Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I’ve never really taken any notice of pigeons. They are birds you see everywhere. Fairly ordinary birds. Not quite, when you talk about homing pigeons. These extraordinary birds have been known to fly over 1,800 kilometres.
They can be transported to some far-off location, and when released, will circle in the air a few times before heading back home. How can they do it? How do they know where home is? They can fly at 80 km/hour, and the top racers have been clocked at 140 km/hour over short distances. Incredible for such a small bird!
This remarkable ability to find home means that pigeons can be used for carrying messages—you may have heard the term ‘pigeon post’. They were often used like that during a war. In 1850 Paul Reuter, who later founded Reuters press agency, used a fleet of over 45 pigeons to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen, the terminals of early telegraph lines.
The outcome of the Battle of Waterloo was also first delivered by a pigeon to England. During the Franco-Prussian War pigeons were used to carry mail between besieged Paris and the French unoccupied territory.So there’s quite a lot of history with the humble pigeon.
But how do they know where to fly to come home? Some believe they use low-frequency sound (infrasound) to navigate. Other people say the pigeon can detect earth’s magnetic field, or use some kind of inbuilt compass.
I believe each of us have pull towards home—you know what it’s like if you’ve been overseas on a holiday or away for a while. No matter how much we’ve enjoyed our time away, it’s always good to get home. No place like home. Some say home is where the heart is. Others say home is where you hang your hat. Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Longing for Our Spiritual Home
There is something similar which operates in the spiritual sense. God has placed a homing device within each of us that draws us back to him. Some feel this is rubbish, but I don’t.
It was the early church leader Augustine who expressed it so well in his prayer: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you”.
We all have divine dissatisfaction, a desire that no natural happiness can satisfy. The things that we desire are often good images of the spiritual things which we really desire but as ‘things’ they are never really good enough. If we mistake material things for the real things, then they will turn into dumb idols and eventually break our hearts.
As C. S. Lewis said,
These are only like the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have never heard, news from a country we have not visited.
Jobs, qualifications, relationships, none of these can ever provide that for which we search. If we think that relationships with other people can satisfy us, we are asking too much of another human being. Without God even our best human relationships are under too much strain; no wonder relationships are on the rocks.
“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” St Augustine
Somehow, someway, home has a special place in the human heart. It seems as though we are longing for a place to call home. You may recall the traditional folk song “I Wanna Go Home”. If you’re familiar with the version by Van Morrison, you can hear the lyrics in his growling voice singing:
I wanna go home.
I feel so broke up,
Lord, that I wanna go home.
This is a song for every human heart. Whenever we feel lonely or abandoned, we want to go home. Whenever we are filled with doubt or despair, we want to go home. Whenever we feel cut loose or lost, we want to go home: Lord, sometimes I feel so broke up, that I want to go home.
Augustine prayed a prayer that resonates with me: “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. In the good times and the bad times, we are all longing for a place called home.
Filling the Void Within Us
For much of the time, we are so busy with just surviving that we have no time to reflect on the bigger issues of life. But when those rare moments of quiet come, we begin to sense the emptiness inside and wonder, Is this all there is? The fact is, we all are missing something and that ‘something’ is a relationship with God.
The human race has a void within that only God can properly fill. He is ready to do so when we are ready to let him into our lives. Until we do, we are left with ‘missing something’ and what is missing will impact us for eternity.
God is calling each of us to find our home in him—and he promised to be help us find the way. He gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask, and much like the homing pigeon’s instincts, the Holy Spirit’s job is to guide us towards a happy and fulfilling life. Jesus said that he came to give us life, “…life in all its fullness”. (John 10:10).
Jesus was once asked what mattered most in life. He replied that before anything else, we should love God with all the passion we’ve got and our neighbour likewise. If all the other things that we do in life are subject to following this teaching, then we should find it easy to keep a right balance between the purposes of God, the interests of our neighbours, and lastly ourselves.
In other words, true fulfilment in life is not actually about what we do for ourselves. It is far more about how we relate to others—to God and to our neighbour. And in Jesus’ teaching our neighbour is a reference to anyone in need of help.