You may have heard of General Sherman. No, he is not a character on some comic strip, nor is he the guy who sells auto insurance on TV. If you love the mighty Redwood forests of California, that name is sure to pop up in any discussion. General Sherman is not the tallest tree, not the widest tree, nor the oldest tree in the world. It is however, the tree with the greatest volume of wood. Sequoiadendron giganteum. I smile at the word “giganteum”. It currently stands 275 feet high and weighs approximately 2.4 million pounds (and redwood is a fairly light wood by weight so this tree is gigantic). Each year it adds enough wood to equal a 60 foot tree. Wow! Experts believe the tree contains 52,508 cubic feet of wood which could be chopped into 617 cords of wood and heat my home in the winter for the next 400 years.
There are some common denominators which can be found in the biggest (General Sherman), the tallest (Hyperion – a California coast redwood), the widest (Arbol del Tule) and the oldest of trees (Great Basin Bristlecone Pine). Each of them have a thousand years or more tucked inside. Each tree has survived where other trees around them failed. Each tree has resisted disease, fire, famine and storm. These trees have survived both by growing massive capacities to retain water, and by a tighter wood fiber compressed by its own weight and age. I want my life to be like that. I want that kind of resilience and strength when trouble comes against me. God wants my life to be like that.
There is a verse in the Bible that centers on the picture of a tree planted by streams of water. It is in the Psalms. Psalm 1 reads like this:
“Blessed is the person who obeys the law of the Lord. They don’t follow the advice of evil people. They don’t make a habit of doing what sinners do. They don’t join those who make fun of the Lord and his law. Instead, the law of the Lord gives them joy. They think about his law day and night. That kind of person is like a tree that is planted near a stream of water. It always bears its fruit at the right time. Its leaves don’t dry up. Everything godly people do turns out well. Sinful people are not like that at all. They are like straw that the wind blows away. When the Lord judges them, their life will come to an end. Sinners won’t have any place among those who are godly. The Lord watches over the lives of godly people. But the lives of sinful people will lead to their death.” (Psalm 1)*
The tree of this first psalm pictures for me a long and happy life. A tree that has a steady supply of water, as if planted near a stream, will always have fruit to bear and share for everyone. This tree will always be strong; strong enough to resist disease, and a shade for others during the seasons of a hot and drying wind. This beautiful tree bringing shade and fruit to all who pass by, is compared to the person who always relies upon God (who is compared to a stream that never runs dry). This makes sense since God is the source of all life. If I am planted near God, I too will share in that never-ending and abundant life. Remove the stream, and the tree must rely on its own reserves; it will eventually wither and die. Once dead, it cannot be revived.
Back in 1994, the big Arbo del Tule Tree in Oaxaca, Mexico, the trunk of which is about 38 feet in diameter (get your mind around that!)… began to show signs of sickness. The town was worried as this tree was the source of the tourist dollars which kept their economy ticking. The trees leaves were turning yellow and no one could figure out what was wrong. So the city called in some tree experts from Europe. They did lots of core testing under the microscope to determine the disease or the insect causing the damage and you know what they discovered? Nothing. There was no disease. There was no parasite destroying the tree. The tree was just thirsty. So the city set itself to digging into the root system and laying some leaching pipes to allow the tree to receive a steady supply of water. Within a couple of months the tree returned to perfect health.
For the tree, and all trees, water is life. Yes, even for the human body, without water it dies. But there is another kind of dying. You and I have experienced it. Something wasn’t right inside of us and life as it should be was not measuring up. Our soul was weakening and none of what the world offered seemed to make it better. Ice cream for a moment, Disneyland for a day, romance for a season, or an addiction for a lifetime could never quench the ache and thirst deep in the cellars of who we are. After the pleasure, we come up empty, fatigued, and disillusioned. It is that emptiness that may have compelled you to trust Jesus to bring the kind of water He designed our soul to drink. And what a satisfying drink that is! To shift our resource from the shelves of the world, to the streams of God’s Spirit is extreme to say the least. For some, it is a shift like a fault line slipping in an earthquake, and for others it is like a rain which never lets up and begins to flood their life and when the waters recede it is clear that the entire landscape of life has changed.
It’s hard to understand how those who have had their souls quenched by the streams of God, still long for the empty nourishment of the world. I know it happens because it happened to me. I had been a Christian for decades and yet I found myself wandering in my own wilderness, parched and dry and wondering where God was and how did I get there? One of the more important conclusions I made about this, was that I never really turned off the constant shout of the world telling me that I don’t have enough. There is more to be experienced in life than what I had, even with God. “Don’t let your life be boring!” “Make life happen!” “You need a vacation!” “Try this and your life will never be the same!” “Be dynamic!” “Be inspirational!” “Be a leader people follow!” A thousand commercials a day shouting at me in my home, in my ear buds, in my car, in the theater, in my church and at my work.
One day I happened to read Psalm 1 and realized I couldn’t even feel God’s cool and refreshing presence in my life. Somehow my tree was drawing all of its life from the world, yet my leaves were yellow and my fruit was small, damaged and dry; and some years I had nothing at all. It was as if His waters were flowing over my roots, but I wasn’t drawing water into my trunk and branches and leaves. And when I really thought about it, I had to admit that I couldn’t hear His waters at all. When I became aware of this, I drew away from the shouting noise of the world and with great relief, I heard the streams of God near me. Oh what joy that was. What a satisfying drink I took in at that moment. My tears of repentance, grief and regrets, were met with compassion, acceptance and forgiveness. God never disappoints when we return.
Is that your experience? Did something like that happen to you as a Christian? Somehow, through various circumstances, or over the course of several years and hundreds of small compromises you got turned around, disoriented, and lost sight of God. We knew His streams were always running over our roots but somehow even while attending church (or not!) we shut those roots down and pushed out roots in the direction of the world. Maybe it was our mistaken notion or belief that God would keep the famines and the storms and the parasites away; and when He didn’t, we spread more roots into the world looking for immediate answers.
But God is good, and His mercies toward us are never-ending. Revisit Psalm 1 for a time, and reflect on it. God’s commands (His Law) bring life and joy. When we obey, we are drawing His designs for our soul, His purpose in our life and His foundational promises into our being. He has designed us to live, and to live eternally with Him (beginning today). His Spirit can make us strong in the soul so that regardless of the threatening dangers that are in the world, we are nourished with His peace and joy. For we know that when this body dies, we have an enormous inheritance in a new life, a new body, a new family, a new city and a new kingdom. Take some time today to pull some living water through your rooted relationship with Him and replenish your soul.