Bird hunting: A bird in the hand

by | Sep 22, 2019

It is an ageless lesson. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” It is the sort of wisdom that a grandparent shares with a child who sees a toy that they think they want rather than the toy that they are holding. It is the advice that a father gives his daughter when she talks about her idea of leaving home to find a better job in a distant town.

In the middle of writing this, I was feeling disturbed by another article that was in this morning’s New York Times. I wasn’t as surprised by the headlines as I would have been since the shock of this news was introduced in last night’s world news. Scientists discovered that the bird population in North America decreased by one third over the past 50 years. Perhaps this ancient wisdom of holding onto the birds that we have is more important than ever.

This news comes at a time when students that attend public schools in New York have permission to join a rally with other youth hoping to gain the attention of policymakers. Their message is even more pressing than our declining bird population. Our youth want us to believe that our planet is on fire. Our daily news programs offer tangible evidence with headlines of angry earth responding to our ever-increasing need to want more stuff. The effect on our climate already has catastrophic results. This time we need to learn our wisdom from our children.

This idea of a “bird in the hand” is a good one. Sometimes when you are holding onto a sure thing, you should be content with what you have, rather than give up what you have for whatever is behind door number two. There are game shows based on whether a person is willing to take such a risk when they cannot be sure what is hidden behind the door.

But there is another piece of wisdom that all grandparents are expected to share. This wisdom involves patience and the willingness to be content with the present, but only for a while. In other words, not necessarily satisfied with the present, but willing to wait for a spell as the future unfolds. This second piece of ancient wisdom is sometimes known as “delayed gratification.” It labels that feeling we get when we are sitting in a classroom wondering what our friend is doing who chose to skip class.

One of the best pieces of advice that I have received in my life came when my dad and I attended a new student orientation at the university where I was enrolled for the fall. The Dean of the college said to the large group of eager students and worried, but proud parents, “I have some advice for the students that I want the parents to hear.”

The Dean’s advice shaped my approach to a challenge that all students face when we realize that there is no one around to tell us to do our homework and to not stay out late on a “school night.” I needed the Dean’s advice. I knew that I was likely to find my courses challenging. I felt fortunate that this school was giving me a chance. It only accentuated my anxiety when I thought about how much it cost for me to be there and how many years it would take to pay back my student loans.

The advice was simple. Finish your homework before you go out to do whatever you do for fun and entertainment. Put school ahead of football games and parties. The Dean’s advice came with a promise. There will be time for the fun stuff. I decided right then that I would commit to using this wisdom. And it worked for me. It also worked for my closest friends, including my roommate, Gary, who struggled even more than me to get through college.

The Lord says, “I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.

Isaiah 65:17-18a

But delayed gratification is the devil for those hoping that we make spontaneous decisions. If I am hosting a TV special where I want you to make a decision to buy the set of pots and pans that I’m selling, or a necklace, a new set of socket wrenches, or any other “must-have” items, I don’t want you to delay your decision. Phrases such as “For the next 10 minutes” and a counter that shows how fast the items are disappearing are used to motivate me to set my homework aside and make a purchase.

In the book by John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, is at the house of the Interpreter. The Interpreter is Christian’s version of the Dean of the college I attended. The Interpreter is expected to teach Christian what he needs to know before he continues on the straight and narrow path that leads to the place of deliverance.

Christian is anxious to have his burden removed. He has chosen to give up all that he has to find the Way that will lead him to the place described in a book that he has read. The Interpreter offers Christian a few lessons. In one case, Christian observes two children. The older child is named Passion. The younger child’s name is Patience. Christian notices that Patience seems content and at peace. Passion, on the other hand, seems unsettled.

The Interpreter explains that the children were promised a valuable gift that they would receive next year. Patience is content with waiting. She is at peace. Passion insisted on having his gift right away. But when Passion received his gift, he immediately used all of it and had nothing left.

Birds are essential to our planet. They feast on insects, such as mosquitos, and assist with pollination in our orchards, farms, and gardens. God created birds for a divine purpose, and humankind was given the responsibility for making decisions that are good for our planet, including birds. Our need for more and our greed is destroying our planet. And we are called by our Creator God to take action.

Healing comes out of love for our neighbor that is only possible when we love God.

But actions that heal a broken planet will not come out of wealthy, arrogant, and power-hungry people who will bully us into hurting each other for their benefit. Healing comes out of love for our neighbor, that is only possible when we love God. We were created by a God willing to live among us and take on our shame so that our burdens can be relieved.

Is it wise to let the bird in your hand go free so that you might go after the two that are caught in a bush? Would it be more sensible to hold onto the bird that you already have and not take the risk? The answer is contextual. Is the risk worth the potential reward? You could end up with nothing.

Christian must continue on his journey towards deliverance on faith. He once thought that he had everything possible until he read a book that changed everything for him. Christian’s new insight became a burden for him that he could not relinquish on his own power. But Christian would need patience. His relief will come sometime later. Meanwhile, he will likely face struggles and challenges as he moves toward deliverance.

This is the journey that people of faith must choose to continue every day. During our trip, we will need patience, and we will also need passion. But our passion will be for the reward of deliverance. We already have the most valuable gift of all. We know that our liberation is assured by the only One who can make such a promise.

We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. I pray that you will join us. If on Sunday morning you have this feeling that you should be somewhere, it just may be that God is answering my prayer and calling you to Asbury. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. You can find more information about us on our website at

Pastor Tommy

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.