(From forthcoming book Ch. 12 "Nature Flourishes on my Summit")
In Scripture, people of faith are compared to sheep, buildings, fishermen, grain, children—and trees. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers" (Psalm 1:3).
In the depth of winter when the leaves have fallen off the huge oak tree outside my window, I see just a few hardy leaves dangling and dancing on the branches. Even those are being snatched off by fierce winds that are harbingers of the approaching freezing rain which is forecast to turn into a swirling snowstorm.
Why do trees in this climate lose their leaves at winter's approach? Rather than grieving the loss of what is no longer there, we should rejoice at the omnipotent foreknowledge of God in His protection of nature. Our Creator God intended that trees should lose their leaves in winter so that when heavy snow and ice cling to the branches, they will bend but not break with the weight. Trees stand naked and to all appearances lifeless. In God’s marvelous cycle of the seasons they are fully alive and awaiting their spring resurrection.
Just as the trees lose their leaves, those of us in the winter of life seem to have lost so many attachments. It is natural to grieve for them but we should look beyond the immediate. Change of circumstances has stripped us of possessions we held dear and of people whom we loved. Many in the late season of life have moved into smaller living quarters and have had to reduce their “stuff.” God also has a purpose in reducing our baggage allowance for our pending flight. Our expectations and anticipations are sifted and sorted until we gladly focus on things eternal which won't pass away.
God’s choice of a tree to illustrate a growing Christian is not specific to any chronological age, although the context of certain verses like Psalm 92:13-16 describes God’s expectations for the aging believer with the analogy of a palm tree and a cedar.
Vigorous and sturdy and flourishing are not words we generally use to describe a person advancing in age, nevertheless that is God’s expectation for our spiritual lives. An insightful note from one translation of the above verse is, “Planted: the pious are so steadfast in attendance in the temple that they can figuratively be said to be rooted there.” I am drawn to the strength of communal worship in the House of the Lord, the Church.
Other tree verses are found in Jeremiah 17:7, 8, (The Amplified version). “For he [the blessed one who believes in, relies on, hopes in and has confidence in the Lord] shall be like a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not see and fear when heat comes, but his leaf shall be green; he shall not be anxious and careful in the year of drought, nor shall he cease from yielding fruit.” The application is clear. As a Christian I must stay close to the Water of Life.
And if there is no surface river, I can stretch my roots still deeper to an underground river, an “aquifer” of water far beneath the ground. It can’t be seen but it is the invisible source for wells and springs. In times of drought and in the heat of adverse circumstances, my life and my witness, kept watered from a deep source, will still flourish and bear fruit and grow green leaves.
In my summit years, what is the significance of “their leaf shall not wither”? Leaves of a tree or plant have multiple functions. They receive and absorb nutrients from the sun and the atmosphere to nourish the entire process of fruit bearing. Leaves serve as a gentle protection and a covering for the developing fruit. They also hide the fruit from predators. Leaves provide shade from the heat and shelter for people. Leaves help to identify the variety of tree even before fruit develops.
A growing tree takes in light and processes it for food. Such a tree is always able to reproduce itself. Sometimes, the best trees give their lives for others as branches are lopped off for firewood or lumber. One tree had to give its life to provide wood for the cross on which Christ gave His life for us.
People can’t see whether my root is healthy, but they can monitor my leaves and draw an accurate conclusion by observing whether my leaves, my actions and my words, are green and supple. If my leaves are dried up or withered, something is obviously wrong either with my root system or the environment or my nourishment. The application to my spiritual life is obvious. Advancing age is not an excuse for allowing my spiritual life to wither or become dry in contrast to the normal decline and withering of my human body.
It is impossible for a tall tree to grow high branches without having strong, deep roots. It would become top-heavy and topple over in a storm. That is equally true of me as a Christian. It is impossible to grow in the Lord without entwining my roots around His Word and deepening my relationship with Jesus in order to be “steadfast and unmovable” as Scripture commands us.
As I live on my summit, I must be careful to maintain my roots deep in God's Word so that my branches may reach ever higher to praise Him. When winds of adversity blow, I will be prepared and remain strong. I want it said of me, "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor" (Isaiah 61:3).