Great Commission Spirituality: Contemplation

Learning to perceive God’s providence in creation can refresh and encourage weary Christians engaged in ministry.

My grandfather controlled the room.

He was the thermostat that set the temperature. But his temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. I have no memory of ever feeling chilly around him. No one felt shut down by unfriendliness or aloofness. I also cannot remember feeling hot with anger around him, turned up by irritability or nitpickiness. No. My grandfather knew how to make people laugh at his tall tales. He made everyone feel relaxed, like everything was okay. He exuded a recreational spirit. He could sit quietly in his chair in the shade. He could marvel like a kid at a hummingbird. He could enthusiastically throw a slobbery ball for his border collie. Or he could take a morning walk down his street and, each time, notice something fascinating in the trees and mountains. He always seemed so charmed and childlike with his curious eye. He was a retired university professor, and his leisurely spirit took joy in the fruit of his life. He had the mind of a scholar and the heart of a little boy. In retirement, his work was finished. Whenever he was around, all was well. All was captivating. I felt at rest. I felt at home.

Learning to Look

From a young age, sages like my grandfather, mother, and father influenced me to value rest and leisure in God’s good providences. I learned to listen to creation as a symphonic movement composed by a master musician. I learned to view God’s common graces (things on earth) as windows into heavenly realities (things above). They were not mirrors of my self-worth. Neither were they portraits hung as decorations to be glanced at occasionally. I learned to not merely look at God’s Word and God’s world. The eyes of my heart learned to look into God’s Word and God’s world. I learned to look for God’s fingerprints of providence in everything. Everything. I learned to see creation in the same manner that Alan Jacobs memorably described C.S. Lewis’ childlike wonder at the ordinary bits of creation—the wetness of water, the scent of leather, the camouflage of a chameleon, the whistling wind through the pines. Jacobs described Lewis’ mind as “above all characterized by a willingness to be enchanted… [e.g.,] his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and (in some ways above all) his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful story.”[1] Jacobs beautifully dubbed Lewis’ Christian enthrallment in God’s wonderful world an “omnivorous attentiveness.”[2]

I should say from the outset that what I mean by contemplation is seeing in creation and life those insights and promises that echo Scripture. They are those patterns, designs, and reasonable deductions that God has deeply imbedded in the created order. Bible-filled saints recognize these as consistent with Christian doctrine. They are those universal principles that mankind sees in nature that correspond to what the Bible teaches. I am not talking about the popular mystical practices of listening for specific prophetic words, impressions, visualizations, or promptings that only make sense to the recipient. I’m not promoting listening for Jesus calling or prophetic whispers about the next steps we’re supposed to take in life. I’m simply underscoring a theomorphic instinct of contemplating all of creation as a reminder about its Creator that we see in Scripture.

I’ve learned that this theomorphic way of seeing everything is crucial for the Great Commission servant. It refreshes those laboring on the frontlines, amidst cold silence, unending darkness, and mysterious providences. Great Commission spirituality reminds the gospel servant to stay the course and remain faithful. Why? Because Jesus stands by us. Not only that, but his life is in us. And we are in him. When we look hard enough, we will see evidence of his providence working for us. Sweetness and sovereignty, always and everywhere.

Contemplating a theomorphic view of creation helps the Great Commission servant find joy and hope in the mundane and tedious things. Sibbes put it succinctly, “The life of a Christian is wondrously ruled in this world by the consideration and meditation of the life of another world. Nothing more steers the life of a Christian here than the consideration of the life hereafter.”[3]  Consider the odious smells of a pig farm. Only through death, butchering, and an oven’s intense heat can the aroma of a ham bring joy to a family holiday. Consider how death and heat can transform a vile pig into mouth-watering bacon. What is God’s creation telling us about death, life, transformation, and joy? Much of his creation is a living metaphor for the saints, an analogy of life. Creation displays God’s wise, sovereign, and benevolent providences for us. It is a song with layers of nuance, rhyme, meter, harmonies, dynamic changes, and percussive rhythms.

They all deeply affect the saint who knows how to listen. Many hear. But few listen. When all comforts and conveniences are stripped away, Great Commission servants can look into the ordinary and see the extraordinary. These providences remind us: God is there. He is with us. In us. For us.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the second chapter of E.D. Burns’ recently released book Great Commission Spirituality: Abiding in Christ, Serving in Obscurity (Littleton: William Carey Publishing, 2024).

[1] Jacobs, The Narnian, Kindle Edition, Location 318. Emphasis in original. See also Dorsett, Seeking the Secret Place.

[2] Jacobs, The Narnian, Location 312.

[3] Grosart, The Complete Works, Kindle Edition, Locations 5701-5703.

E.D. Burns

E.D. Burns, Ph.D., is the international director of Frontier Dispatch. He has been a long-term missionary in the Middle East, East Asia, Alaska, and currently SE Asia. He serves on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary. As a linguist and ordained minister, Burns develops theological resources and trains indigenous pastors and missionaries to the least-reached.