CAMILLA — Can our hobbies lead us closer to God? Is it possible that what some may view as a leisurely pursuit can teach us about our Creator? Indeed, it happens every fall in the Georgia woods.
Hunting is nothing new. It has been around almost as long as man has been on the earth and has become an integral part of the history of human survival. It is mentioned in the Bible as early as the tenth chapter of Genesis and doubtlessly happened even before that.
Along the way, deer hunting has evolved into something more than just putting a piece of fresh meat to roast on the fire or to be fried up with gravy and biscuits. It has become a means of exercise, a chance to enjoy the outdoors and an opportunity for a special level of camaraderie. Lifelong friendships are developed in the hunting camps. For many it has become a family tradition, passed from one generation to the next along with the memories and legends it has produced.
For some, especially a significant number of pastors, it also provides some spiritual benefits that transcend the fun, fellowship and food.
‘Some of my best sermons’
Pastor Preston Wilson of Milford Baptist Church in Milford describes it as an opportunity to get away from everything with no distractions. “You’re out there in God’s creation with time to meditate,” he explains. “I actually do some of my best praying out there.”
Wilson feels like hunting can actually help someone to grow. “It’s the challenge of trying to outsmart one of the smartest animals in North America.”
He describes times in which he has been seeking direction from God concerning his ministry and has found the opportunity, while in the woods, to seek after God’s will.
Doug Hall, pastor of Union Grove Baptist Church in Pelham, agrees.
“It’s an opportunity to just escape from the pressures of ministry and breathe,” says Hall, a bi-vocational pastor who also works in the timber industry.
Sometimes he takes his Bible to the hunting stand with him. “I can tell you that God has given me about as many sermons in the woods as He ever has in the office.”
Hall refers to Romans 1:20 to highlight an aspect of hunting that is important to him. “God reveals the invisible things about Himself through creation. It’s not just the big things, even the smallest flower can teach you something about the Creator.”
23 minutes for lifelong prayer lesson
Recently, Hall experienced something that is the worst nightmare of anyone who has ever climbed into a tree stand. As he was sitting in his stand, the strap that held it to the tree snapped, causing the stand to rotate to the back side of the tree and collapsing.
Facing a long fall that could have resulted in death or serious injury, he clung desperately to the tree for 23 minutes while waiting for his son-in-law to find him. Fearing the worst, he even managed to get to his phone and call his wife, Debbie, to tell her he loved her. She begged him not to give up before help arrived.
“I learned how to pray all over again in that 23 minutes,” Hall declares.
‘Good to get away’
Pastor Joey Diers of Baker Baptist Church in Rentz shares similar sentiments towards hunting. “It’s an opportunity to unplug and get re-centered on God,” he shares, “It’s good to get away from the phone, the computer, and everything else.”
For Diers and his church, deer hunting opened the door into a new avenue of ministry. While many churches host wild game banquets, it has become particularly successful for Baker Church. “We live in a very rural area of Georgia and a lot of guys around here like to hunt,” he points out.
Diers describes the enormous growth that event experienced with their outreach. “We started about 15 years ago and it was not really that big. Over the years it has grown to where we are now averaging over 1,200 in attendance. Many of the men who now attend our church came in through the wild game supper.”
This is a classic example of people simply using the resources and opportunities at hand to reach people where they are in efforts of evangelism and discipleship.
So, while for many, the idea of deer hunting is about a fun day of rising early, hitting the woods with family and friends, experiencing the adventures of the great outdoors, then coming home with fresh meat and story to be told, for these men it has become an important part of their pursuit of God.
Perhaps this is a principle that can be applied to other pursuits?
A native of Bainbridge, Gordon Cloud is a writer and the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Camilla.