“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1
The two-month stretch of May and June has always been a favorite of mine since childhood due to the fact that it was the homestretch of the school year, but it has persisted into adulthood because it’s an annual reminder for me to get outside.
Late spring and early summer in the Northeast is the best time of year to find excuses to get outside as often as you can and to stay outside as long as you can. It’s not the only two months of the year we could or should be outside, because every season has its own set of beauties and opportunities, but this stretch of the calendar regularly and intentionally calls us get out there. The cold winter has passed, the humid summer has not yet come, and it’s a golden opportunity for all our senses to engage with the outdoors.
So why am I pushing this? Well, from both my experience and observation of day to day life in the Northeastern suburbs, I find that it’s all too easy to live our entire lives indoors. It’s all too common to go days and weeks where the only contact we have with fresh air is during the walk from our house to our cars, and for those who have cars parked in attached garages, well you could go days without ever seeing the light of day.
I would imagine many of us live lives where our “outside time” is a means of going from one indoor place to another, and it’s almost an inconvenience when we find ourselves having to spend more time in fresh air transit.
There’s three reason why getting outside is massively important for believers in the suburbs – Spiritual, Physical, and Missional:
Simply put, getting outside puts us square in the middle of God’s creation. I am as grateful as anyone for the common grace of comfortable living spaces, reliable sources of heat and air conditioning, and soft beds to sleep on, but everything we use indoors is man-made. Once we step foot outdoors, we’re in God’s playground, and we can see the beauty, hear the soundtrack of creation, feel the grittiness of nature, smell the fresh air, and taste the natural produce. When you look at the trajectory of history, it’s only in the past couple hundred years that people began living the majority of their day indoors instead of outdoors.
I know there is a fear among Christians that people can over-spiritualize the outdoors, with various forms of animism where every plant has a soul and there’s a spiritual being in the midst of everything we see. Yet, this is offset by a tendency to swing the pendulum too and under-spiritualize or appreciate the natural order of creation by believers in 2019. The Bible is full, literally full, with worshipful proclamations to the Creator for his creation:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.”
“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
I think about God more, the more I am outside. I think about myself more, the more I am inside. So get outside. Be active whenever and wherever you can in your life stage. Being outside doesn’t automatically make us spiritual, but it creates space for us to consider who God is and who we are in this world. Only faith in Jesus Christ brings salvation, but that faith is often sustained and strengthened through the common grace of dwelling upon Him and His Word, which is back where we started. I think about God more, the more I am outside.
You don’t have to be hiking mountains every morning before sunrise to be a lover of the outdoors. it doesn’t have to be grueling where you’re exerting massive amounts of physical energy, but it is intentionally getting outside to just be outside. I’ll never forget coming across a tweet sent out by one of my favorite authors, Jared Wilson: “I take some time just about every day to just sit outside and state at the sky for at least an hour, usually at night. It’s more interesting that most things you’ll see on TV, and a lot better for my heart anyway.”
Staring at the sky would do more for me then an extra hour of the Yankees game or scrolling through my Facebook timeline tonight. Get outside to be outside for the good of your soul.
The outdoors is not just the remedy for a higher spirituality but also our physicality, because we are embodied people and we can never fully disconnect the body from the soul. As science progresses, there’s more and more connections being made between body and soul.
As we sit outdoors in the sunshine or go for a walk to get some fresh air, blood and oxygen pump through our bodies, refreshing and energizing its functions. When we feel this, we begin to think more clearly about the situations we’re in or struggles we’re confronting. When our minds are in a fog, or our spirits in a funk, it’s often a dose of God’s creation we need to clear out the cobwebs of our minds and souls. I don’t mean to diminish the realities of depression and anxiety, nor to take away the benefits of professional counseling and medication for clinical cases, but in any case, an increase in our time outdoors can help rather than hinder.
And aside from that, it’s just plain healthier to be active as opposed to sedentary. The suburban life, with all of its busyness and hustle and bustle can lead to excuses and justifications to never be active in the name of production. We produce on our computers, in our cubicles, sitting at our desks, and since we need to produce, we justify never taking the time to exercise. I don’t think it’s an over-generalization to say that the more time we spend outdoors, the healthier we will be.
Last, but not least, being outside is a way of living where we see it’s not all about us. You know how many neighbors I see while sitting on my couch watching sports? None. You know how many chance encounters I have with people while sitting at my kitchen table, scrolling though Twitter? None.
In the suburbs, there’s a reason why houses aren’t being built with big front porches anymore. People don’t use them. Don’t waste the square footage – you could use that to build bigger bedrooms and living rooms in your secure castle that is shut off from the world around it.
But when we get outside, away from our castles, we find that it’s not just about us and our own little world. There are people out there, people with stories and hurts and joys that we may very well hear about it we’re out there too.
God calls his people to be ambassadors in this world, as citizens of another one, to represent his kingdom that is defined by truth, grace, and love. We can better and more consistently put those things on display in both the things we do and say while outside as embodied people with other embodied people.
We ought have our head on a swivel at all times for spontaneous encounters with others where we can serve them, listen to them, and share with them the love of Jesus Christ. In our inside-dominated culture, a commitment to be outdoors may very well be the best evangelism technique we have as suburbanites in 2019.
So, take a look at the calendar. It’s the middle of May, the best time of year to get outside, and in doing so we have the opportunity to glorify God, seek out the good of others, and make our joy full in Him. Get outside, and maybe I’ll see ya out there.