Enjoying the God Who Ignites the Stars

“What is the chief end of man?” asks one of the Protestant catechisms. Its answer captivates me: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” What a privilege, what a beautiful and lofty purpose we’ve been given! For me, one of the best ways to enjoy God is to revel in the heavens He has stretched out like a curtain (Isaiah 40:22).

I was once so enthralled by an astronomy article that I announced over the dinner table, “Did you hear the latest about black holes?” I had inserted this statement into an Avengers conversation that had apparently been going on without me, much to my family’s amusement. I was forced to defend myself against their laughter: “Black holes are important! The more you know about the heavens, the closer you get to God.”

I actually believe that. The truest thing I know is the very first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” When I lose my way, it is the rock I return to. When my faith begins to capsize, it is the lifeboat that rescues me. In those times, no other theology will do. No other verse matters — only what I see in the stars.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. For when He spoke, the world began! It appeared at His command” (Psalm 33:6,9). I can’t get over this truth. It never loses its wonder for me. It is the splendor of creation ex nihilo, something out of nothing. This one thing I know for sure: He speaks, and creation begins. He speaks, and stars appear. He speaks, and we come into existence. Light, energy, mass – all were created at His command.

Throughout my childhood and into my twenties, I trekked yearly to my grandparents’ home in rural Iowa, where the stars are clearer, brighter, and more numerous than any other place I know. Some nights I would just stand in the yard, staring upwards, marveling at those celestial lights.

There aren’t that many stars above my hometown of Kansas City, and there certainly aren’t that many stars above Phnom Penh, where I live now. Here in the capital city you can see about five stars at night. But this April during the Khmer New Year celebration, my family and I left the capital city to travel to the highlands of Cambodia, where it’s cooler and windier. The sky is clearer up there, too, and at night we stargazed. That’s when I saw Jupiter for the first time.

The tropical sky looked vastly different than the sky I’m familiar with, farther north on the prairies of the American Midwest. Here the Pole Star, along with the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, lay closer to the horizon instead of up above, and Jupiter had moved to the zenith. I looked up and saw the biggest planet in our solar system, right overhead. And I am not kidding you, in those moments I felt like God had made Jupiter just for me. I couldn’t stop staring at Jupiter those nights in Mondulkiri, on a mountain made of red dirt.

I know Jupiter will move on from that place. She will progress in her orbit, further traversing the solar system. Earth will move on as well, and Jupiter won’t always be directly overhead, even in the tropics. But at that time, and in that place, she was. I will always treasure the few nights I spent in the highlands of Cambodia, enjoying Jupiter from afar, marveling at the Cosmos and the majesty of its Maker. It was a gift from my Heavenly Father, and I relished the unwrapping.

May I never lose my wonder at the stars. May I never recover from this debilitating awe of the universe. We mortals cannot even see all the galaxies God has made; may I always worship the One who not only ignites their stars but also counts them and knows them by name (Psalm 147:4).

Scientists haven’t been able to detect the dark matter that keeps galaxies from flying apart, yet we know it is Christ who holds all creation together (Colossians 1:17). It is He who sustains everything by the mighty power of His command (Hebrews 1:3). It is Him in whom we live and move and have our very being (Acts 17:28). May we forever enjoy this God of ours.

What helps you enjoy God? What are the night skies like where you live?

33 Comments

  1. Erin Verdonck July 26, 2015

    Perfect timing. My husband and I moved to serve the island of Papua New Guinea 2 weeks ago. The beginning of the 2nd week, the newness had begun to wear off and I was feeling heartsick. I looked up at the heavens (something that, like you, reminds me of my Creator and grounds me once again), and I became mad and sad all at once. These stars were strangers to me. I’d never met the Southern Cross. Where was the Big Dipper? Orion’s Belt? I’m glad that I’m not the only one who misses the stars and finds comfort in the One who made them all.

    As an aside, I’ve come to love the stars here. 🙂

    1. Elizabeth July 27, 2015

      Oh Erin this is beautiful — thank you for sharing. No you’re not the only one who misses the stars or finds comfort in the One who made them all! And I love the phrase you used, that the heavens “ground” you. Yes there is majesty in the stars, no matter which ones.

      (And as an aside I’ve always wanted to see the southern sky with its Southern Cross.)

      But I feel what you’re saying here — that your current night sky is unfamiliar and foreign. I’m sure the strangeness was even more pronounced for you since you crossed the equator, whereas I could still see the North Star. Sounds like it was quite the shock for you.

