How God Sees You, Part 1: You Are Like A Bird

Birds illustrated by John James Audubon (1785 –  1851)

Birds illustrated by John James Audubon (1785 – 1851)

My Darling Child,

There are many ideas and misconceptions about how God views us. Some take a doom and gloom view, and believe God sees us only as sinful filth. Others take an all-accepting and all-loving view and believe everyone – even unrepentant criminals – will go to Heaven. Most such views, however heretical, are rooted in at least a smidgeon of truth. But what’s the whole truth? What does the Bible say? In this series of letters to you, I will search the Scriptures for Bible verses expounding upon how God really sees us in all our weakness, fallibility, and salvation by grace through faith.

You Are A Baby Bird:

“Keep me as the apple of your eye;
Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
Psalm 17:8

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
Psalm 36:7

“For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”
Psalm 63:7

Like a mother bird, God tucks us under His wings. He keeps us warm, feeds us, protects us from the elements, and guards us from predators. Like a baby bird, we are hidden under His wings. Like a songbird, we sing for joy in the salvation He provides.

You Are Vulnerable, Persecuted, & Mortal:

“I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.”
Psalm 102:6-7

“For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”
Ecclesiastes 9:11-13

“I have been hunted like a bird, by those who were my enemies without cause.”
Lamentations 3:52

God knows that – like a lonely sparrow or a desert owl – we suffer and are vulnerable when we are alone. He knows that we are easily ensnared, both by our own sin and by those who persecute us. He knows we are hunted and oppressed by evil people. He knows that our lives are delicate and brief. God pities us, is concerned about our circumstances, and comprehends our fear and frailty. His sovereign plan takes all this into account.

God Wants To Protect & Shelter You

“On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.”
Ezekiel 17:23

“They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion;
when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west;
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria,
and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.”
Hosea 11:10-11

“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”
Matthew 13:31-32

God likens the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus Christ His Son, to a tree – a Tree of Life – that grows strong and mighty to shelter and protect those who take refuge in His branches. Isn’t that beautiful? We – My Darling Child – may take shelter in the grace and love of God, as a little bird takes shelter in the boughs of a mighty mountain-top tree.

You Are Like A Bird, Only Far More Valuable

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:26

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
Matthew 10:29

“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Luke 12:7

Sometimes when a baby bird gets sick, it falls – or is intentionally thrown by its mother – out of the nest. Jesus says that God takes note of each fallen sparrow. He cares about them and provides for them when their earthly mothers don’t or can’t. If God concerns himself with sick and dying baby birds, who’s own mothers don’t even want them around, then surely He concerns himself with every detail of our lives.

In Closing

When we feel lonely, sad, lost, abandoned, cast out, preyed upon, persecuted, or weak, we are welcome to call upon God as Ruth – a lonely gentile widow – called upon Boaz:

“I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
Ruth 3:9

Like the Turtle, Know & Guard Your Weaknesses

An illustration from the book, "Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles: Drawn from Life," by James de Carle Sowerby and Edward Lear, published in 1872.

An illustration from the book, “Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles: Drawn from Life,” by James de Carle Sowerby and Edward Lear, published in 1872.

My Darling Child,

The Bible is full of wonderful analogies and parables about animals. The writer of Proverbs 6 wants us to “go the the ant.” The prophet Isaiah laments that, “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Jesus declares that God sees even the smallest sparrow fall, so certainly He will care for His children whom He loves. Here is a little animal analogy of my own.

The turtle, or tortoise, is a vulnerable creature. His soft head, wrinkly neck, fleshy legs, and stumpy tail are easily torn by cat’s claws, dog’s jaws, or a hungry hawk’s beak. But the turtle knows his weaknesses, and when he senses danger, he tucks his head and limbs deep into his shell. Once he’s holed up inside, not even the cleverest or strongest predators can get at him without a great deal of difficulty.

Like the turtle, we all have our weak spots. Some of us are susceptible to flattery. Some to drinking. Others to lust or sexuality. The thing that makes us the strongest is not sweeping our weaknesses under the rug and pretending they don’t exist, but rather acknowledging our vulnerabilities so that we know when to tuck in and protect our extremities.

