An Eleven-Week Devotional Reading Guide for John Stott's The Birds, Our Teachers
Chapter 1 The Feeding of Ravens: Faith
Day 1. Read John Stott's Introduction and the first chapter of his book.
Day 2. Trusting God to supply of everything we need.
Read the 'Do Not Worry' section from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:25-34. Compare the parallel section in Luke 12:22-31, which mentions ravens (verse 24).
Day 3. Read and reflect on Elizabeth Cheney's poem, "Said the robin to the sparrow" (page 12, The Birds Our Teachers). Now turn to The Song of Moses (Deuteronomy chapter 32). Does verse 6 support the poem?
Day 4. Should we "Worry about tomorrow’? (See Matthew 6:34) Does this mean we should be carefree and careless? Can we learn from the ants in Proverbs 6:6-8?
Day 5. Or that God promises no harm without his knowledge and permission? See also Psalm 91:9-16. Are God’s children protected against all accidents? Does Jesus promise to preserve Christians from all harm? Check out Matthew 10:29 and Psalm 91:9-16.
Day 6. If we are believers, assured of our salvation, are we to sit back and do nothing? How does God feed the birds? Read Psalm 104:24-30.
Day 7. Read the account in 1 Kings chapter 17 and see how God used ravens and a widow to provide for and sustain his prophet Elijah.
For prayer throughout the week Use David's confident prayer of faith (Psalm 27) and the 'By Faith' chapter of Hebrews (chapter 11).
Chapter 2 The Migration of Storks: Repentance
Day 1. Read chapter 2 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. How do repentance and faith go together in biblical religion? What is John the Baptist's message in Matthew 3:1-3? How does this compare with Jesus' preaching in Matthew 4:12-17? Are they saying different things?
Day 3. Read Peter's sermon after he has healed the blind beggar at the temple (Acts chapter 3). What is the core of his message? (See verse 19.) Does the apostle Paul teach something different? Look at his message to the church at Ephesus (see Acts 20:17-21 – especially the last verse).
Day 4. Do the Old Testament prophets have a different emphasis? Find out what the prophets Hosea and Ezekiel had to say (see Hosea 14:1 and Ezekiel 18:30-32).
Day 5. The Jeremiah prophesied when God's people turned from him. Jeremiah argues that even storks know when to return, but God's people would not returned to him. Check out what the prophet said in Jeremiah 8:1-12, and especially verse 7.
Day 6. How often ought we to return to God from our disobedience? See Jeremiah 8:4-5.
Day 7. The storks know when to return home. How can we refine and strengthen our own 'homing' instinct toward God? Read Psalms 90 and 91. What different imagery does Paul use in Ephesians 2:19-22?
For prayer throughout the week use 'penitential' psalms, such as Psalms 51 and 130, to help express your own repentance and faith.
Chapter 3 The Head of Owls: Facing Both Ways
Day 1. Read chapter 3 from John Stott’s book.
Day 2. In what way should Christians be like owls – and like Mr Facing-Bothways? And how should we be unlike them? Read Matthew 6:19-24 and Luke 16:1-15 (note verse 13).
Day 3. Owls can look backwards and forwards. Let’s look back to the first coming of Christ in John’s Gospel. (John 1:1-18.)
Day 4. Now let’s look forward to Jesus’ second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11.
Day 5. In what way do we look both backwards and forwards at the Lord’s Supper? (Look at 1 Corinthians 11:23-34, especially verse 26)
Day 6. How can we use our own past – and the past recorded for us in Scripture – to encourage us in the faith? Meditate on Psalm 40 and on Romans 15:1-6, especially verse 4.
Day 7. How looking forward into our future encourage us? Take a look at Romans 8:28-39 and 1 Peter 1:1-9.
Chapter 4 The Value of Sparrows: Self-esteem
Day 1. Read chapter 4 from John Stott's book.
Day 2. We need a healthy balance between inflated self-importance and inferiority. To which end of this spectrum do you tend? Do you need to make any rectifications?
Day 3. How can Paul's recommendation to use 'sober judgement' (see Romans 12:3) and his conclusion about our 'righteousness' Romans 3:9-20 help us to avoid inflated self-importance?
