at arms distance, or come near to Him, making our life's nest right in a sheltered spot near the heart of His very altar? Is our attention scattered, or so focused on the hem of Jesus' robe as we follow Him, that everything else fades into obscurity? Do we stubbornly stand on our own, drenched, out in the midst of life's storm, or do we allow Him to shelter us under His wings? When we sense that He has moved away a bit, feeling the distance and hunger, yet hearing His call; do we answer? Do we move toward Him? Are we willing to venture out of our comfort zone into all that He has prepared for us?
These moments over recent weeks will personally be treasured in my heart fondly, likely until I am one day ready to take flight, winging my own way to Glory, following the Father's call.
My parting thoughts? Matthew 6:25-34 (encourage you to read the whole thing when you have the time…)
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Matt 6:26-27)
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt 6:33-34)
If you desire to know more about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, here is a wonderful resource to guide you:
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