Long tales –

On long-tailed tits (a devotional)

long-tailed tit

30th August, 2020.

Out walking with Rupert and the dogs after ‘virtual’ church, coats on for the first time in weeks, sadness creeping in as summer peters out, and the long cold months loom.  Daily dog walks will still be needed when this drizzle is replaced with downpours, and blue skies but a memory.  Soon a family of long-tails flies over us and into a high hawthorn bush. We can hear their flock singing for another hundred metres, filling the lane with their joyful and distinctive si-si song.  The absence of many migrant summer birds makes a way for this song to be heard; we’ve walked this lane daily, but now that autumn approaches we can tune in to them, in a way we haven’t for months.  Autumn has some advantages that I’m glad to be reminded of!  The long-tails chatter constantly to stay in touch with each other, and in winter will roost together at night to keep warm, huddling tightly together in a row.

These small birds always bring me joy.  They look imbalanced, with their compact round bodies and unnecessarily long tails, added for the sheer fun of it I assume, like a child’s drawing of exaggerated proportions.  Small, silver dessert spoons of the hedgerows, diving up and over, apparently enjoying the space and each other.

These birds speak of community to me like no other.  For the first time since childhood, I’ve heard the cuckoo this summer, and from my open kitchen door; it’s appreciated for its novelty and disparaged for its usurping behaviour.  By contrast, the long-tail reflects the caring nature of God that we are meant to imitate ourselves.  In that flock of a likely twenty birds, only a few will be ‘true’ parents.  Many will have lost their own nest, and these birds use their energies to help feed the young of other long-tails; a typical nest will contain anywhere between eight and fifteen hatchlings, far too many for even the most hardworking of parents.  The ‘helper’ birds ensure the success of the families in the group.

How often the role of helping seems second-rate to us in whatever walk of life.  We want the role, the position, perhaps even the acclaim.  (We’ve all had at least one of those moments, if we think hard enough and are honest with ourselves.)   These contented little birds remind us to quietly get on with the work we see around us, supporting those who need us in whatever way we can.

That this behaviour is second nature to them, a distinctive part of who they are, is not accidental on the Lord’s part.  I imagine he delights in us discovering these small signs that he’s woven throughout his creation.  These birds are well worth researching further, just for the satisfaction of understanding something of the completeness and perfection of God’s planning; their bottle-shaped nests alone, sewn together with cobwebs, filled with around 1,500 feathers and given an expanding neck so the fledglings can emerge, is worthy of a good half-hour of your time.

But it is their kindness that I’ll always return to in my mind. As Christians we know we should be merciful because we have been shown mercy.[1]  It’s something we’re all called to, though some will particularly connect with the idea, perhaps because God has especially gifted them to show mercy; the Greek word for this spiritual gift is ‘eleeo’.  These people will be inclined to demonstrate patience and compassion toward the hurting.  They are equipped for the long-haul, and will stand by those who need them, for as long as it takes.  They will be empathetic, and are acting out a part of God’s character, weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  They may not feel they are doing much, perhaps being a listening ear and a praying presence in someone’s life, but they are a lifeline and much needed in the church.  If you’ve often wondered what your spiritual gift is, perhaps this is yours!  Being a helper certainly isn’t a second-rate occupation, as the long-tailed tits will show you – it can make the very difference to someone’s survival.  And it’s always worth noting what metaphors in nature resonate with you especially – there must be a reason why…


For more on the Gift of Mercy visit the following websites:




[1] ‘Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Matthew 18:33.

Mercies Unseen

Ferg for blog

An early walk with our two dogs and Jemima in tow, a soft breeze rippling the field of barley that’s not long to stand, an undiluted blue sky overhead dappled with benevolent clouds.  The shelf-life of these carefree summer days is limited; the crop is soon to be harvested, autumn routines begin to encroach and a health problem niggles in my joints and my mind.  Yet the routine of walking is good for us, and my spirit is alive to the wonder of another miraculous day.

A Border collie comes bounding towards us from the woods, then turns back on itself.  We follow it through the path in the barley, and there, just inside the woodland, is its owner, a kind lady who is filling up a natural basin in the tree roots with a bottle of water.  ‘It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone actually fills that up,’ I tell her.  ‘Our dogs always stop for a drink here.’

‘Most people don’t realize,’ she says.  ‘I do this when I walk through each day, morning and night.’

The neighbourhood dogs and resident wildlife all benefit, and it sets me thinking…

I wonder just how much God does on our behalf that we’re oblivious to?  Sometimes we know that he’s at work for us, but we don’t stop to acknowledge it.  That well that we stop to drink from – if it’s wholesome then he is behind it, if we look hard enough.  How often we overlook what he provides and what he does.  I’m sure that we’d be astounded if we knew just how many crises he’s averted, and how often he’s stepped in to orchestrate events for us.  One day he may tell us. He’ll explain the suffering too.  He will wipe tears from our eyes and hold us close, revealing to us why we went through what we did, how it grew us and made us more like him.  The Bible tells us that he prays on our behalf and we’re forever in his thoughts.  David Wilkerson, most famous for his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, writes, ‘The prophet we see standing on the hill with his hands raised up is our risen Christ.  And his banner over us is intercession.  Right now, he stands before the very throne of God, pleading our case.’[1]  He goes on, ‘If our Lord’s prayers prevailed while he was on earth, how much more will his prayers be effective for us in glory?  He has already assured us, “None of my children will be lost.”’

So be encouraged today that whatever your problems, God is one step ahead and he’s pouring out what you need, in intercession, in acts of mercy and in sheer abundant blessing because he loves you and he delights in you.  Ask him to make your spirit sensitive to some of what he does on your behalf.


‘Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven.’  Hebrews 7:25-6.


Dogs on blog



[1] Wilkerson, David.  Hallowed be Thy Names.  Rickfords Hill Publishing, 2001. Chapter 3: Jehovah Nissi (God is my banner).