Day 4. How does Jesus use 'insignificant' sparrows to argue that God values human beings? Look at Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 12:6-7. What does Dr Stott mean by an 'a fortiori' argument?
Day 5. Re-read meditatively Joni Eareckson Tada's thoughts about the sparrow on page 38: 'If the great God of heaven concerns himself with a ragtag little Sparrow . . . he cares about you.'
Day 6. We can develop true and well-founded self-esteem when we recognize our value to God. Look up John 10:1-18; John 15:13; and Colossians 3:1-4.
Day 7. How does God ultimately prove his love for us – and our value to him? Read again what Archbishop William Temple said, on page 38 of The Birds Our Teachers. Compare 1 John 3:1-2.
Chapter 5 The Drinking of Pigeons: Gratitude
Day 1. Read chapter 5 from John Stott's book.
God's people ought to be characterized by gratitude 'for all his benefits'. See how the Psalmist expresses praise as he remembers and
lists them (Psalm 103:1-5). In Psalm 136 the Psalmist remembers all that God has done and responds with gratitude and praise.
Day 3. What was surprising about nine of the men suffering from leprosy who
Jesus healed (see Luke 17:11-19)? Have you ever done the same as them?
In the 'Doxology' Paul sets out God's character and then responds with thanksgiving (Romans 11:33-36). Similarly, in Ephesians 1:1-14 Paul
sets out the spiritual blessings we have received from God, and responds appropriately.
Day 5. Use the below in thanksgiving: Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
Day 6. How can the pigeon's drinking habits challenge us to be more thankful? In what practical ways can we express our thanks to God for his providing for us?
Day 7. Re-read G. K. Chesterton's poem about limiting 'grace' on page 43 of The Birds Our Teachers. Does Paul set any limits on our gratitude in Philippians 4:4-7?
Chapter 6 The Metabolism of Hummingbirds: Work
Day 1. Read chapter 6 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. 'Eat to live or live to eat?' What makes human
beings different from the animal creation? Take a look at Matthew
6:25-34. How should this influence my attitudes and behavior?
Day 3. Is your 'work' (not just in the narrow sense of
'employment') meaningful and purposeful? How can you better understand
and develop your purposes and goals in 'work'? See what Paul says on
this subject in Colossians 3:22-24 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10.
Day 4. In what ways do you become preoccupied, 'darting
restlessly' about like the frantic hummingbird? Contemplate Matthew
6:25-34 again, especially verse 27.
Day 5. How can we
achieve a healthy balance in our diet, avoiding both obsessions and
asceticism? Paul says much about this in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and 6:17-19.
Day 6. If 'feeding is never an end in itself', how should we adjust our
attitudes toward it, yet keep our bodies healthy and strong? To what
higher end do we eat? Read Ephesians 4:14-16.
Look again at the last paragraph on page 50, 'Work is a fundamental
dimension of human existence on earth . . .'. Do the early chapters of
Genesis bear this out – before and after the Fall? Take a look at
Genesis 2:1-2; 15-17; 3:2-24.
Chapter 7 The Soaring of Eagles: Freedom
Day 1. Read chapter 7 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. Imagine the freedom of flying! To fly away from fear and trouble, or just to soar as free as a bird! When might we need this freedom? Read Psalm 55:1-8.
Day 3. Despite all the human achievements of flight and space travel, these pale in comparison with the ability of God's creatures' facility to ‘climb, glide, flap, hover, roll and dive'! Think of the speed of the peregrine falcon, and the endurance of the albatross, that even sleeps on the wing. Read Isaiah chapter 40 – especially verse 31.
Day 4. According to Richard Bach's 1970s best-seller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, human freedom lies in self-actualisation, allowing nothing to cramp our style. Is this how we can ‘be what we want to be, and go where we want to go'? Does the Bible go along with this?
Day 5. What is freedom according to scripture? Turn up Mark 8:34-37, Galatians 5:13-14 and 1 Peter 2:16-17. What do these passages tell us about human freedom and self-discovery?
Day 6. In what way is the flight of the eagle particularly symbolic of Christian freedom? Think about Job 39:27 and Proverbs 30:18, 19.
Day 7. Meditate on the quotation from C. H. Spurgeon on page 57 of The Birds Our Teachers. Are you challenged by this? Compare Psalm 103:1-5 and Isaiah 40:29-31.