When you are confronted with something you know is poking and prodding at your weak spot, enclose yourself in the Holy Spirit by burying yourself in prayer. Pray that God would strengthen you, protect you, defend you, and uphold you. Confess your weakness both to yourself and to Christ. Once you have done that – once your holed up in the bulwark of God’s Spirit – not even Satan himself will be able to pry you out again.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.”
Psalm 27:1-5

Promise Me You’ll Love God More Than Me

Sara Holding a Cat, by Mary Cassatt, 1908

Sara Holding a Cat, by Mary Cassatt, 1908

My Darling Child,

I hope you know that I love you so desperately. It hurts me to say this, but you need to know that someday I will let you down.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

Sadly, most children are warranted in judging their parents. The rosy idealism of childhood eventually wears off, and they see their mother and father for who they truly are; fallible and weak human beings with misplaced priorities, sinful habits, and obnoxious eccentricities.

Whether I disappoint you by falling into sin, not being there when you need me the most, or if God calls me home and I’m not there to see you grow into the loving and dynamic adult I know you’ll grow up to be, please forgive me, My Darling Child.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” Psalm 146:3-4

You’re life will be filled with family, friends, and those who inspire you. Love them. Cherish them. But never rely too much on them. It is so easy to allow those we love – and those who love us – to become idols in our hearts; to grow more influential over our thoughts and feelings than God.

Make Christ your sure foundation, your faithful friend, and your advocate. Make the Father your protector, provider, and refuge in the storm. Let the Spirit be your comforter, counselor, and constant inspiration.

Never let go of God. Even when He seems far, far away, He’ll be right there by your side.

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:15-20

Never Regret Anything

Sorrowing Old Man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’), by Vincent van Gogh, 1890.

My Darling Child,

I have many regrets. I regret things I’ve done, things I’ve said, things I haven’t done – but most of all – I regret things that have happened to me. Part of this is because my childhood was filled with abuse and dysfunction, but I suspect that most people feel this way too. We all have dreams about how life is supposed to be, and so often we are disappointed.

Hurtful words and selfish actions can cause us to regret, but many times the things we regret the most are “what might have been.” Maybe looking back, we would have picked a different college degree, or called someone we loved one last time before they unexpectedly passed away. Maybe we regret buying something that didn’t turn out to be a good investment, or an innocent slip of the tongue embarrassed a friend or hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe we married someone who – in one way or another – wasn’t the kind of person we thought they were.

Many people will tell you not to have regrets. What they usually mean is, “Let the past live in the past. Everyone makes mistakes, so move on, and don’t worry about it.”

But can we really in good conscience not feel pangs of remorse for the bad or foolish things we’ve done? How can we not regret choices we’ve made – even those that seemed wise and good at the time – which changed our lives forever in ways we didn’t want?

My Darling Child, rest your heart in God’s sovereignty. Before the beginning of time, God knew you. He knew your strengths and your weaknesses, your challenges and your best attributes. He knew every mistake and sin you’d ever commit, and yet, He loved you!

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16

You see, God is a master-planner. He didn’t just design you and then step back to see what would happen. He is actively invested in you. In fact, He has invested His beloved Son’s very lifeblood in you! So never doubt that God has a plan for everything, even the things that you feel regretful about. In His wisdom, He foresaw every decision and happenstance – both good and bad – and in His mercy and providence He planned to bring about redemption through them all.

Even the worst atrocities of the wicked are used by God to bring about His sovereign plan. Remember Judas, and how he betrayed Christ. Jesus knew what Judas was going to do. Nevertheless, He courageously allowed Himself to be led like a sheep to the slaughter, so that – at the proper place, in the perfect time – the centurion would declare, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39.

If God can use Judas’ infamous sin for His redemptive work, He can certainly use the sins of his children! Remember the three denials of Peter, and the violent reputation of Paul before he was saved.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes, or avoid and despise sin, but we can find peace knowing that God’s righteous plan will come to fulfillment regardless of how badly we stumble. We can take comfort knowing that we are sinners, just like the very greatest saints of the Gospel, and we are demonstrating to the world that Jesus is powerful to save.