      Praying His peace will be with you as you continue adjusting and transitioning to your new culture.

      1. Erin Verdonck July 27, 2015

        Your post was just perfect and I can relate so much. Thanks for sharing at just the right time to minister to me. 🙂

        Yep, we crossed the equator and it was hard at first… I think I’m done with that for now, though. I’m so thankful that God has enough grace for even this!

    2. Michele Womble July 27, 2015

      Erin!  Can you get a book on the stars in the Southern hemisphere and learn the constellations there?  That would be so cool!

      1. Erin Verdonck July 27, 2015

        That’s a great idea! I’ll have to look one for one. Books are super hard to come by here, so it might be a while – but I’ll look!

  2. Kimberly Todd July 26, 2015

    This is a beautiful post. It makes me look up.

    1. Elizabeth July 27, 2015

      Thank you Kimberly. If my words can incite others to worship Almighty God, then they have fulfilled my intended purpose for them!

  3. Janet Dierker July 26, 2015

    I really relate to your connection between the stars and the Creator, but for me, I have the same connection through watching birds.  Birdwatching seems to conjure up images of a looney tune person in a pith helmet with a butterfly net running through fields, and many people look askance at me when I talk about bird watching.  I do my best to explain the joys of this pastime, but sadly most folks are immune to the beauty of birds, it seems.  There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world–just think how creative and intelligent He is to come up with so many different kinds of just one species!  How can people not get excited about this??  Such incredible beauty in those little beings, and all for His Glory and our pleasure.  And don’t even get me started on butterflies:-).  Any other birdwatchers out there?

    1. Elizabeth July 27, 2015

      No you don’t sound looney Janet! I sometimes get distracted by birds too, though I don’t know much about them and though there aren’t very many in the city here. What is it Amy Young always says, #distractedbybeauty ?? I know I’ve found myself on a date with my husband distracted by a bird with a cute personality and been thought silly 😉

      And I totally agree about the vast numbers of species!! Can’t get over that either. God is so creative, isn’t He? I love that He made a bird that doesn’t fly but swims in the freezing Antarctic waters, and that He made a mammal that flies using sound waves, and that He made a whole slew of  crawling caterpillars that have to dissolve their own flesh and rearrange their own cells in order to transform into a new creation that flies. So I’m tracking with you on all of this!! As you said, “How can people not get excited about this??”

      1. Michele Womble July 27, 2015

        I’m not really a bird watcher, but I did try to learn the common birds in the area.  There aren’t a wide variety of birds in the city in Novosibirsk, though, and we also can’t always see the stars very well….so, one year (when my kids were small and we were trying to spend a lot of time in parks and on playgrounds and I was mostly watching them play all the time)…I learned the kinds of trees in the area.   And I know it seems kind of crazy, but it was so exciting (maybe interesting would be a better word)!  I’m not a tree expert or anything, but it’s fun to say “oh look, there’s a (whatever)”.   And it’s just so really cool that God made so many different kinds of trees.  And the different kinds have different kinds of leaves. And fruit. 🙂 And you can pick their “fruit” off the ground and know that there must be a certain kind of tree nearby, because they’re known by their fruit…(and that opens up a whole new topic, but I won’t go there. 🙂 )

        1. Elizabeth July 28, 2015

          Oh I love this! I’ve talked before about how I love palm trees, and there are actually lots of different kinds of palm trees, and that’s just one type of tree. Which all makes this subject so very amazing, because there is so much diversity in creation! I love that you took whatever was available to you, and found beauty and wonder in that. May we all follow your example in that. And I love the application to “know them by their fruit” — a real, live picture in my mind now. And plants are really SO complex, even though we think of them as lower even than animals. There’s just so much complexity everywhere in creation, all the way from the tiny subatomic particles, up through atoms and molecules to DNA and our cells, to entire organisms, whether plant or animal, on to entire planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies. But I really must stop now, I’m getting carried away! Thank you everyone for sharing my joy in God’s creation, wherever it is that you encounter it most strongly.

          1. Michele Womble July 31, 2015

            oh, please, get carried away!  Don’t stop!  Because it’s all just so amazing and fascinating!

  4. Anna July 27, 2015

    We can see the stars very well where we are now (Congo, not near a big city.)  It’s beautiful, and sometimes I forget to stop to enjoy it.  My 12 yr old daughter reminds me often.  She loves looking at the stars and wants to share the experience.  Recently, we could see Jupiter and Venus a little above the horizon. Amazing!

    1. Elizabeth July 28, 2015

      So awesome! I’m so glad you get to enjoy it, and with your daughter too!

