Places to Play in and Pray In

play in pray in

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

Can I be honest? I L-O-V-E the outdoors, LOVE. 

I grew up splashing in the Pacific Ocean’s frigid water off the Oregon Coast, hiking through old-growth forests and camping in the mountains.

When we moved to rural Kenya, it wasn’t hard for me to embrace the ‘outdoor life’. Cooking, washing, visiting, teaching took place outside; the only thing that happened inside was sleeping and bathing! The equatorial sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking, the weaver birds’ songs brightened my day, and the Tana River winding through the market town teemed with life, keeping me in awe of both beautiful and dangerous creatures (yes, hippos and crocodiles). Sometimes at night, my husband and I would sit on the roof of our truck and stargaze— finding constellations and watching shooting stars. In Kenya, I thrived in the display of God’s glory and creativity.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge…” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Four years later, I moved to a bustling college town in Asia, where the outdoors teemed with crowds, high rise buildings, and pollution. I missed the mountain-scapes of my childhood home, and the mango groves in Africa. I felt confined and anxious, almost suffocated by the city. We had to make a point of ‘getting out and about’ to get our ‘outdoors’ fix (even if it was to the local park). After moving to a small countryside town that was surrounded by rice paddies, rivers and bamboo forests, my soul settled down. We went on hikes, explored caves, and relaxed on creek banks with local friends while our children caught grasshoppers. We still had to be intentional about making time to enjoy the creation around us. Ministry, school, and the busyness of life began to eat away at the opportunity to ‘stop and smell the roses’. 

During a home leave several years ago, our family visited Yosemite National Park. After driving through the Valley- also known as Nature’s Cathedral- we stopped by the visitor center, where a quote from a display caught my eye:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”- John Muir

This expressed my exact sentiments on the gift of the Great Outdoors. Through nature, God speaks to us, listens to us, teaches us, heals us, provides for us, and restores us. It is in nature that we might even wrestle with God and come to a moment of understanding and revelation. We all know Scriptural accounts where God ministers to and ‘meets’ a downcast soul in nature. I believe God invites us to ‘get away’ with Him in nature- however that may look- tending a garden, going for a trail walk, or escaping the city for a beach retreat. 

It’s okay to get away and receive the gift of rest, quiet, wonder, and beauty in nature.

Guess who took advantage of this gift? Jesus… the Creator of it all. He spent time by the sea, on the mountains to pray, by the river, in the fields, and in the wilderness. Not only did Jesus get away, but He spoke about Nature as a way of teaching his disciples and the crowds about life, salvation, and God’s care. What a blessing that we can follow His example! (see Matt. 4:18; Matt 14: 22-23; Mark 1: 35-37; John 21:1; Luke 4:1-14) 

I don’t know where you live, and what ‘floats your boat’ as far as nature is concerned. For some people, a 15-minute walk in the City Park is just as life-giving as relaxing on a remote beach or snowshoeing through a pine forest. The point is, nature is a gift from God to all of us— a gift that reveals His glory, so that we might learn His ways, and revel in His goodness. Below are some ideas and resources that might help you as you discover the Great Outdoors wherever you are in this amazing world!

Have you found places to play in and pray in where you live? 

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Ponder these Scriptures, while in the Great Outdoors:

What the animals teach us about God (Job 12:7-10)

The Majesty of God and His Creation (Psalm 8)

Restoration through nature (Psalm 23)

The greatness of God; His provision for mankind and all of creation (Psalm 104)

There are a lot of great nature-related devotionals out there, but here are some I love:

Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue

Earth Psalms by Francine Rivers

Indescribable by Louie Giglio (especially for KIDS!)

Worshipful Families, Marveling at God’s Awesome Creation by Howard Bean

Bonus, my favorite Nature Poem: The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

5 Comments

  1. Haley July 14, 2019

    You and I would be friends… this post is exactly what I’ve been talking to the Lord about for two weeks. I even just read your (and mine!) favorite poem you mentioned, again, longing. I just want to share what He did for me to remind us that He hears us. I live in a city of smog, pollution, and too many people to count. Since I’m just like you, I’ve found myself feeling like that part of me would just have to die which in many ways was more than I could bear. One day, after many tears and angst about my lot, a young friend invited me to his home place. This was a complete surprise and I knew God was up to something. It was a three hour journey, but when we arrived, I realized I was in the middle of the unpolluted jungle, with dirt roads for walking everywhere I turned. So I walked, and leaped and praised God for the gift of fresh air and safe paths to look at trees and fields and birds and such. I even saw an expanse of stars that night that took my breath away. So, in my most desperate moment, He rescued me and filled my cup to overflowing. Do I wish I could access this type of place all the time? Yes! But for now, I will consider the lilies… and remember He takes care of each and every need. I hope this encourages others of us who long to breath deep and see far.

    1. Monica F July 15, 2019

      Thanks for sharing this Haley! Yes, we could be friends! I love how the Lord provided exactly what your heart needed and was longing for- even if brief, you were able to soak up the glorious gift of the stars and fresh air. Thank you for sharing this sweet gift with all of us, such a good reminder of God’s faithfulness.

  2. Emily J July 17, 2019

    Excellent words, Monica. I will never forget a Singaporean friend commenting “What is with you Americans and needing to be in nature?” Until that moment, I had never thought of it as an American thing, but just as a human thing. Don’t we all NEED doses of nature to heal body, mind, and spirit? I guess not. But I’m certainly in that camp. Being in nature turns my heart to God. Thanks for your post!

    1. Phyllis July 20, 2019

      Hmm. I wouldn’t have thought of it as an American thing, but now that you mention it, there do seem to be cultures that are closer to nature and those that aren’t. We live in one that is very connected to the earth and NEEDS gardening.

      “The Peace of Wild Things”… 🙂

  3. Bonita August 25, 2019

    For my husband and I the lack of “nature” (read forests and quiet) is the hardest thing about living overseas. Now, when we go on holidays I don’t like to stay in cities too long and look for quiet places. Luckily the country we live in has lots of beaches and my husband had found a new forest under water (lots of coral and fish). I ‘m not sure it’s an American or Canadian thing, I think it has to do with what you grew up with and what you are used to. However, I do think God created us all to commune with him in solitude and silence at times but that is very foreign to many cultures I think.

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