NATURE AND WORSHIP
By Pastor Glenn Pease
In our 5,536 mile trip to Santa Clara and back, we saw the incredible handiwork of God like we never saw it before. The Grand Canyon was so awesome and scary to me with my fear of heights. All of my pictures have the railing in them because I could not get close enough to lean over it. We saw the beauty of the mountains and forests around Lake Tahoe that make it such a popular place. We saw the painted desert and the petrified forests, and the great variety of flowers and palm trees of California plus the vast fields of grapes. We saw the wonders of mans creativity also in the most unusual city we have ever seen-Santa Fe, New Mexico. We saw there the oldest house and church in the USA.
Everywhere we went there were masses of other people trying to see what they have never seen before. That is what travelling is all about, and that is why tourist traps are so prevalent. People want to see something. When we got back we took our grandchildren to the science museum in St. Paul, and it was a mad house as multiplied hundreds of people pushed their way passed each other to see the man made dinosaurs. People long to see the unique and the spectacular. This is what motivates people to travel and go to new places. In Glendale, California people were even flocking to Forest Lawn Cemetery to see the wonder of the Lord's Supper in living color, as well as a host of other examples of great art and sculpture. Eyes are made for seeing, and man has a perpetual desire to see. It is his adventure; his entertainment, and his education.
According to Bernard Shaw, seeing God's handiwork was of the very essence of life to Joan of Arc. When her judges sentenced her to perpetual imprisonment she responds, "Send me to the stake rather than that. To shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of fields and flowers; to chain my feet so that I can never again climb the hills-this is worse the furnace 7 times heated. Without these things I cannot live; and by your wanting to take them from me, I know that your counsel is of the devil, and that mine if of God." Her conviction was that God wanted her to see His creation. Seeing is the daily bread of the eyes. God made the eyes, and He expects us to use them to see what He has made. He even gives us glimpses into what we will see when we leave this world of wonders to enter the world of His presence and even greater wonders.
If prizes were given out for the greatest seer of unique and unusual things, the Apostle John would take first prize. Paul was caught up into heaven also, but he does not tell us what he saw, but John does. He was given the greatest vision of God's throne, and all that surrounds it, of any person who has ever lived. He saw awesome things that makes all other visions trivial by comparison. The thing that caught my attention about John's fabulous vision of heaven is that the key theme of Rev. 4 is the Creator and His creation. In other words, John's trip to heaven was much like the trips we take on earth to see the handiwork of God. He saw from the heavenly perspective, but the dominate theme of this chapter is the seeing of nature and its worship of God as its Creator.
This heavenly vision is amazingly worldly. Look at the worldly symbols:
1. The rainbow around the throne.
2. The glassy sea.
3. The four living creatures with faces of lion, ox, man, and eagle.
In almost sounds like John is in a celestial zoo. The scene around God is so nature oriented, and the songs of 24 elders who represent all of God's people for all time is not a song about redemption, but about nature and God as the Creator of all things. There is no escaping the primary message of this first vision of John. God wants to be worshiped as Creator. God is proud of His roll, and He has made the wonders of the world. All that we see that amazes us is His doing, and He expects us to praise Him for His wisdom, power, and cleverness in making what He has made. If God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then God's people will be a people who, like the saints in heaven, honor and glorify God as Creator.
A woman who has sewn or knitted, or crochet a thing of beauty is delighted when you acknowledge that it is worthy of praise. People who make things of beauty enjoy their works being enjoyed by others. That is what creativity is all about. If you appreciate a work of art, you should let the creator of it know, for that is the joy of creating. God feels the same as any artist or creator of beauty. He wants to know if other minds can see and appreciate what He has done. A major part of our worship is to honor Him, thank Him, and praise Him for the wonders of nature. The Christian is to be a student of nature, for the reason that when it is known better, you know God better, and you will be in a state of worship.
The Christian has no quarrel with science, for it is but the study of that which God has made. It has a quarrel, however, with that which leads men to worship the creation rather than the Creator, but there is no quarrel with science as such. The songs of heaven are songs of praises for God's creativity. If God made it then it is worthy of study, for all God has made will lead us to praise Him when we see His wisdom in it. Psa. 104:24 says, "How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all."
When we came across the salt flats heading to Salt Lake City we saw what looked like glaciers of salt coming through the mountain passes. God made so much salt in this world. But what it truly amazing is that every grain of that salt, be it in the ocean, lakes, or under the earth, is a perfect square to the millionth of an inch. How it can possibly be is mind boggling, but that is the way God made salt; it is always square. Sugar on the other hand is never square, but always irregular in shape. Why? Because God made the world with design, and clear signs of His creative mind. There is order an design everywhere so that any who want to see can see and worship the Creator.
There are fifteen largest pages filled with Bible texts that deal with all aspects of nature. I suspect no man could ever live long enough to study in depth all God has said about nature in His word. Everything that science studies is in the Bible. As we traveled, we saw vast fields of crops all in beautiful rows. We knew it was no accident they were so orderly. Miles and miles of grapes in beautifully organized fields didn't just happen. That order was designed by intelligence. We knew it, and when you study the crops themselves, you know they also came from intelligence.
Jesus said the fruitful Christian would reap, some 30 fold, some 60, and some a hundred fold. It was no accident that Jesus used only even numbers to illustrate, for He made all seed bearing plants to have a even number of seeds. If you check a field of poor wheat, you will find the stocks with 28, 30, or 32 grains. If you check a field with a good crop you will find stocks with 58, 60, or 62. If it is a bumper crop you will find 98, 100, or 102. But always you will find and even number of grains. God made all seed bearing crops so they always have a even number of seeds. That is designed and order and it is to make us lift our voices in praise to the Creator of such order. If the farmer is to be praised for the order He has created in the planting of the crops, how much more the Creator of the order in the crops He plants?
No matter where you look, in the starry heavens above, or in the deep seas below, and everywhere in between, you see that which makes the honest observer say, "The word chance doesn't fit-there is mind in that." Nature and worship go hand in hand to those who see nature as God intended it to be seen: As a symbol of His power and wisdom. Thomas Edison said, "One thing is certain, the universe is permeated by intelligence. I tell you no person can be brought into contact with the mysteries of nature, or make a study of chemistry, without being convinced that, behind all, there is a Supreme Intelligence. I am convinced of that. I think I can, perhaps I may sometime, demonstrate the existence of such intelligence with the certainty of a demonstration in mathematics."
John's vision is not of any scientific experiment or mathematical proof. He sees four living creatures which are symbols of all nature glorifying and worshiping God. Most commentators will agree that these four living creatures are representative of all nature. The lion is supreme among wild animals; the ox is supreme among tame animals; the eagle is supreme among the birds, and man is supreme among all the creatures of earth. As Swete and Barclay state, "These four beings stand for the noblest, strongest, swiftest, and wisest of God's creatures, and they lead the way in the worship of their Creator." The best of nature are not objects of worship, but are themselves leaders in worship.
When God created all of nature, He said it was very good, and in the new heaven and new earth it will be very good again. Creation is seen here as God intended it to be: A tool that leads His people to worship. What is nature for? Its chief end is to glorify God and lead men to do the same. Psa. 103:22 says, "Praise the Lord, all His works everywhere in His dominion." All of creation is to praise God, and in so doing be a witness to man of the importance of worship. God wants to be worshiped as our Creator even in heaven. He will be our Creator forever, and His creation will forever praise Him.
Some people ask, will there be animals in heaven? The answer is, if God is going to redeem His creation from the fall, and this is the clear revelation of the Bible, then there will be animals in heaven, and there will be everything else in heaven that is a part of God's creation, and forever they will aids to the worship of God as Creator. Chapter 5 is about the worship of God as redeemer, but before God became redeemer He was Creator, and He wants to be worshiped as such. Even redemption is a second work of creation. It is a plan by which fallen man and nature are recreated to be what God intends.
This revelation is to cause the Christian to be one who looks at all of nature as a guide to worship God as Creator. Our perspective is to be: All that God made is like a choir director leading us to praise its Maker. Sometimes this is easy, as when you are standing gazing out over the Grand Canyon. At other times it takes effort to see how nature glorifies God. Isa. 6:3 says, "The whole earth is full of His glory." But you have to look harder some places to see it. Take the wilderness for example:
As I drove for hours seeing nothing but wilderness and desert sage, which amazed me with its ability to survive in such a place, I wondered over and over again what good is all this wasteland? It seemed so worthless, and I wondered why God made so much of it. As we saw a ranch off in the distance from time to time we could not help but feel sorry for the people who have to live in such isolation from the world. Some had their large TV dishes, and so we knew they could lighten up their solitude with the blare and glare of civilization, but many had no TV, and when we turned on the radio we found places with no stations at all, and many with only one. The very thought of living in such isolation was a burden to us.
Then, when I read the Scripture I was reminded that these people had the potential of developing very Christlike qualities by living there. John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said that he was the greatest born of woman, lived in the wilderness. Jesus also often went into desolate places to pray and be alone with His heavenly Father. Luke 5:16 says, "And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed." Luke 6:12 says, "..He went out into a mountain to pray..." Mark 1:35 says, "..rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed into a solitary place and there prayed."
