How Much Are You Being Monitored? A Hummingbird Lesson
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Beware! – you are being watched, more than you know!
In some neighborhoods surveillance is all around—neighbors watching neighbors, using cell-phones to document questionable (“non-essential”) activities, to see if pet dogs are on leashes, and to see if people are six feet apart when talking to others who are out and about. Neighbors are calling the local police on neighbors, to enforce social distancing, travel restrictions, and other disaster protocols.(1)
In short, if you are outside, you are being monitored! But is this really new?
Actually, we are being watched all the time, by neighbors, by family members, by co-workers, at the grocery store, at church, and in many other places.(2)
A birdwatching friend’s recent email reminded me of that fact, when he (Thomas Lane) reported on his home’s avian visitors.
Good to hear from you. I am working from home … I’m also enjoying watching the bluebirds in the backyard – they are raising young and busy gathering food for them. We built several bluebird boxes a few years ago and always have at least one couple nesting here. We also have a couple of hummingbirds that have returned to the feeder, and we are waiting for the rest. We typically have 5 feeders out in various places.(3)
As spring blossoms into April (and May), the nectar pantries of bright-hued flowers are “open for business”, ready to feed the voracious appetites of neighborhood hummingbirds — those petite, iridescence-sparkled, blurry-winged wonders with super-sized metabolic fuel needs. Floral nectar is a sweet resource!
Yet, as flowers bloom in spring, such fly-by “fast-food” opportunities cannot be taken for granted, especially if one is an energy-craving hummingbird.
Hummingbirds are famous for their (males’) jewel-like throats, their hovering and multi-directional flying, and their ability to change directions — stop, go, up, down, left, right, backward, forward, — using high-speed wings that whip figure-eight patterns faster than human eyes can follow, producing a humming sound (that explains their name) that almost sounds like a contented cat purring.
Hummingbirds, due to their speedy, darting movements, and their iridescent green colors, attract the eye. So you see them – zip! – then you don’t. Zip! – then you see them again.
Spring always flows into summer.(4) The summer range of hummingbirds (such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris) is broad enough that most of us have seen hummingbirds. But, as time goes by, there is no time for hummingbirds to relax — their needle-like bills must sip up nectar wherever and whenever it is available! The business of a hummingbird’s life is so intense, so metabolically demanding, that slurping up available nectar is a lifestyle priority, requiring dietary focus and persistence: “Get nectar, get more nectar, get even more nectar! Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Sugar substitutes are unacceptable for hummingbirds – they must have real sugar to thrive.(5)
What an enormous appetite for such a miniature bird! The calories consumed and burned by hummingbirds, on a boy weight ratio, are comparable to a human eating more than a 1000 hamburgers every day, as body fuel needed for a day’s normal activities!(6) That is high-maintenance metabolism!
Reading my friend’s email (quoted above) reminded me of when I saw, in my own backyard, a hungry hummingbird hovering by brilliant vermillion flowers, as he (or she) slurped up nectar from one flower, then another flower, then another, — without any (apparent) concern for my physical presence or proximity, only a few steps from him (or her).
Why was the buzzing hummer oblivious of me, the birdwatcher so close by?
The hungry hummer was too preoccupied with the pressing business of life, to notice me, a quiet spectator. What a privilege it was, to watch – for a long time, actually – this sparkling-in-the-sunlight hummingbird, darting among the bright flowers.
Yet are not our own lives, at least somewhat, like that busy hummingbird?
Are we not – day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, moment by moment – preoccupied with the ever-pressing business of life (especially when daily routines are altered by changed circumstances—such as pandemic disaster restrictions), darting here-and-there, from this task to the next one, such that we often ignore the spectators, those watching eyes who observe and appreciate our lives – those who (hopefully) see God’s beauty and wisdom imaged in our own attitudes and actions?
Yes, we have audiences we should not be oblivious of. As we live the moments of our fast-paced lives we should not forget three audiences, who watch us much more than we consciously realize.
First, there are many curious humans who watch our busy lives, especially those who are younger than us. What kind of role-models are we? Hopefully our Christian lives are like the Thessalonian believers whom Paul commended as examples to all of the believers in Macedonia and Greece.(7)
Who is monitoring us? Who is listening? Who is evaluating the message(s) of our lives, comparing our “walk” to our “talk”? Do our lives “shine” as God’s testifying “lights”, such that our good deeds prompt spectators to glorify God our Heavenly Father?(8)
Second, there are non-human spectators surveilling our lives: angels! Angels learn from watching the “spectacle” of human lives.(9) Indeed, the effect of God’s gospel of grace, in the earthly lives of redeemed humans, is something that angels can only learn about as spectators, since redemption is never experienced by angels.(10)
Yet the most important audience we have, always, is the Lord Himself (Jehovah-jireh, the God Who is and sees), our omniscient and omnipresent Creator-God. It is our wonderful Maker Who watches every sparrow’s (and every hummingbird’s) avian lifespan, and we are of much greater value to God than the lives of many sparrows.(11)
As the Lord Jesus Christ’s vicarious death and resurrection has peremptorily proved, for all time and eternity, we humans are God’s favorite creatures. God is caringly concerned with every detail of our busy lives (from creation to ultimate redemption), so let us not be oblivious to our most important Audience.
Do we live our earthly lives as ingrates, ignoring Him and His Word? Or do we live life appreciative of Him and His Word, grateful that He created us and provided us with redemption in Christ?
Accordingly, with these three audiences in mind, as spectators of our busy lives, let us consider the prophet Ezekiel’s serious question: “How should we then live?”(12)
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.(8)
(1) Declarations of “disaster”, from Wuhan (China) spreading to South Korea, then to dozens of European nations, plus many parts of America and other nations (excluding Singapore), have led to many government-promulgated “stay-at-home” mandates, being enforced by a combination of government and private sector actions. Johnson, James J. S. 2020. Turtles, Birdwatching, and Living through Tough Times. ICR News: Creation Science Update (March 30, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/turtles-birdwatching-living-through-tough-times . See also Johnson, James J. S. 2020. “Getting Crabby Over Labor Shortage”. ICR News: Creation Science Update (March 24, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/getting-crabby-over-labor-shortages .
(2) 2nd Corinthians 3:2-3 (“living epistles”).
(3) Email correspondence from Thomas Lane, April 1, 2020.
(4) Genesis 8:22.
(5) Mitchell, Elizabeth. 2014. Our Creator’s Sweet Design for Hummingbird Taste (Answers in Genesis: News to Know, September 6, 2014), posted https://answersingenesis.org/birds/our-creators-sweet-design-hummingbird-taste/ (with a link, in Footnote #1, to video footage of hummingbird sugar consumption). See also Sherwin, F. 2006. Hummingbirds at ICR. Acts & Facts. 35(9), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hummingbirds-at-icr/ .
(6) Dreves, Denis. 1991. H Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal. 14(1):10-12.
(7) 1st Thessalonians 1:7.
(8) Matthew 5:16.
(9) 1st Corinthians 4:9. (Paul is referring to the apostles, yet the indirect implication is that the righteous angels learn from observing the lives of ordinary Christians.)
(10) 1st Peter 1:12.
(11) Matthew 10:29-31; Luke 12:7.
(12) Ezekiel 33:10.