Friday, July 8, 2011

Lessons From a Gopher Tortoise

     Throughout the state of Florida, we have a unique species of wildlife that lumbers slowly across roads, pastures and yards.  In fact, this creature carries his home with him everywhere he goes.  It is the gopher tortoise which is on the endangered species list here in our state.  This turtle can grow to about 16 inches in size and weigh up to 29 pounds.  They also can live for nearly 100 years.  Their safe haven is found in sandy soil where they can dig burrows up to fifty feet in length and up to three to twenty feet deep. Additionally, their burrows can also be home to Indigo snakes, rattlesnakes, foxes, armadillos, skunks, possums and other creatures meaning they do not discriminate when it comes to company.
     One of the interesting facts about the gopher tortoise is that they are much like a cow with a shell since they enjoy eating vegetation.  This results in helping to spread seeds for a variety of plants.  While out on a stroll one day across Serenity Acres, I discovered this big fellow headed for his burrow.  He did not seem to mind my presence as he knew he was well protected.
     As I thought about the gopher tortoise and his unique ability to thrive and survive, it made me think of the simple lessons we can learn as we observe them.  First, the gopher tortoise is always ready for a fight since he wears his armor all the time.  No one can really take him by surprise.  Oh that we as believers could learn that lesson!  The Apostle Paul encourages us to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-11:  "Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."  This passage goes on to describe at length what comprises this protection for our minds (helmet), hearts (breastplate) and very soul (shield of faith).  An author I read some years ago, spoke of verbally putting on the armor each morning in prayer before walking out the door.  I thought this was a wonderful idea.  We become aware of our utter dependence on God who provides the armor that keeps us safe.
     A second characteristic of the gopher tortoise is that he carries his house wherever he goes.  When we become believers, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus, become a vessel for God's glory.  In fact, a church is not a building downtown some where.  We are the church of Jesus Christ, and a temple for God's own glory.  Therefore, our conduct is important.  We are representatives of the Lord.  I Corinthians 3:16-17 reads:  "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him.  For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple."  Then again, in I Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul says:  "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own.  But you were bought with a price so glorify God in our body."
     From these passages, we learn that we are to take care of these bodies of ours for the Holy Spirit dwells there.  He calls us to holy and righteous living when we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  It is important, therefore, to take care of our physical body and remember that how we walk in this world is a living demonstration of the church each day.  Our speech, conduct and thoughts reflect the heart.  As a result, keeping our temples clean is paramount to being a real witness to others.  Like the gopher tortoise carrying his home with him everywhere he goes, we also carry the Spirit of God who dwells within our earthly vessel.
     Finally, the gopher tortoise is slow but steady.  People may make fun of his inability to move quickly, but in the end, he gets where he is going.  Nothing stands in his way.  He knows where his burrow is and he keeps right on moving towards it.  What a lesson for us!  We should be like that tortoise moving at a steady pace towards the goal of the high calling in Christ.  Heaven is our home so we know where we are heading.  With this in mind, we need to press on daily just like the gopher tortoise heading back to his burrow.  He doesn't get side tracked, confused, worried, or upset.  He just keeps plodding along.
     For each of us, our energy source that keeps us fueled is the Word of God, prayer and fellowship.  We can keep plodding along at a steady pace when we are plugged in to these resources that God has provided.  We do not have to run off on a tangent or get sidetracked by attractive temptations.  Instead, we can be like that turtle and just keep on keeping on.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:  "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God to Christ Jesus" (Chapter 3:14).  If we faithfully, persistently do this, we will reach the goal of our heavenward call.  It is a daily moving forward in the strength and power of Christ.
     Just like the gopher tortoise, we have the armor to protect us, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives each day that we carry about as a witness for God's glory, and the slow, steady pace of Christian growth that will lead us ever onward to our heavenly home.  Isn't it amazing how God's creation points back to the Creator and teaches us wondrous lessons if we will only look?  Let us remember that God has given to us all that we need for life and godliness.... may we be faithful to use the tools He has graciously placed in our hands.  Selah!

I welcome your thoughts here.  Please feel free to leave your comments and words of encouragement.


Penned Pebbles said...

Great analogy. In comparison to the tortoise's house, I also thought about faith to trust God for His provision. We tend to get tied down to our spacial comforts (unless we live in motor-homes, as traveling missionaries or nomads), whereas the tortoise can move confidently, knowing that it is always sheltered.

Barbara Thayer said...

That is a wonderful point Petra. We do need to trust in God for His provision daily. So many people worry about daily things when God has it all under His providential care. Thanks for sharing that great insight!

Gospel One To One said...

Great Blog as always Barbara,

The quote about Paul is one that I love. Pauls goal was very likely to be able to reach wnat was Gods goal for him.

God Bless