Last Sunday I preached about the discipline of study: “Paying Attention to Word, Works, and Table.” I am sharing my reflections on each of those three loci of study in a series of blog posts over the next few days: the Word of God, the works of God, and the table of God.
Studying the Works of God
We ought to study—pay careful attention to—the works of God. Richard Foster notes how quick we are, when thinking about study, to go the verbal route—to books and texts. He suggests we can profitably study the non-verbal, too: nature, relationships, even ourselves. We do well, especially, I think, to carefully attend to the works of God.
We see God’s works especially through creation and through salvation history. God worked in the world to create it, and he works today to sustain all that he made.
The Bible describes creation as a worthy locus of our study. The Psalmist praises God (143:5), “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” And Psalm 8: “I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers the moon and the stars, which you have set in place….” The Psalmist studies God’s creation.
More specifically, Evelyn Underhill says:
As to the object of contemplation, it matters little. From Alp to insect, anything will do, provided that your attitude be right.
We see the works of God, too, through salvation history. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12).
Study God’s Works: How?
How can we study the works of God in creation, and throughout all of human history?
One verse you could think about memorizing this week provides a pretty neat answer to the question. Proverbs 6:6:
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
There’s a sense in which the giver of the Proverb excepts the ways of the ant to be self-evident: life is simple for them. But they’re industrious. They get it done, even if they don’t have a supervisor micro-managing them, as the next verse goes on to say.
But when Proverbs says, “consider its ways,” we can only get so far from memory. Go outside and actually find some ants and watch them! For, like, 20 minutes! See what you observe. Write it down or paint or draw a picture (or write a song about) what you’re seeing. Solomon implies that there is wisdom to be had in this exercise of studying a tiny creature in God’s good earth.
So, too, when Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air” and “Consider how the wild flowers grow”… go bird watching with a field guide and some binoculars. Even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. Go find a field full of flowers and sit and stare.
And when it comes to the works of God that constitute what we call “salvation history,” you might bookmark those great chapters of the Bible that recount the story in short form: Nehemiah 9, Psalm 78, Peter’s speech starting in Acts 2:14. Read those passages and really pore over them. Get a good study Bible and let yourself get lost, following all the cross-references and study notes.
Study the works of God in the world: creation and the ongoing narrative of salvation.
Next up: the Table of God as a worth site of our careful study.