Tree-likeness

“I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.”  
Isaiah 41:19-20
Trees – Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.
“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, 
     Nor stands in the way of sinners, 
     Nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
     And on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
     Planted by streams of water,
     That yields its fruit in its season,
     And its leaf does not wither;
In all that he does, he prospers.”   Psalm 1:1-3

Trees are breathtaking masterpieces of our Creator that we too often overlook… the intricacies of each ridge and crevice in the bark, the finely veined leaves, the mirrored safe havens of moss-adorned branches and underground roots. One could spend their life  gazing at a single tree and hardly scratch the surface of the intentionality of God’s design.

Yes, trees hold a special place in my heart. However, if I was to describe the most righteous, morally upright person I know, tree-likeness would be the last word on my list. As humans, we spend so much time distinguishing ourselves from the rest of creation, boasting in our free will, linguistic sophistication, and ingenuity of thought and invention. And yet, these trees that we on our best day might consider “majestic scenery” are actually one of the Lord’s beautiful and recurring analogies for godly believers.

As I was meditating on this passage with the Lord, I began to write down things that came to mind when I thought of characteristics for the tree described here:

– Green

– Tall

– Still

That’s as far as I got, and then He began to speak

Green…

Trees aren’t green all the time; that’s no surprise to us. However, no matter how many times and ways I tried to envision these verses in my head, the tree was always green. I’ve learned over time with the Lord that such a clear and persistent picture like this was probably something significant, especially since color wasn’t specified in this psalm at all. So I took a second look at verse 3: “That yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Fruit only comes in the Spring when the leaves are green, and the leaves never withering suggests that they stay this way indefinitely. A little more digging confirmed this (sidenote: I love when Jesus confirms things like this- His voice is so precious): 

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”   Psalm 92:12-15

God is very clear in scripture about how we can bear fruit while remaining green. In John 15, He teaches, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers…” (5-6)

These verses reveal something very profound: as believers, our flourishing is not dictated by worldly fluctuations like the seasons! Remember when Jesus was hungry and cursed a barren fig tree in Bethany? “When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’” (Mark 11:12-14). At one point this story seemed so confusing and harsh to me because it wasn’t even the season for the fig tree to bear fruit. But I recently heard someone comment on the situation beautifully, saying, “If anyone has the authority to ask the impossible of us, it’s the Lord.” We don’t live in reaction to the situations around us, but rather, by the word and will of God. It’s imperative for us to be familiar with His voice and develop a relationship with Him, because sometimes He asks us to do things that make no sense according to our worldly circumstances. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Tall…

There is a beautiful irony in trees being the height that they are, while we are told to be meek and lowly in heart like Christ. But trees don’t start out this way– they fall as seeds onto the ground, their outer shell decomposes and dies, and only then do the seedlings begin to grow. There are no limits to how deeply we can draw the comparisons; the fall and necessary death of the seeds before life is quite reminiscent of the gospel message.

For now, we must realize that it is only through humility and trust in the Lord’s desire for our lives that allows us to grow and be lifted high like this. Jesus emptied himself, coming to this world as a human servant. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9) Believe it or not, the Lord’s consistency in scriptural analogy of tree-likeness holds regarding this characteristic of obedience as well. In Judges 9, Jotham addresses the people of Shechem about accepting the positions that God has designated for each person by comparing their desire for a new ruler to trees being called out of their intended purposes:

““Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Judges 9:7-13

There is no way to look at a seed and predict the unique structure and height of a tree. It’s one of God’s many mysteries and surprises. Trees can live for hundreds to thousands of years. The average lifespan for an olive tree is 2,000 years, while a fig tree only lives about 200 years. Our authority, level of influence, and longevity of our lives does not impact our worth at all. These are not goals to be desired, but simply effects of faithfulness and intimacy with the Lord.  It’s worth asking ourselves if we have ever desired to abandon our post and “go hold sway over the trees.” What are the gifts and guidelines that God has given you for this current stage in your life?

Still…

Trees don’t move. Or speak. Ever. This might be the most difficult quality for me to accept, having spent so much of my journey with the Lord attempting to earn salvation through works and recognition through eloquence. There’s very little to be said of stillness here; the art of allowing Him to move through you and defend you is something only He can teach, and it comes by giving Him time and trust. Take a moment today to turn your eyes upon our brilliant and precious Savior. I’ll leave you with three verses to reflect on with Jesus:

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 
Exodus 14:14 

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” 
Psalm 62:5

“The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” 
Isaiah 32:17

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