One of our favourite walks with our dog is in Telegraph Woods. As you look more closely at the trees you come to admire their height, colours and variety, knowing that many of them have been standing there for decades. Walking in the woods after the powerful storms in February, it was quite a shock to see the devastation caused by the high winds. Many trees were twisted, had lost twigs, branches or even parts of their trunks. Others had started to fall, but were saved from hitting the ground by neighbouring trees. Some trees had been completely uprooted, so had no chance of surviving. Perhaps the saddest sight was trees which were lying on the ground, but because of one or two roots still had a small amount of life. Some Christians are like that: holding on to a thread of connection to God just enough to keep them going, but not fulfilling their true destiny of standing upright and bearing fruit.
Our SoHOP theme of “standing” will soon be replaced, but what I saw in the woods set me thinking: what makes seemingly healthy, sturdy trees fall victim to high winds?
In spiritual terms, what makes seemingly successful, strong believers come to grief, no longer trusting God or serving him passionately, while others are still running the race in their 80s and even 90s?
Most of us are aware of people we once knew in the faith, even full-time leaders, who are no longer actively seeking and serving God. And is there anything we can do to make this less likely, so we can continue to stand? And what of people who are damaged or even uprooted… is there any hope?
The internet informed me that the main reasons for trees’ falling are high winds, saturated ground, or disease.
High winds to trees are like difficult circumstances to us. Such things happen to all of us, it’s how we cope with them that matters. High winds reveal the quality of the trees and the soil they are planted in. In calm weather all trees look impressive, stand tall, and don’t need particularly firm root system. High winds reveal the true nature of the trees. Anybody can look impressive when life is going well, but when illness, disappointment or persecution come along the true nature of the person is seen. Some of us remember an American pastor called Larry Tomczak. He wrote a booklet entitled “Biblical confessions to build your faith.” (I have a copy if you would like one). He said “the greatest tests in life come unannounced, therefore we must prepare now. The wind and rain and storms come to everyone. You must pay the price. There are no shortcuts. Spend regular time in God’s presence, and develop the faith you have.” Mt 7. Branches and twigs broken off: often a good thing (John 15, dead stuff taken away that hinders process of life and fruitfulness).
High rainfall leads to boggy ground, so even good roots cannot hold on when there is pressure. This shows the importance of good relationships, where we can be accountable to others. Richard and Kathy are right to insist that we are linked to good churches where we are in fellowship with Spirit-filled people and under godly leadership. This is not restrictive, it’s for our wellbeing. Having others near us offers protection, rather like those trees in the woods that are prevented from falling right over by others planted next to them. However this situation will not last for ever; we need to be put upright again. For trees, that will never happen, but God through his grace CAN set us right again!
Some trees are broken off mid-trunk, which is often caused by disease (infestation of insects). Spiritually speaking this is the problem of sin. Sin has been dealt a fatal blow through the cross, but we have to live it out in experience. As believers we underestimate sin’s power. If untreated it eats away inside us and undermines God’s work in our lives. And it’s often not gross immorality, more habits or attitudes that we pass off as “it’s just the way I am.” David was radical in his approach to sin, and aware of God’s holiness. Hence his prayer in Psalm 19:12: “how can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these HIDDEN faults.” His friends could not see David’s sin, and he was humble enough to acknowledge he was not aware of all his failings. No wonder God called him a man after His own heart!
How to keep standing in the storm?
So what can we do to reduce the possibility of being taken out by a storm?
1. Push roots deeper into God (private devotions, and corporate worship/prayer).
2. Be in relationship with other Spirit-filled believers.
3. Invite the Holy Spirit to point out sin, and deal with it ruthlessly.
We can respond to God by praying for ourselves and each other using the words of Paul in Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT):
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
Then you will be made complete with all the fulness of life and power that comes from God
Chris Hardwick, March 2020