Chapter 8 The Territory of Robins: Space
Day 1. Read chapter 8 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. Although it is not good for us to be alone, God has created each of us as a unique individual. Do you feel crowded in by our impersonal world, unable fully to be yourself? Do you seem to be losing your sense of individuality? The Psalmist answers these fears in Psalm 139:13-16.
Day 3. How can we re-affirm our individuality, break free and make time to be ourselves? What can we learn from the robin's energetic defense of its territory?
Day 4. We need both individual space and group space – territory and colony (see page 66). Is one stronger than the other in your experience? Psalm 68:1-6 describes how God meets both these human requirements.
Day 5. How can we cultivate time - and privacy - for personal reflection and growth? Look at the best example: Jesus. Read how Jesus met this need in Matthew 14:22, 23; Mark 1:35 and Luke 5:15, 16.
Day 6. Can a solitary introverted life be harmful? What does Peter teach in 1 Peter 2:4-10?
Day 7. How can we try to achieve a balance between creative individuality and healthy inter-dependence? Read and meditate upon Ephesians 2:13-22 and 4:1-16.
Chapter 9 The Wings of a Hen: Shelter
Day 1. Read chapter 9 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. The hen shelters her chicks from predators and climate. Startlingly, Jesus compares himself to a protective mother hen. Read Luke 13:34. From what did Jesus long to shelter Jerusalem?
Day 3. In Genesis 1:2, the Holy Spirit is described as 'hovering over the waters'. We find the verb 'hover' used again in Deuteronomy 32:10-12 and Isaiah 31:5. What is hovering here? How is God compared with this activity?
Day 4. Meditate on the Psalms mentioned on page 71, all of which refer to 'the shadow of [God's] wings'. See Psalm 17:8, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 61:4 and Psalm 63:7.
Day 5. Amazingly, the covenant love symbolized by taking refuge 'in the shadow of [God's] wings' is for anybody and everybody (Psalm 91:1-4), whatever their social status (Psalm 36:7).
Day 6. Jesus issued a final appeal to Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37. What danger do we face if we reject God's love and protection?
Day 7. What does the image of a mother hen gathering her chicks tell us about our Father God? What more do we discover about the nature of God from the powerful images in Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 49:15 and Isaiah 66:13?
Chapter 10 The Song of Larks: Joy
Day 1. Read chapter 10 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. Bird song is often beautiful – sometimes sensational – yet it also serves to communicate in six important ways. Do humans use song in a similar way? In an opposite way?
Day 3. Spontaneous expression of praise is natural to Christians. Join the Psalmist's song of worship in Psalm 96.
Day 4. What do we know about praise and singing of hymns in the early church? Take a look at Ephesians 5:18, 19 and Colossians 3:16, 17.
Day 5. Christian songs and worship on earth are a reflection of what awaits us in heaven, for eternity! Contemplate Revelation chapter 5 and Revelation 7:9-17.
Day 6. In what way is our worship different from bird song (see Psalm 148:13) Do we sing with the 'reason of man' or the 'chattering of birds'?
Day 7. Sing with joy, gratitude and understanding! Follow the example of Psalm 98 and Revelation 19:1-10.
Chapter 11 The Breeding Cycle of all Birds: Love
Day 1. Read chapter 11 of John Stott's book.
Day 2. Why is love the greatest thing in the world? Can any human experience exceed it? See 1 John 4:7-21.
Day 3. How is God's love expressed in the commandments? Look at Mark 12:28-31. How did God show his love for us? See 1 John 3:16.
Day 4. In what ways do human love relationships in marriage and family differ from avian pair-bonding and nurture?
Day 5. What does human love imitate and where does it originate? Read 1 John 4:10, 19. How does God's love differ from ours? Read again meditatively 1 Corinthians 13, the 'love chapter'.
Day 6. Read the Conclusion to John Stott's book, from page 94. Look at Psalms 103 and 104 and Jeremiah 4:23-28. What do we learn about God's ecology. How can we better protect our unique God-given environment – not least its birds?
Day 7. Read Genesis 1:20, 21; Psalm 50:11; Matthew 6:26a. Marvel again at the 'birds our teachers' – and at our Father in heaven, who made them, sustains them, and has given them to us for our enjoyment and education.