    1. Elizabeth July 28, 2015

      Haha, maybe He did! And also as a comet-sweeper — and I’m glad for both 🙂

  5. Amy Young July 27, 2015

    I’ve just finished Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book about darkness — so while I haven’t recently been thinking about the stars, this post ties in with other things I’ve been thinking about 🙂 and my relationship with darkness. Thanks Elizabeth :)!

    1. Elizabeth July 28, 2015

      Oooh, do share Amy! When you have time of course 🙂

  6. Ruth July 27, 2015

    It wasn’t until this year sometime I discovered that part of the catechism and I thought, “What?  To enjoy God?  That’s amazing!”  I would have thought, based on how we tend to behave, that it was more like, “Man’s chief end is to work hard and serve God forever.”  But what joy in enjoying God through creation.  We are visiting family in CA here and they get lots of stars – I just need to stay up late enough to actually see them. 🙂

    1. Elizabeth July 28, 2015

      Oh Ruth — I know! Isn’t that idea captivating? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. It just goes on and on, and really brings us back to the heart of God I think, that we were made for fellowship with Him. He desires glory, and He deserves glory, but He also wants to delight in us, to sing over us. You’re right — we so often act as though our chief end is to “work hard and serve God forever”! Sometimes I think we don’t even realize we’re approaching God that way. Thank you for verbalizing it for us.

      And I hope you do manage to stay up late soon and see the night sky!

  7. Patty Stallings July 31, 2015

    “May I never lose my wonder at the stars. May I never recover from this debilitating awe of the universe.”
    ME TOO!  I grew up with amazing night skies in North Dakota, but it has only been since living in a place where stars are seldom seen that I’ve fallen in love with the beauty of a blanket of stars spread from horizon to horizon.  At times, I look up and think this is what Abraham must have been looking at when God spoke about the number of his descendents.  Or what David was seeing as he was singing “the heavens declare Your glory for all the nations to see.”

    1. Elizabeth July 31, 2015

      “Blanket of stars spread from horizon to horizon.” YES. Beautiful words there Patty! “The heavens declare” indeed.

  8. Monica F August 1, 2015

    Thanks for this awesome post.  It reminded me of when my husband and I lived in East Africa.  We lived in a remote part of Kenya right on the equator— like RIGHT ON the equator- so cool!  After the sunset, we would climb up on top of our Toyota Hilux, sit on the roof, and just stare at the stars.  Sometimes it felt like they were so close we could touch them… and it was so confusing because we saw constellations we’d never seen before, and everything looked so bright, and brilliant and close.  I’m so thankful for those stargazing moments of peacefulness and closeness to our maker.  I often go back to those memories and smile:)

    1. Elizabeth August 2, 2015

      Oh Monica, that sounds SO amazing! “Sometimes it felt like they were so close we could touch them” — wow! Love that. So amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this story Monica! I’m so glad you had that experience, and now the memories, to help you feel close to God. That’s such a gift.

  9. Betty Draper June 4, 2016

    This post reminded me of when we lived in Bolivia, SA.  Our boarding school was 150 miles from a city and we turned our generator off at 9 pm.  With out any lights to steal God’s glory the Milky Way was beyond visual, almost felt like you could touch it.  We have never been anywhere yet where it was so clear and close, even in PNG.  I do believe what also made it so clear was no sound either, except the breathe coming out our mouth.  Quietness brings everything closer, a clear sky, a situation, a God who loves us to be quiet so He can speak sweetly to our messy hearts.  Lovely post Elizabeth..

    1. Elizabeth June 5, 2016

      Oh that sounds amazing! I wonder if Bolivia was at a higher elevation, which helped to make it clearer and closer than PNG?

      1. Betty Draper June 5, 2016

        Yes, we were high in the mountains. There was a teacher who taught the higher maths but was also an astronomer and he would bring his huge telescope out on the soccer field at night for all to view the sky.  He often said God put the sky the closest in South America and most of the astronomers in North America.  One year we took at the high school in the back of trucks, common way to travel there, up to Sucre to see the eclipse… it was awesome, ( the sights not the riding in the back of trucks).

        1. Elizabeth June 6, 2016

          That sounds so amazing! I know there are some really important telescopes in South America. (But I bet you were cold up there!)

  10. I’m not very good at gratitude November 22, 2016

    […] I’m a very thankful person in the general. I’ve written all about my general love of creation, my general love of Cambodia, my general love of the church, my general love of worshiping, my […]

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