Have you ever taken time to notice the wonder of a simple tree? They are actually pretty amazing. Tall, majestic and strong, they provide the earth with the oxygen we so desperately need to take our next breath. I found a funny story about trees in the letters column of a Reader’s Digest recently:
“I walked into the lobby of my apartment building recently and was greeted by this notice: ‘To whoever is watering these plants, please stop. They are the property of the building, and our maintenance staff will take care of them. They may have already been watered, in which case you will be overwatering them. Besides, these plants are fake.’”
Some people need the extra instruction. I myself have had a pretty diverse experience with the growth of trees. Generally, when I try to grow them, they don’t survive. Most recently, I accidentally destroyed a promising young avocado tree (with my yard trimmer) that I was trying to grow in my backyard. Rest in pieces, little avocado. One thing I have noticed however is that location makes all the difference when you’re planting trees.
A tree planted in a spot in my backyard that receives equal amounts of sun and shade has flourished. Its friend beside it was in the sun all the time and quickly died. Its other friend who is always in the shade has grown small and sickly. I believe we can learn a lot about what it means to grow and mature spiritually from taking notice of the growth of trees. Becoming the “new creation people” Jesus has called us to become is similar to how a tree grows. After all, a tree needs air, water and sunlight to thrive and be healthy. If it goes without one or more of those three things for a long time, it will eventually shrivel and die.
Whether you’re only thinking of starting a journey of faith or you’ve been on the road a while, there are a lot of things the Bible says you can do to grow. Church attendance is one that springs to mind (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a pastor). However, the New Testament authors identified three main spiritual disciplines that every person needs to grow their faith.
They are Bible study, prayer and sharing our faith.
Like a tree can live for a time without water, we may be able to survive for a while without Bible study or prayer but if we go too long without them, we will become spiritually sick and eventually numb. Speaking symbolically of divisive people, Jesus once said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19).
Even the apostle Paul once complained about how childish the Corinthian church was spiritually. “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Those are some strong words for those of us who aren’t very “mature”! However, the great thing about the Bible is that it never gives us bad news without also giving us some awesome news. Jesus let us know clearly how we could grow in Him by saying, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5).
Do you see? It’s as easy as remaining in Him!
Through His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the powers of darkness during His earthly ministry has broken their dominance and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives you victory over the evil that still seeks to control you as you walk with Him. If you’re on the road of faith, God’s Spirit also lives with you and empowers you to do what you can’t do on your own. If you choose to commit your life to Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you will be set free from the burden of your past mistakes. No longer will you live in fear of evil powers nor subject to the meaninglessness of your former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, you are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, meditating on His Word and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together with others for worship and participating in the mission of the Church. As you give yourself in loving service to those around you and in witnessing to His saving power, His constant presence with you through the Spirit will transform every moment into a divine appointment.
Always, always remember that Jesus died on a tree so that you could grow and mature like one. I want to commit to growing in Him every day, starting today. How about you?
Daniel Matteo is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Victoria, Australia. He is married to Katy and has two children, Grace and Samuel.