David Douglas in Christianity Today says he can identify with this, for in Santa Fe, New Mexico he is ever near the wilderness, and he says it motivates one to pray, for the solitude and the wonder of nature dominate the mind. It makes one feel alone with the Creator of it all. He says the vast wilderness makes one feel totally inadequate. Pride vanishing and one is filled with a sense of dependence upon God. I've only sipped at this cup from which he has drunk deeply, but I can, after seeing the wilderness, believe what he says is true. God does not speak to us more clearly in the wilderness, but we are more likely to listen there. That is the problem, that we are too busy, too preoccupied, too distracted by all the realities of life to listen to the Creator of all that really matters.
Being alone in the wilderness of God's creation makes us listen, and thus, makes us pray, and thus, it is a major aid to worship. Douglas writes, "On hiking trips I have taken alone, often into the desert canyons of the Southwest, prayer has become a virtual companion. I have walked for miles passed cliffs of burgundy sandstone, the walls suspended like five hundred foot-high tapestries embroidered by waterfalls, and come across no one for days. I have found myself praying on scores of occasions in that solitude, prayers of petition for my continued well being, prayers of thanks for my sight and mobility. Normally merely dutiful and absent minded, my prayers in the wilderness have become expressions of impassioned clarity."
In our gardens and our parks we can forget God, for even though He alone can make the flowers, trees, and plants, we are conscience also that we have helped make the order and beauty. But in the vast wide open wilderness we are over whelmed by the reality that we are not the Creator. We are nothing, and He is everything. All the so-called wasteland is not wasted at all, for it is one of the most powerful tools for making man conscience of God. John Muir made the claim, "While God's glory is written all over his work, in the wilderness the letters are capitalized." Anything that helps us worship God is a great value, and in John's vision we see it is the forces of nature that help all of God's people to worship. Therefore, the realm of nature is to be treasured as a friend that leads us to God.
The word of God says listen to the works of God, for day and night; perpetually, and without end, they call us to worship. There is a time and place for everything, and the time for worship is anytime, and the place is anyplace, for nature leads the way, and nature is like God in this respect: It is always present. The heavens declare the glory of God day and night. But so does every animal, every flower, and everything made that only God can make. Sheldon Vanauken wrote of an experience most all of us have had: Of suddenly being surprised by the sight of a cardinal in all of its red brilliance. He wrote,
This is no chance,
This bird of flame
That grips my glance:
I see God's name
In scarlet flight
And know that he
Along the light
Is hailing me.
We get so familiar with our surroundings and the nature in the context of where we live that we do not think of it as a symbol calling us to worship its Maker. This is one of the values of travel. We saw things that God made so radically different that it made me look more closely at the beauty of what we have in our own environment. It made me more thoughtful of creation. I don't know how long I can be influenced by what I saw in the West, or by what John saw in heaven, but the goal of every Christian is to be ever thoughtful of nature so that it might lead to worship. Max Mullen wrote, "The eyes of a thoughtful man forever behold the face of the Creator beaming in love from the midst of his works."
Beauty is a link to God. Some of the beauty of nature is so fleeting it is hard to capture. We were pulling up a hill in the painted desert, and on the ridge of a bare hill to our right was a large deer standing like a statue in the morning sun. I wanted Lavonne to get a picture of it, but we went around a bend and the vision was gone. It was a fleeting scene of impressing beauty we could not capture, and there are so many of these. But each one can cause you to praise God, for He is the author of that beauty. We often got up at 5:00 in the morning to drive, and we saw the sun come up over the mountains. The sun is the source of so much of the beauty of God's handiwork.
Gloria Gaither in Joys and Sorrows tells of how she came close to missing a chance to worship God, and strengthen her relationship to her son. It was a hectic day and she was busy in the kitchen when Benji hollered, "come here mom!" "I can't" she hollered back," I've got to finish these dishes. You will have to wait." Knowing that sunsets do not wait for busy mothers he said," okay, but you'll miss it," and he turned and walked out. It dawned on her that this could be an important moment, and so she went out behind him and saw the sky a riot of crimson. It was breathtaking with the light reflecting off the creak where they live, and geese flying across that crimson sky. Her son said, "Mom, I'm glad you came." She was glad as well, and felt bad because she almost missed this gift from God for a sink full of dishes. She still had to do the dishes, but it was easier after she had spent those moments in worship.
Nature is to be a source of constant messages that bring us out of self, work, and even play to worship the One who made it all. Day and night nature worships God as its Creator, and if we are alert, we can by day or night see that which will motivate us to join in on their song of praise. We are not Tazans and Janes. We do not live close to nature every day. The lion and eagle we rarely see, and for most of us even the ox or cow is a rare sight. But remember, man is a part of nature. Man is one of the wonders of God's creation. We can see people every day, and if we see them as God's works of art, we can see enough daily to make us join all nature in the praise and worship of God our common Creator.