The Big Year/Obedience/Birdwatching

By: Richard Gazowsky

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Years ago I started climbing the mountain of God, desiring to achieve the pinnacle of success in the high calling of Jesus. Since then I’ve been amazed to discover that what I thought was the top of the mountain was only a small pinnacle on the way to the top. Back when I was obsessed with finding the way to success, and reach a high calling in my denomination, I was shocked to discover that religious men I’d admired from my youth up didn’t seem to be concerned about obedience to God’s word, as much as they were about accumulating political power and acceptance from their constituencies. I finally came to the conclusion that, to reach my high calling in God, I would have to step outside the parameters of my denomination.

It was at this point in my life that I thought receiving a true genuine word from God, one that defines one’s call in life’s mission, was the pinnacle of success that I was after. But the higher I climbed, the more I ran into people who appeared obsessed with their own visions but not with Christ Himself. I also observed that their obsessions with their visions caused them to treat people they met on the way up as just vehicles, or stepping stones to climb past, to reach their personal ambitions. All of this ended up driving me to an even higher pinnacle: to know Christ Himself. I wanted to come into a personal relationship that would be about listening to His voice and trying to obey it in every minute detail.

This personal search came to a head last week when I went to the opening of the theatrical film “The Big Year”. It was actually a fluke on how my family ended up watching this particular film, because I’m normally not attracted to nature-type films. I’m more of the adventure type. This film stars Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. The actors play three obsessed National Audubon Society birdwatchers who’ve decided to compete against each other in what is called The Big Year, an event where each member counts how many birds he sees in one year starting on New Year’s Day.

The film is based on a true story that happened about five years ago. It involves a group of a rare breed of people who are obsessed with birdwatching, and the unique experiences and difficulties they experience. I instantly related to the film because I also consider myself part of an obsessed group of people ~ who are seeking Jesus, concentrating on hearing His voice, and obeying what He asks me to do. Not until I saw this film had I ever seen myself portrayed in such a way. As the movie progresses the intensity of the competition to see and hear the most birds begs the question of honesty and integrity between the three competing men.

Owen Wilson is young, vibrant, and flashy in his hunt for bird sightings. Yet the viewer wonders if his counting is always honest. Steve Martin, an extremely wealthy owner of a Madison Avenue company, is making a huge sacrifice to be gone from his office and family for a whole year to sight birds. Jack Black is a computer geek that has memorized almost every birdcall imaginable. He has decided to use every financial means possible to achieve his goal to beat Owen Wilson’s record count of 730 birds sighted in a year. Towards the end of the film, you realize that the question of integrity had to be dealt with for each man’s journey to have meaning.

If just one man is found cheating, which means they count a bird that they did not see, the whole premise of the contest would dissolve into ashes. The filmmaker very cleverly deals with this issue. Owen Wilson, the previous winner, is in the heights of the Oregon mountains when he and another birdwatcher hear the call of a rare owl. The birdwatcher looks at Owen Wilson and says, “Let’s count it. You heard it. I heard it. Let’s count it as one we’ve seen.” Nearby, out of Owen Wilson’s sight, Steve Martin overhears their conversation and wonders what Owen Wilson’s integrity will be.

Owen Wilson responds, “No! I can’t lose my life’s reputation, because what we heard may not have been the owl itself but another birdwatcher imitating the bird’s call. Tell me the direction that you heard the owl and I’m going over to sight it myself.” As Steve Martin watches Owen Wilson leave, he realizes the reason why Owen is the best. His obsession has a foundation of pure integrity. You soon learn that Jack Black is also possessed with the same kind of integrity. By the end of the film the viewer is left with a story about three men who come in first, second, and fourth places. But really, they each came in first place when it comes to the real race ~ integrity.

I’ve discovered the same thing in my journey to the mountain of God and His high calling. It’s not about how high you climb, how talented you are, or how much skill you’ve used to get there. It’s about your willingness and honesty to hear His still small voice. Your honesty in obeying exactly what He tells you to do is the true pinnacle. Though I’m trying wholeheartedly to reach these pinnacles, I still find I make mistakes in my hearing. But more and more I’m learning the lessons of obedience as I stumble up the pathway towards my ultimate goal: His perfect will.

Along the way I’ve been blessed to meet others like Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. They are obsessed with the same rare calling to listen and obey the voice of Jesus. Wow! How refreshing it is to meet them and share our stories of obedience. What a rare opportunity to meet those that want nothing but God’s pleasure. The stories only reaffirm that each one had to make sacrifices to obey that still small voice. But with every sacrifice there was a glorious payback in rewards!

The subject of this blog may seem a little different, but I think it’s something that many of us are going to need to get a clear picture, and take accounting of: Is this my “Big Year?” “Or will it be next year?” There is one Scripture that really has gripped me lately. It’s in the Message Bible, Ephesians 2:2, which says, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.” If it’s about to be your Big Year, then this Scripture will speak to you in its reverse: “You breath in the sweet air of faith and exhale obedience.” Come on! Join me and let’s make 2012 our “Big Year” of obedience.

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Richard Gazowsky pastors a church in San Francisco called The Voice of Pentecost, and is also president of Christian WYSIWYG Filmworks. He has directed the films, “Guardians” and “The Roman Trilogy.”

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