I often find that hunters and outdoorsmen are a gratified lot – especially during hunting season. Of course, this is in part because they’re doing what they love – pursuing deer and other wild game. There is a meaningful spirituality that enhances their contentment in the woods, on the water, and in everyday life. It’s my opinion that this is even more profound for the Christian sportsman. The parallel between spirituality and the outdoors can be difficult to delineate, despite its usual occurrence while in a stand, examining game trails, and scouting ridgelines. Make no mistake, it’s real and most outdoorsmen will attest to it. The obvious and awesome feeling that we have a relationship with something bigger than ourselves is palpable with every sudden breeze, interesting shadow, and appearance of wildlife. It’s in these moments that we realize hunting is about more than filling the freezer or laying our hands on the antlers of a harvested whitetail. It fills an inner need.
The Spiritual Offseason
Like physical health, spiritual health brings contentment. But I’ve learned that I can’t get spiritually healthy simply by taking up tennis or starting a running regimen; or hunting. At least I can’t stay that way by doing these things alone.
Unfortunately, I have a spiritual offseason – one that appears not only after putting away my hunting gear but randomly throughout the year. Spiritual health requires spiritual practice. My time in the woods is one where I have a much easier time engaging in prayer. It’s seamless with fewer distractions such as work meetings and family obligations. I’ve seen it written that God doesn’t ask you questions because he already has the answer. He just wants to walk with you and visit. Or something to that effect. Knowing this, I wonder why it’s so easy for me to, at times, skip practice.
Though I’m not always the best at following through, here are a few ways check for and build healthy spiritual habits.
Being in Control
I remember a great hunting season a few years ago. One where I made good effective shots at every turn and took a couple of really nice bucks and several does. No long tracking jobs or mistakes in the stand. I had it figured out it would seem. I got lazy though and late that season, missed a 15-yard chip shot at a deer and got careless with my decisions in the field on several subsequent hunts. For example, I had abandoned the basics of hunting by not playing the wind and rushing shots. I was lazy and cocky – a bad combo for a hunter that wants positive results.
Similarly, about every time I get on a good streak of any kind in life, apathy toward my walk with Jesus increases. In these cases, I undeniably find I’m trying to take the wheel. It’s like a reflex action. Obviously, the same thing happens when things aren’t so good. Spiritual lethargy sets in. I’ve learned to strive to check my motives and mindset on a regular basis. It keeps me on track in the deer woods, but, more importantly, in life. Even if it comes after triumphs and failures, it makes for good conversation with Him.
I know a lot of hunters that engage in physical training for high-country elk hunting trips. Their goal is to take a nice animal, but also be in ample shape to survive the physical exertion and high altitude. I get it. I’m a list maker and planner by habit. Though it may seem like a robotic way to address my faith and religious life, it works (until I fall off). Here, I set goals such as morning prayer, daily devotionals, and Bible studies. Much like Paul’s goal to spread His word far and wide, consider putting real objectives into place. Then strive to follow through. Just like the time I spend trying to hone my bow hunting skills through target shooting, I find it helpful to set spiritual targets for the week and day.
Confidence and Optimism
Like mentioned above, cockiness can lead to complacency and a feeling that I run the show. On what ground does my confidence stand? Achievements such as harvesting a trophy animal or getting a promotion at work? Staying busy or people pleasing? This type of confidence alone isn’t healthy, but spiritual hopefulness is. I often find that it’s time to exchange my earthly confidence for one that has a stronger foundation – one that can’t be taken from me. Once I do, “I am confident of this very thing,that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”. Philippians 1:6
Consistent and Smart Discipline
Much like with the start of a new year, lots of people regularly resolve to get healthy. Likewise, hunters often resolve to hunt more successfully. For example, they seek better hunting grounds and equipment. However, fitness and hunting gurus alike will tell you that the secret to fitness or hunting success means much more than the Keto Diet or a change in bow brands. To the contrary, it comes from making healthy and consistent choices – translation, healthy habits. Though an imperfect analogy, healthy habits have a relevant relationship with the Christian life and identity. This takes us back to spiritual goal setting. It also means to employ healthy habits regularly, whether life is throwing rocks or softballs your way. Hebrews 12:11 comes to mind; “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Regularly Acknowledge His Grace
No earthly person always lives a spiritually healthy lifestyle. However, it’s reassuring that, as believers, our salvation does not rest on what we do. Regardless of hunting or life success (whatever that means for you), we’re in the middle of a race that has a finish line. Most importantly, as believers, we know that Christ has confirmed that with true faith, we’ll cross that line as a winner. Unlike us, He already ran the race and did so to perfection.
Though not always fun or glamorous, it’s awesome that, following Him on earth means a more meaningful journey. And with real training, we can minimize times that are devoid of spiritual fitness along the way. The best part is that ultimately, life in eternity will entail indescribable peace and bliss. And huge whitetail bucks in my humble opinion.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His content is largely about hunting strategies and the outdoor lifestyle – often from a Christian perspective. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.