Researchers agree that Environment (the third principle of the CREATION Life acronym) has a tremendous impact on physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. Premier Christian Media published a recent article advising that more time outdoors can improve mental and spiritual health. Speaking with Director of Public Health Jim McMannus, they discussed the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle.
“The connection with the natural environment, and being away from technology, helps us to relax,” McMannus confirmed. “Even if it’s just from the perspective of making your gardens look a little bit interesting, that can actually have an impact. There’s all sorts of things you can do, and churches should be leading it—we absolutely should be bringing the benefits of a strong connection with creation back into people’s daily lives if we can.”
To really bring these benefits back into people’s lives, and help churches lead the initiative, it’s important to understand the historical support for connecting with creation. Perhaps the best place to start is with the example of the Creator Himself. Jesus often demonstrated the power of environment in His ministry. His teachings and parables pointed to nature as a way of understanding heavenly concepts, and His sermons were given outdoors whenever possible. Let’s look at some lessons from scripture as well as some insights from early AdventHealth pioneer Ellen White.
“Christ taught His disciples by the lake, on the mountainside, in the fields and groves, where they could look upon the things of nature by which He illustrated His teachings. And as they learned of Christ, they put their knowledge to use by co-operating with Him in His work.” (Ellen White, COL 23.2)
John the Baptist, understanding the effects of environment on the character, spent the greater portion of his life in the wilderness studying the lessons of nature and revelation. His development led to remarkable recognition from the Savior. “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist,” Jesus proclaimed (Matthew 11:11).
“In the growth and development of nature were revealed the principles of His kingdom. As men should lift up their eyes to the hills of God, and behold the wonderful works of His hands, they could learn precious lessons of divine truth. Christ’s teaching would be repeated to them in the things of nature. So it is with all who go into the fields with Christ in their hearts.” (Ellen White, DA 291.1)
Nature has a wonderful effect on the mind. Experiencing nature, whether through passive observance or active participation, is an important component of psychological well-being. Pressures of modern life contribute to the experience of mental fatigue, which can lead to less tolerance, less effectiveness, and poorer health. By providing deeply needed restorative experiences, natural settings can play a central role in reducing these devastating effects.
“As we come close to the heart of nature, Christ makes His presence real to us, and speaks to our hearts of His peace and love.“ (Ellen White, COL 25.1)
If stressed, gaze upon the beauties of nature. Studies find that simply viewing a garden, or other natural vistas, can quickly reduce blood pressure and pulse rate and increase the brain activity that uplifts our mood.
“Through the creation we are to become acquainted with the Creator. The book of nature is a great lesson book, which in connection with the Scriptures we are to use in teaching others of His character, and guiding lost sheep back to the fold of God.” (Ellen White, COL 24.1)
It is helpful to share these principles with those who may not be aware of the benefits of connecting with creation. Bringing church outdoors is a great way to teach your congregation the restorative benefits of nature and help them share the lessons with others. If churches are to lead this initiative, it’s important they practice these principles themselves.
“The Sabbath calls our thoughts to nature and brings us into communion with the Creator. In the song of the bird, the sighing of the trees, and the music of the sea, we still may hear His voice who talked with Adam in Eden in the cool of the day. And as we behold His power in nature we find comfort, for the word that created all things is that which speaks life to the soul.” (Ellen White, DA 281.4)
Discuss how you can experience church service outdoors with leaders at your church. See what effect an outdoor sermon has on otherwise restless children. Take a break from the confines of sanctuary walls and allow the sunlight to bolster people’s attention. Look for illustrations in nature that represent the loving character of our Creator, then encourage each other to share stories about the lessons they discover. Consider holding community service events outdoors where members can share the lessons with people in their community.
There is wisdom in the way Jesus did ministry, and His example serves as a template for understanding His purpose in our lives. Connecting with creation reinvigorates the mind, breathes life into the body, and nourishes the spirit.