(Excerpt from forthcoming chapter "Nature flourishes on my summit")
In the Scriptures the righteous person, the godly person, is said to be like a palm tree, also like a cedar. Why the palm tree? Why not like a papaya tree or a banana tree?
A papaya tree has only three years to live and bear fruit. Some seeds must be saved from the luscious, sweet fruit at the end of the third year if one expects to continue to have produce. Then the three year old tree, even if it still looks healthy, should be chopped down. If not, it will become a tall, awkward tree without any fruit and good for nothing. It is just taking up space.
A banana tree is still worse. It uses all of its strength to bear only one hanging cluster of green bananas in its lifetime and all in one year! After that it is barren. It too must be chopped down to make room for new trees. That should certainly make eating my daily breakfast banana quite a cherished treat.
The human life span is not as fixed as is the lifetime of trees. During whatever lifetime I have been given, how many days or years do I produce spiritual fruit? Some people are like banana trees and have only one fruit bearing season to their credit. Others are productive for the Lord only for several short years, perhaps in their youth or prime middle years. By the time they reach mature years and become elderly, they can’t imagine that God still expects fruit bearing from them. They think they are exempt and can't be faulted for coasting toward the sunset of life.
It is the date palm tree that God wants us to take as our role model. God does have expectations for the righteous in Christ that extend to the very limits of mortal life. His plan is, “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:12-15).
What is so unique about the palm tree? In the land of the Bible, date palms were the main variety of palm trees. We can learn many spiritual lessons from their characteristics. Long life? Yes! The tree begins to bear good fruit during its eighth year and is considered mature at 30. God expects and plans for fruit even from the very young either in age or spiritual experience. There is no question that fruit bearing is His desire for me throughout my lifetime.
The palm tree continues to grow about one foot a year for the first 50 years, after which the rate of growth begins to decrease—nevertheless, new fronds (branches) continue to grow. Likewise, even after my physical growth levels off, God has planned for me to be renewed every day spiritually. Later in life, though my natural body eventually begins to go down hill, my spirit is supposed to be robust and healthy as it continually grows new spiritual fronds.
Incredibly, date palms bear fruit annually for well over 100 years! Fruit-bearing open-end is God’s normal plan for His children too! There is no “‘retirement” plan in God’s Kingdom; there is only “re-firement” and “refinement” of God's purposes for me. I am called to progress “from glory to glory” and “from strength to strength.” For me as a chronologically challenged Christian, God promises that His mercies and care and strength continue to be “new every morning.” That's the time I need them! Because of God’s perpetual refreshing, my spiritual youthfulness can keep on going, and going, and going—like the “Energizer Bunny” in the battery commercial. God said He fully expects my fruit bearing to continue prolifically to “flourish like the palm tree.”
God declared prophetically that His Spirit will be poured out in the last days on all mankind (all flesh) and “your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions, and even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-31). Wonderful news! The Spirit is coming not only upon the young but also upon the old! Neither youth nor old age are a handicap to witnessing or serving the Lord. Because of the outpouring of God’s Spirit in the last days, we should expect many elderly people to be welcomed into the Kingdom in their last days because their earthly time is realistically shorter. Each person is precious in God’s sight. Our value to Him doesn’t diminish with age.
Many Christians quote Psalm 90 (A Psalm of Moses) verse 10 as the expected normal limit for our life span: “...threescore years and ten, if by reason of strength fourscore years....” A note on Psalm 90 in the Amplified Bible correctly places that verse in context and should change our thinking and personal expectation. Moses is interceding with God to remove the curse which made it necessary for every Israelite over twenty years of age (because they rebelled against God at Kadesh-barnea) to die before reaching the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:26-35)
Moses was simply stating a fact of those times. Most of them were dying at seventy years. This number has often been mistaken as a set life span limit for all mankind now. But it was intended to refer only to those Israelites under the curse during that particular forty years in biblical history. Seventy years never has been the average span of life for humanity. When Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes had reached 130 years (Genesis 47:9), he complained that he had not attained to the years of his immediate ancestors. In fact, Moses himself lived to be 120, Aaron 123, Miriam several years older, and Joshua 110.
In Psalm 91:16 David was speaking for God when he declared, “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” Chronologically mature saints should continue to love God and serve Him and live for Him by passing on His witness and words and faithfulness and spiritual heritage to the generations that follow until they are satisfied to let God call them Home. We should not cut ourselves short by anticipating an arbitrary fourscore life span that was not meant to apply to us.
If I feel like an obsolete wineskin (in Jesus' analogy) that had become old and brittle, hardened and inflexible, I can be refreshed, softened, and renewed with oil which symbolizes the Holy Spirit's fresh anointing. Then I will be fit to hold the New Wine of the Spirit being poured out in these latter days.