Lessons from Watching Eagles

by Paul Briggs


Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESV)

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

    and to him who has no might he increases strength.

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,

    and young men shall fall exhausted;

31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.


On subsequent Saturday afternoons recently, it has been a great joy to share with others something shown to me a year ago by a dear friend of mine. It is something quite simple yet full of lessons for life. Some might wonder what is so special about this particular activity. Others might think it is not exciting or even outright boring. But in its simplicity, I have seen first hand that this activity has the potential to thrill those from the age of 4 to at least 84! In its profundity, I have seen that this activity has the potential to cause one’s thinking to soar to great heights in the contemplation of the majesty and greatness of the Creator. The activity to which I am referring is taking binoculars and driving out along the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers to try to spot bald eagles.  


Having been raised in suburbia, I had never had the privilege of seeing one of these majestic birds in their natural habitat before my friend slowed me down enough to take the time to show them to me. That first drive a year ago revealed the local treasure along the local river banks waiting to be discovered and observed. Ever since, there is great anticipation of what marvel of nature we’ll get to witness on each particular adventure on which we are embarking.


After having been shown the wonder and the simplicity of this excursion into the local beauty of nature, I determined that this could be a great activity to enjoy with my grandchildren. So it was that several weeks ago I took my eight-year-old grandson, Braxton, on this outing. After seeing two or three eagles at our first stop, we moved on to a place where we saw nine or ten!  In the typical expression of an eight-year-old boy, Braxton exclaimed, “We hit the jackpot, Papa!” They were swooping into the river to catch their prey before returning to their roost on a tree limb above the river. 


A week later, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Geri, Erika and I exercised some spontaneity and decided to “go eagling.” Before we arrived at the first stop of what is now affectionately known as “Dave’s Eagle Tour,” our youngest son, Evan, called. He and his family were out for a drive and they wanted to know if we were home. Geri quickly explained what we were doing and invited them to follow us on this journey. In a few minutes they met us at our first stop. As we sat in our cars parked side by side with the windows rolled down so we could talk, we spotted the first of the many eagles (around 40!) we would see that particular day. We had been there less than five minutes when we saw an eagle swoop down and “hit the river” (as my four-year-old grandson described it). As the eagle flew in our direction, my grandson, EJ was excitedly yelling, “He has a fish in his feet!” The majestic bird flew right over our cars in plain sight with that fish in his talons, a picture of grace and power.


The marvels of nature have some lessons to teach us about the journey of life we all are on, no matter the point in the journey we find ourselves at the moment. The lessons I am learning as I watch these powerful and majestic birds have taught me something about the discipleship process.


Like most anything that is worthwhile, there are various elements that make an activity of this nature especially enjoyable: (1) someone who has not yet had the opportunity of the experience you are about to give them; (2) the necessary time to enjoy the opportunity being offered; (3) awareness; (4) the ability to observe what you have been made aware of; (5) the chance to reflect on the wonder of what was witnessed; and (6) telling someone else about what you saw and experienced. 


1. The “Someone”

In order for there to be discipleship, there must be that “someone” whom you will teach what you want them to know. This requires the person who has learned something from someone else to share what they have learned with someone who does not yet know it. Intentionality is required for this to happen effectively. A year ago, my friend was very intentional when he asked me if I had time to take a drive with him; he told me he had something worth seeing that he wanted to share with me. In your walk with Jesus, what have you “seen” along the way that is worth being excited about and sharing with someone else? Challenge: Find that “someone” whom you can invite to meet with you regularly to begin showing them what you are excited about. On the other hand, if you sense you are in need of someone to guide you in this process of being shown something, don’t hesitate to reach out to the elders to ask for someone to come alongside you in this process 


2. Time

In order to engage in an activity of any value, time is a necessary resource. I believe that time is the most valuable resource anyone has to offer. It is a rare commodity in a society full of lonely people. A year ago my friend took the time necessary to show me the route he takes in order to see the treasures of nature he has witnessed. We are challenged by the psalmist (Psalm 90:12) to know the brief nature of our days in order to be wise in the use of the limited resource of time we have received. Challenge:  Are you “making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16)?


3. Awareness

I don’t know how many times I have driven back and forth across the Union Street bridge from Lafayette to West Lafayette. In the nearly 25 years I have been doing it, it has easily been hundreds, if not thousands of times. However, not until last year when my friend made me aware of the glorious majesty of nature that could be seen even while driving across that bridge, I had been completely oblivious to it. It was there all the time; I just had not been aware enough to look for it! Similarly, there are many times when there are opportunities for gospel discipleship all around us. Because we are either not looking for the opportunity at all, or because we are unaware of what we are looking for, or because we are looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place, many times we miss out on opportunities that are right in front of us. Challenge: Let’s make the most of every opportunity, and let’s be asking the Lord to open our eyes to make us aware of the opportunities that are all around us (Colossians 4:2-4).


4. Observation

Once the bald eagles are found, the opportunity to watch them really only depends on how much time you have (and your tolerance of the cold). One thing is for sure: the longer you watch, the more you get to see and experience. Whether it is simply observing their beauty while they are perched in their roosts, themselves carefully observing what is taking place under their watchful eye, or watching them spread their wings and swoop toward the river to “hit the water” to catch their prey, or simply hearing them “scream,” it is an amazing thing to witness. Watching them swoop and soar is absolutely spectacular! Having binoculars is certainly helpful and brings the action closer to you for more detailed observation. Challenge: Good observation takes time.  As you move throughout your day, have you trained yourself in the discipline of observation? Listening to what people are saying, paying attention to how they are saying it, and perhaps even noticing what those around you aren’t saying will assist you in your observations. Asking good questions and listening carefully will help you to be someone who observes well. 


5. Reflection

After having “hit the jackpot” and found the desired treasure of the bald eagles and seen what the drive was intended to provide (a glimpse of the beauty, majesty and power of the national bird), an important opportunity remains for the drive back home: reflection.  Replaying in your mind the things witnessed is a helpful exercise. It is very much like the two-word exhortation the writer to the book of Hebrews gives to his readers to “Consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). And that is exactly what we are to be doing in the discipleship process. Challenge: Reflect on the beauty, glory, and majesty of Jesus and point it out to others when they might have missed it or need help in seeing it because of their present circumstances.   


6. Telling someone else

Having had an experience that is worth telling someone else about, and then having someone to tell the experience to, has a way of perpetuating the observations and reflections of those dynamic experiences. These “telling moments'' also make another person aware of something they might never have experienced before! Challenge: As the Spirit of God opens your eyes to truth as you read the Bible, share those things with someone else.  


Psalm 145:4-6 (ESV)

One generation shall commend your works to another, 

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,

    and I will declare your greatness.


The marvels of nature we have the joy of witnessing, observing, and reflecting upon should cause a response of gratitude to our Creator whose image we bear. They also bear lessons to learn and practice as we carry out the joy of our existence to make disciples of all nations.  


Link: Directions for Dave’s Eagle Tour Route