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  • Pete Ryder

Stubborn Trees

There’s something about a hike in the woods. The fresh air. The pungent smells. The diverse plant and animal life. The woods are a sacred, life-giving place for me. It’s a place where I can talk to God…and I’m pretty sure He talks to me.

Several years ago, I spent a few days exploring the southern reaches of the Blue Ridge mountains in north Georgia. Aside from the timber rattle snake I encountered, it was a serene, picturesque oasis. I hiked many pinestraw-covered paths that hugged mountain streams and led to waterfalls and scenic vistas.

Along the way, I saw quite a few trees like the one pictured above. They seemed to be growing straight out of the large boulders along the trail! I don’t know how they do it, but they seemed like the most stubborn trees in the world. It’s as if they were saying, “I don’t care how difficult it is, or what obstacles are in my way, I’m going to grow! I’m going to live!”

And when I saw them, my heart cried – “Lord, help me be stubborn like those trees!”

Unfortunately, I tend to complain. Oh, I’m sure I’m not the only one. You’ve probably whined a little too, when things weren’t quite right and it was someone else’s fault and everything wasn’t going the way you wanted. But what if we were determined – dare I stubborn – enough not to let anything or anyone deter us from life and growth?!

I think we do this in our spiritual lives maybe most of all. A classic complaint, usually when someone is considering leaving a church is, “I’m just not being fed.” It’s then that I’d like to respond, “How about picking up a fork! Feed yourself!” Granted, I usually think that with a bit of an attitude, but I promise that my heart is in the right place. I know that pastors and churches must do our best to cultivate growth in our people., but I also believe with all my heart that every follower of Jesus must be determined to do whatever it takes to grow.

This plant/tree imagery is all over the Bible. I love Psalm 1 which paints the picture of a tree that has been placed in a wonderful environment for growth and its roots go deep and its branches go wide. Or there’s Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that our roots would grow down deep into the “soil of God’s marvelous love.” Then there’s John 15 where we’re to be branches connected to Jesus, the vine, bearing His fruit.

In each of those scenes, it’s up to the plant to put down roots, to seek out nutrition, and to keep the connection strong. We do that primarily as we intentionally spend time with God, with His Word, the Bible, and with His people, the Church. Of course, there are many other ways we can deepen our roots and strengthen our connection with God… Like reading, watching great preachers, spending time quiet and alone…or even a hike in the woods. Whatever you do, the key is that your spiritual life and growth must be a priority. If we’re going to grow and live, spiritually, we have to be determined – dare I say, stubborn enough – to do whatever it takes!

The truth is, life has its share of boulders. Trouble comes. Obstacles seek to stunt our growth and keep us from living the abundant life God desires for us. But I desperately want to be like those trees, sending out roots wherever I can to find nourishment, so I can truly live!

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