The next time you regret hurting someone’s feelings, think about what God has given you; the opportunity to repent, humble yourself, apologize, and demonstrate God’s redemptive work in your heart. The next time you make a decision that doesn’t turn out the way you planned, remember that it turned out exactly the way God planned. Pray, and be drawn closer to God through your struggles and uncertainty. Wherever life takes you, witness to those around you, and above all, find joy – not regret – in the opportunity.

God is sovereign, and God is good. He planned for it all, and He’s working through you – even on your toughest days – to bring about His will. Never look over your shoulder and regret the hazards God has guided you through. Instead, marvel at the beauty of His grace for guiding you through the hazards.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:15-17

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20

Until You Can Forgive, You Cannot Truly Love

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

My Darling Child,

So many things will happen in your life that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forgive. Some of the people I’ve trusted most implicitly have betrayed my confidence, wrongfully judged me, or simply were not spiritually mature enough to comfort and counsel me through my struggles.

Someday, when you are married, your spouse will hurt your feelings more than you ever thought possible. Someday, you’ll realize that your mother isn’t actually as wise or comforting as you once believed I was when you were a child, and I will disappoint you.

Everyone who your heart puts on a pedestal will eventually fall. The higher the pedestal – the deeper your trust – the bigger the agonizing crash will be.

Sometimes, you’ll have to let go of people and discontinue friendship with them. Sometimes – while you may forgive them – you cannot trust them or feel comfortable with them again. Other times, you will love the offending person very much, and be deeply invested in your relationship with them. During these times, the grace and skill of forgiveness is a vital necessity.

I call forgiveness a “grace,” because true forgiveness is a power given to you by Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can usually muster on your own, especially for serious hurts. I call forgiveness a “skill,” because forgiveness takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. Sometimes, even if your forgiveness is genuine and thorough the first time, you’ll find that your injured heart still aches, and you’ll have to forgive that person again, and again, and again, and again.

My Darling Child, we cannot genuinely love each other by sweeping hurt feelings under a rug, or pretending that bad things never happened. We cannot un-say cruel words by trying really hard to forget them. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds. Often, time lets wounds fester and grow even more painful and deep than they were to begin with.

The apostle Paul described love quite beautifully in his letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b

True love desires a relationship to heal, grow, strengthen, and endure. A relationship cannot do any of these things if it is haphazardly bandaged together with lies, denial, and false pretenses of happiness. True love desires to be joyful – not merely content – in a relationship. True love wants to blossom and thrive, not stagnate in a limbo where we avoid touchy topics, fake our smiles, awkwardly force cheery greetings, and pretend to be sad when we part company.

But forgiveness is hard. Often, you will find that you cannot bring yourself to forgive even the people you love most dearly. That is because forgiveness is not a natural thing to do. Our instincts tell us to stay hurt, hold the offending party at arms length, and wallow in our justifiable indignation. Our gut tells us to demand an apology, to punish the offender for being so offensive, and to remind them again and again of how disappointed we are in them.

I will not lie; I have a great deal of trouble forgiving loved ones for deeply hurt feelings. That is how I know that in order to forgive – really forgive – we must ask God to heal our hearts and empower us to forgive like Him. How amazing it would be, if even on the brink of death we could plead, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling you can muster like you would a positive attitude. It’s not a pill you manage to swallow with enough effort and water despite gagging. Forgiveness is a miracle! Thus love – genuine love which entails continual forgiveness – is an even greater miracle.

As I mentioned before, the pains of already-forgiven wounds may sting for years after the fact. You may hear insults ringing in your ears long after they’re spoken, and your mind replay and reconsider painful memories until they bleed afresh. Pray through it. Read the Bible through it. Rely on Jesus Christ, the Lord of Forgiveness, to endow you with the power to install forgiveness – not just as a one time act – but as an all-consuming, character-defining lifestyle, that heals your wounded heart, stills your restless soul, and brings you peace and fulfilling joy.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~ Colossians 1:11-14