Lessons from the Trees

We have had two large trees in our front yard since we moved into our house 22 years ago. We considered having them removed when the house was being built, but the builder convinced us that they were good strong oaks and were a valuable addition to our property. All these years of raking and blowing millions of leaves and picking up acorns has made us question that builder’s wisdom a few times, and we finally had them cut down back in November.

The trees were standing somewhat precariously on the side of the hill of our yard, and every time we had strong winds my bride was afraid they were going to fall on our house. My concern was that they had caused all the grass to die in that part of our yard, which has led to erosion and subsequent drainage issues. So, down they came, though we did save a sizable amount of the trunk and body of the tree and had it cut up into firewood-length pieces and moved behind our back fence.

I borrowed a log splitter from a friend and began to use every minute of off-time in daylight hours to split about sixty good-sized logs into several cords of firewood. It has been a chore, but I finally finished all the splitting this past week, though it’s going to take me a while longer to get it all stacked. After a year of seasoning, I will have firewood to last me for a decade. (And yes, those of you who have fireplaces, there’s plenty to share!)

I have always enjoyed yard work, and used the time for contemplation, “soul talk,” and prayer. (With the splitter, sometimes the prayer is that you don’t lose a finger!) And while wrestling with those big logs on the splitter, the Lord reminded of a few spiritual lessons I thought I would share with you.

One lesson right off the top was, the trees were not as healthy as they had appeared. The view from inside the trunk revealed that they were already starting to rot in the middle, and small bugs had been weakening the tree from the inside out. Both trees may very well have been closer to falling on our house than we even knew. The spiritual lesson is obvious: outward appearances don’t always tell the story. It is dangerous just to focus on the externals of our lives while neglecting our inner selves. That is a common struggle for so many Christians, and one that Jesus warned us about: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” Make sure your hearts (and souls) are healthy.

The other lesson came from the fascinating rings of the trees, displayed so well in the cross-sections of the trunks, both of which were nearly three feet across. We know from elementary science class how the rings of a tree tell us how old the tree is, and the best that I could tell, both of those trees were somewhere around 60-70 years old. But more than that, those rings also tell the story of that tree’s life, year by year.

There are thin rings, revealing years when the tree hardly grew at all because of a drought. There are thick rings, reflecting healthy years, when the tree grew by leaps and bounds. There are signs where the tree faced times of blight and disease, and times where it flourished.

If we were able to pull back the bark and look at our own lives like one of those big trees, we would see plenty of revealing signs, from deep scars to evidence of healthy growth, that make up our past. Some of those rings would represent wrongs done to us, and some the result of mistakes we made where we had to reap what we sowed. Others would show years of growth because of good choices we made, and because we “remained in the vine” (John 15:1-8) in our relationship with our gracious God.

And I imagine that for most of us, the events of 2020 made quite an interesting ring of its own.

Whatever the case, and whatever our “rings” may look like, God knows where we’ve been, and He’s faithfully seen us through the good times and bad. He will use every one of those years–those we cherish and those we would choose to forget–to grow us up into what, and who, He wants us to be. He is, truly, the Lord of the rings of our lives.

May He bless each of you abundantly this week, that you may be “rooted” in Him. I’m praying for you and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken