A Lesson in Faith and Navigation

Date: March 11, 2024

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26


Jesus urged the disciples to “Behold the fowls or the birds of the air…”  In a world fraught by worry and fear, His words of advice are good for today.  Do you ever consider the sparrows that flit overhead, or the tiny warblers that migrate thousands of miles year after year with a built-in sense of radar?

Keith Monroe wrote the following about our feathered friends, and his words bear repeating.  He begins by asking the question, “Ever wonder about the mysteries of birds?  Take an idle hour and stroll into a public library, browsing through some books on the subject.  You will be amazed by these strange creatures.

“Long engagements before marriage are common in birdland.  English robins pair up in January, but do not mate or start housekeeping until spring.  Jackdaws and wild geese get engaged the spring after they are born, although neither species become sexually mature until a year later.  Most birds are faithful to their mates for life.  Some are as thoughtful as human husbands about saying it with flowers.  Starlings carry petals and buds to the female in the nest.  A herring gull will pluck a sea pink and lay it solemnly before his betrothed.  But the little nuthatch may be the courtliest swain of all birds.  He selects choice sunflower seeds and proffers them to his intended.  If she scorns him, he becomes even more gallant; he shucks each seed before presentation.

“Pliny, the Roman naturalist, formed an expert opinion that swallows turn into frogs.  Each year, he noticed, there came a morning when all swallows were gone.  Everybody knew that birds do not fly in the dark, so they must become frogs.  Not until the 18th Century did ornithologists begin to realize that birds do fly at night, by thousands.  Ever since, bird experts have been trying to fathom the avian ‘homing instinct’ and ability to navigate to destinations chosen by previous generations.

“Banded Manx shearwaters have been brought in covered boxes to Boston, then released at separate points.  Each flew alone over trackless seas for more than 3,000 miles, finding its way home to its little burrow in cliffs along the west coast of Wales.  Could any human do as well without maps and instruments?

“What inner compass guides the arctic tern each spring as it travels 11,000 miles to near the South Pole to its nesting grounds in Antarctica?  How do storks from Copenhagen find their way across the Mediterranean and down the length of Africa to their favorite swamps in Bechuanaland?

“Some experts think that birds keep checking their position by the sun, which would give them the equivalent of an inborn sextant and clock for dead reckoning.  But what about cloudy days?  The answer is that birds’ eyes are so sensitive to ultraviolet rays that they know exactly where the sun is behind the darkest clouds.

“On the other hand, tiny warblers migrate long distances at night.  If blown off course they adjust as accurately as day-flying birds do.  Even those that are born in cages and spend their lives without ever seeing the sky can set off from Germany all alone, travel southeast across the Balkans, then turn due South to reach their winter home in central Africa.”

Monroe concludes, “I do not want to disparage mankind, but are we not rather dumb about navigation compared to our feathered friends?”  “Consider the birds,” said Jesus.  Yes, look at the birds.  If God takes care of them, you can trust Him to take care of you.

Resource reading: Matthew 6:1-26.