The trees were talking as I went walking. That is what it seemed like as I walked down that path in the city park on that hot Sunday afternoon. I would regularly leave the path to seek refuge from the heat as I walked in the shade under the trees scattered throughout the park.
I needed answers from the Lord. Here I was a year older and facing the same financial burdens with the work of New Life Evangelistic Center that I was encountering this time last summer. As I walked, burdened down with questions about how New Life was going to find the money to fill overdrawn accounts at the same time it faced a growing mountain of bills, all of a sudden I noticed the oak tree in front of me. As that tree stood firm it was almost like it was shouting at me saying,
“Look at me Larry, I’m older than you are and I’m still standing. I have faced drought in the summertime, cold in winter when I didn’t have a leaf on me, but I’m still standing. Why do you keep carrying your burdens from year to year? Turn them loose, God is faithful. He brought you through last year and each year before that and he will take you through this.”
Then I looked up into that big oak tree that stood before me. Its trunk was so wide that I could not come close to wrapping my arms around it. The branches of this oak spread out into the sky, displaying its covering of leaves and providing the shade I was enjoying. Each leaf seemed to be crying out to the heavens and unto me. “God is faithful, God is faithful, just trust and obey.”
This tree was speaking to me through God’s first language of creation. As long as I saw that tree as an object in a park I couldn’t hear its voice. A Wintu Indian once said, “The white people never cared for land or deer or bear. When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes…we shake down acorns and pine nuts, we don’t chop down trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. The tree says, “Don’t I am sore. Don’t hurt me”, but they chop it down and cut it up. The spirit of the land hates them… the Indians never hurt anything, but the white people destroy all.”
The most tragic thing is we have become so good at our destruction and we have so many excuses for our lifestyle which sees not only trees, but the rest of creation as mere objects and things to be used for our own gratification. The sad thing is we are the ultimate big losers who can no longer hear God’s voice as it speaks through his first language of creation.
As I continued to walk, determined to hear further what God had to say about the burdens I had brought upon myself, I came to that huge old mesquite tree. I had grown up seeing, those trees in South Texas, but this was the first time I had focused on one this large, this far north. As I listened to what this tree had to say, I felt led to go to Jeremiah 17:5-8. The tree spoke from these verses as I thought about its roots that went deep into the earth. With those roots it drew water from the unseen underground rivers which allowed it to remain green even in times of drought that Mid America experienced last year.
“This is what the Lord says: cursed is the one who trust in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places in the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
These verses from Jeremiah 17:5-8 were reminding me that like a tree, which continues to stand firm year after year even when the heat is on and the drought is present, I am to also remain faithful and be productive. As verse 8 said, by not giving into worry I don’t have to be controlled by fear and I can still produce fruit of love, joy, peace and kindness.
I was learning that by looking at the trees and listening to the lessons of faith that the trees were trying to teach me I was gaining a deeper understanding of what it was to eat from the tree of life. Revelation 2:7 says, “Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Eating from this tree of life involves abiding in the presence and power of God both now and for all eternity. This is possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is Jesus who asks, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:17-18).
Thomas Berry has pointed out that “The religious traditions need to awaken again to the natural world as the primary manifestation of the divine to human intelligence. The very nature and purpose of humans is to experience this intimate presence that comes to us through natural phenomena. Such is the purpose of having eyes and ears and feeling sensitivity and all other senses. We have no inner spiritual development without outer experiences. Immediately when we see a flower, a butterfly, a tree, or when we feel the evening breeze flow over us or wade in a stream of clear water, our natural response is immediate, intuitive, transforming and ecstatic… The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed within wonder, beauty and intimacy.”
David had such a relationship with God and his creation. That’s why in 1 Chronicles 16:30-33, he was able to declare, “Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Let the trees of the forest sing; let them sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”
As I looked up into that tall pine tree I noticed that about fifty feet up it started to bend. That tree was firmly anchored, but as the years passed by something caused it to start bending, yet the tree stood firm and were singing, “The Lord reigns”. It had withstood the storm and now it was showing me I was to stand steadfast, unmovable always abounding in the Lord. That pine tree through its presence was telling me, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brother (Larry) stand firm let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
This pine tree was teaching me that serving God was not just a fast paced hectic business of going from one crisis to another. I was to spend more time observing the trees and the rest of creation as I sought the creator of all things. I was reminded that seeking God involved daily reading the scriptures, praying and engaging in God’s first language of creation.
Trees are amazing gifts from God. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen so that we can breathe. Without trees, topsoil erosion takes place and crops won’t grow. Another wonderful thing about trees is that they don’t discriminate against whoever is planted next to them. You never hear them screaming or trying to move because there are homeless in the area, or that a low income senior housing project is being built, or students from a poor neighborhood are being sent to their school district. If you are thinking that is because trees don’t have much of a choice, they can’t move, then by that thought you are admitting that humanities free will gives them the opportunity to sin and discriminate. After all scripture clearly teaches that it is God’s will that we love our neighbor, regardless of the color of their skin or how much money they have, as we love ourselves.
Thomas Merton the great monk, poet, spiritual writer and social activist writes, “Man can know all about God’s creating by examining its phenomenon, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good, but it is misleading. With this kind of knowledge you don’t really know the things you know, you only know about them.” What Merton is saying is that studying trees involves more than just cutting them down and counting the rings in their trunk or evaluating how much wood they have. It involves seeing their flowers, leaves, branches etc., as God reveals himself through the creation of his trees. Merton goes on to say, “The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape. Again, sense of the importance, the urgency of being, fully aware, experiencing what is here, not what is given by men, by society, but is given by God and hidden by society.”
Thomas Merton goes on to describe what it is to be in the woods seeking God and observing and listening to the trees. “And now in the woods, I once again revisit the idea of simply staying here, in the woods- with great interior freedom and applying myself to the main business, which has nothing to do with places and does not require a beach of pure, white Caribbean sand, only silence and a curtain of trees. All around us, the steep hills were thick with woods and small gnarled oaks, clinging to the rock. Along the river, the slender poplars rippled with the light of the afternoon and green waters danced on the stones to go out to walk silently in this wood. This is a more important and significant means to understanding at the moment, than a lot of analysis and a lot of reporting on the things ‘of the spirit.’”
Isaiah 55:6-13 tells us how we can hear the mountains and hills burst into song and the trees clap their hands. We read in these verses how by seeking the Lord and trusting in His ways, we will see the thorn bushes of pain in our lives converted into Jupiter trees of strength, power and endurance. In these verses we are told to:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
It is time we stop seeing trees as immobile objects that teach us to only sit there and be couch potatoes. Trees talk if we will but listen to them. As we walk among the trees we will embrace the moment and be challenged to stand steadfast in spite of the trials and tribulations. It is remarkable how trees can cause us to seek the Lord. As we see that tree faithfully standing there year after year, we are reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and for that reason we must be rooted and grounded in the promises of the scriptures. As we accept the power of God’s word we will go forth in a peace and joy that will cause even the branches of the trees to look like they are clapping with praise unto the Lord. The thorn bush of worry will be transformed into an ever green pine that will continue to remain green and full of life even in the mist of adverse circumstances.
As trees provide shade, fruit, oxygen and so much more they continue to teach us how to be effective and productive in the work and will of God as we daily surrender to him. Remember God has given you the gift of trees. Thank Him for them and continue to let them talk to you through their example of steadfastness.
Yours in Christ,