I sometimes find myself absolutely fascinated by trees – these gigantic woody stems bursting up from the ground, seemingly out of nowhere; and opening up into great canopies of leaves; and all of it with its genesis in a tiny little seed that fell (seemingly randomly) into the ground. How is it possible? And isn’t it magnificent?! I still remember standing in wonder at the base of giant spruce trees in Washington State who trunks were significantly wider in diameter than my wingspan … and which rose to heights that I had no way of estimating! And then there is the persimmon tree on the parsonage grounds – amazing in a far different way, draped as it is every fall with hundreds and hundreds of sweet little fruits! And it’s all quite marvelous to me – the phenomenon of the tree!
And then I am reminded, from a few different portions of scripture, that God’s people are also like trees! For instance, I read this week Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would come, among other things, to bring about blessing among the people of God so that they would “be called oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61.3). And that got me thinking again about trees, and specifically about how God’s people ought to be like them. And I so thought I’d just jot down a few characteristics of trees which, it seems to me, ought also to be true of God’s people …
Height. Do you ever just stop and wonder at how tall many trees are? Just step outside and marvel at it some time – how far into the sky even some of the medium-sized varieties stretch; how they tower over all the other plants, and over most manmade buildings, too. And that is how we Christians ought to look to our neighbors – we ought, morally and spiritually, to be the trees in our families, workplaces, classrooms, ball teams and so on. People ought to look up to us, and to see that Jesus makes a man or woman stand tall (though not proud!) in the realms of ethics, kindness, generosity, and so on.
Strength. Many other plants can be snapped in half with little more than human elbow grease … or maybe some limb loppers. But let a tree grow for a few years, and it is much too strong to be so easily felled. And again, so is the maturing Christian. Christ came so that we would be “oaks of righteousness.” That we possess an oak-like fortitude, and strength, and immovability such that, while we may sometimes be bent pretty low when a storm comes through, yet we do not topple.
Depth. The reason trees can grow so tall; and the reason they are not blown over by every storm … is because their roots are deep and sturdy. And so it ought to be for the Christian. We will be steadfast in our faith, and rise to great heights in our character and love and example … to the extent that we have gone to great depths in the soil of God’s word, and in prayer, and in humility before God’s throne.
Longevity. Trees last, don’t they? This is one of the reasons why they can grow so tall, and so strong, and so deep. Because they do not spring up overnight. They grow gradually but steadily … over the long haul of many years and even decades. And we should expect these things of ourselves – that we will not be mighty oaks within the first year or two of our Christian growth; but that, if we are genuine, we will still be growing and changing and standing and producing fruit many decades hence.
Fruit. This is one of the great blessings of a tree, isn’t it? It produces apples, or plums, or persimmons, or various sorts of nuts … all of which are useful to the owner of the tree! And so it must ever be with the Christian (Psalm 1) – “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season.” And, says Psalm 92, “they will still yield fruit in old age” (there is longevity again!). Fruit! Usefulness to God’s kingdom! That’s what characterizes God’s trees!
So just take some time this week to step out into nature and marvel at the trees – the oaks, the walnuts, the apples, and so on. Observe their glorious height and their mighty strength. Picture, in your mind’s eye, the great roots that reach deep beneath the soil. Think about how long they have stood in this same spot, immovable … and how many of them will still be growing there when you and I have long gone. Consider the usefulness (and flavor!) of their fruit. And pray that God will make you, more and more, an “oak of righteousness”; a “tree firmly planted by streams of water” … that “will still yield fruit in old age.”