A few years ago, I traveled with our church youth group on their annual Summer Camp. You need to understand something about how our church does youth camp…it’s not normal. Like most church camps, we travel to a remote camp location with activities, chapels and sleeping bags. What sets this youth camp apart is what happens around that tradition.
The Ultimate Road Trip
It’s an ultimate road trip. The year I participated, we traveled from our home in the KC suburbs through Nebraska and South Dakota for a short stop at Mt Rushmore. From there we drove across the plains of Wyoming into the open sky lands of Montana. We rode past Billings and Bozeman and through Missoula until we arrived in Glacier National Park. After an unbelievable hike in Glacier, bathing in an ice cold lake and a few nights in tents we headed to Yellowstone and then finally to our camp location in Wyoming.
There are lots of memories that stand out about this journey, but let me share two with you. First, I had never been that far north during the summer. While in Kansas the summer light lasts until about 9pm, in Glacier, it wasn’t truly dark until closer to 11pm. As we drove to our campsite near the park, I kept wondering when it would be dark. I mean not twilight but truly dark. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no city lights, and it still wasn’t dark.
I wasn’t prepared for this, but it helps explain the immensity of my other memory. We finally arrived to our campsite a little after midnight. It was completely dark, and we were busy figuring out the sleeping arrangements (setting up tents) for the 40 people with us. After unloading a trailer of luggage, food, tents, arranging and setting up tents, and getting the students to their assigned tents with all their luggage (a much more difficult task when dealing with the dozen or more junior high students on the trip), I finally had a moment to look around.
I heard God in the silence of the night sky
For years I lived 20 minutes outside the suburbs of Kansas City. I regularly spent time beyond our small town lights. I have often seen the stars in the country night sky. This background doesn’t hold a candle to what I saw in Montana that night. The sky was perfectly clear. The best way I can describe what I experienced was the feeling of being in a planetarium. A doom of stars in 360 degrees surrounded me. A group of 4 or 5 of us stood and looked in awe.
In that moment I experienced God. To put it another way, I heard God. It wasn’t an audible voice. The experience wasn’t some sort of moral lesson for me to pass on. What I heard was the existence, majesty and vastness of God. I knew God is.
Contemplation: See + Be God
The ancients call this experience I had contemplation. Contemplation, among others, is way we hear God. After a bit of study on the concept of contemplation, I developed this definition of contemplation:
Contemplation is seeing God in the world around us and being God to the world around us.
There are three basic ways I’ve seen to contemplate God.
- We contemplate God through culture.
- We contemplate God through creation.
- We contemplate God through every day life.
Contemplation in Creation: God exists in glory
Of three ways of contemplation, I find contemplating God through creation to be the most natural. When we view and study nature in both the macro and micro, it points us to an intelligent design. Because there seems to be an intelligence to the design of nature, then it speaks of an intelligent Designer behind the design.
The Poet-King, David, wrote about his experience with contemplation in Psalms 19.
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.Psalms 19:1-4 NLT
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.”
Contemplation in Creation: God cares
When I look at nature, I see God. But I don’t just see that God exists, I see that God cares.
Take as an example bats. Yes, the winged, flying bats that get such a bad rap from vampire mythology. It’s estimated that insect eating bats save American farmers between $3.7B and $53B every year in pesticide costs. This doesn’t include the costs on the ecosystem if bats didn’t exist (like the ability for insects to adapt to pesticides). God cares for us by creating bats to naturally suppress insects that would destroy crops and could overrun our world.
Now think about your own body. Get this, you have between 60,000-100,000 miles of blood vessels in your body. If we were to take these blood vessels out of your body and lay them end-to-end, they would stretch around the world more than three times. God cares enough about you to oversee 60,000+ miles of blood vessels in your body.
Again, David writes about the delicate care of God to put us together perfectly:
“You made all the delicate,Psalms 139:13-14 NLT
inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.”
When I contemplate nature – whether it is out in the wild or within my own body – I see God is both glorious and he cares for me. Do you see God in creation?
How to Contemplate in Creation
David makes it clear creation is a natural way to contemplate God. So how do we do it? Here are three tips (and yes, these tips are the same as contemplating God in culture):
1. Ask God to open your eyes.
I’ve made it a practice as I meditate in the morning to ask the Holy Spirit to fill me fresh for the day. As part of this process, I ask him to open my eyes and ears to see and hear him throughout the day. A great first step to seeing God in creation is asking him to reveal himself to you.
2. Train yourself to see God in creation.
For many of us, we’ve learned to compartmentalize the secular and the sacred. We have taught ourselves to that God belongs in his box, and the world belongs in a different box. We need to train ourselves to see God doesn’t remove himself from either box.
When you take a walk or you make a road trip (even if it’s just an hour away) look at God’s creation. When you learn something about the human body or the natural world ask yourself what that tells you about God. Determine how it displays God’s glory and majesty, and how it reminds you of his care for you and all of humanity.
3. Share what you see with others.
I love talking about my trip to Montana. I have other stories of looking into the Grand Canyon, running from tornadoes and climbing an active volcano. All of them end with sharing the power, majesty and care of God.
Contemplation isn’t just seeing God in creation, it is using what we see to be God to the world around us. So when you are having a conversation about your walk in the park or discovery about the world, share how creation points you to the glory of God.
God as creator is both glorious and caring. Do you see God in the culture around you?