It’s good to pay close attention to the metaphors God chooses. God’s Word is always deep and multifaceted, and word associations He uses aren’t thrown into Scripture simply out of artistic license. When He says, for example, “Consider the ant…” in Proverbs, we really should. Fact is, He made ants (and everything else) and gave them the the traits they have, to serve as an expression of Himself and His truth. We can know Him, ourselves, and our plight more deeply if we study these things in depth.
One God-given metaphor that’s been in my mind lately is where He says that He’s raising us to be “oaks of righteousness.” This metaphor is jam-packed with meaning, and today I’m going to dig into just one facet of it.
When you cut down a tree and look inside, we all know that you’ll find it contains ring after ring of growth. Look closely at these rings, and you’ll see they alternate between thicker, lighter-colored rings and thinner, darker colored ones.
A while back, I studied how to make a bow (as in archery) out of a single piece of wood. For a bow, it’s not the shape that matters so much as it is being mindful of the growth rings. Whittle a stiff piece of wood to the shape of a bow and ignore the rings, put a string on it, and pull it back, and it’ll most likely snap in two. However, if you shave it down according to the internal ring structure, so that the face of the bow is one contiguous ring (one of the thin, dark ones specifically) from tip to tip, you can flex it all you want and it won’t break. That’s because the dense growth rings are strongest part of a tree.
You see, the growth rings in a tree reflect the changing seasons. When external conditions are seemingly ideal, and the tree shows all the outward signs of life, this is when the thick, weak rings are formed. The thin, strong rings grow during the harsh, dry seasons. While it may seem on the outside that the tree is dormant or dead, it is in reality gaining the inner strength it needs to withstand the greatest stress and fiercest storms.
Oaks grow slowly, and strong. And, according to His Word, God is growing us the same way.
When we understand this, and start seeing our lives from God’s perspective, it is easier to rejoice when we face harsh, dry seasons. During our Christian walk, we all face them; it’s part of God’s plan. God is growing strong, seasoned sons and daugthers to inherit His Kingdom!
I wrote the following bit a many years ago during a dry spell, and just stumbled across it yesterday. Somehow it seemed particularly relevant to the season many of us are in right now. I hope it blesses you.
LESSONS FOR THE LEAN TIMES
Quoting the Bible is easy, especially when you’re giving advice to others. Even quoting it to yourself can be easy. Now living it … well, that can be another story entirely, right?
I mean, when Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, drink or wear … Don’t worry about tomorrow…,” He didn’t really mean for us to literally not worry about these things, did He? Was He really speaking to me, as the head of my household, with a mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc.? Does He really expect us to do this, even in a down economy?
My friends, the answer to each of these is simple: Yes.
God is real and His promises are true. No matter how complicated our economic system. No matter who we are, or where we are, or how much we make (or used to make!).
The Lord has blessed me by leading me through some very difficult times. Yes, I said blessed! Blessed because, as the Bible says, it’s through trials that He builds our faith, and through fire that He purifies us. I personally desire greater faith and purity much more than I desire a bigger TV or house. Not that they always conflict, but if I had to choose, I’d pick a closer walk with Him over material things any day. Wouldn’t you?
I also consider it a blessing to go through tough times because later it allows me the opportunity to help others who are going through the same types of challenges. If someone can stand on my shoulders, and not have to go to the depths I’ve had to go, I’d consider my hardships to be worthwhile.
Right now I know many folks are facing some tough challenges, and I’d like to encourage you to seek God through it all. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in faith and purity!
Here are some keys I’ve found for thriving in the lean times:
Rejoice! This is an opportunity to learn and grow. God cares about YOU, not about your things! Let your heightened sense of awareness drive you to His word and to prayer. When you pray, remember His divine guidance and provision are already yours for the taking! He promises them to you in full — you just have to do your part: 1) Trust in Him with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, 2) Seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Don’t keep begging Him for what’s already yours — instead, thank Him … and then do your part!
Focus on righteousness. Only obsess about the things that you can control. When you can’t sleep and are tempted to worry, turn it around and instead ask the Lord to show you areas in your life where you can be more obedient and righteous, where you can better reflect Him. Make good use of those restless nights!
Find the tightrope. We’re supposed to be on the narrow path anyways, right? It can be easy to stray in fat times when the tightrope is laying on the ground and we have the latitude to wander any which way. Now that times are lean, the ground has pulled away and there’s no safety net, let it force you back to the narrow path. Be obsessed with fully honoring God with every step; every thought, word and action. Commit to staying on it when things get “better.” And when you can’t see very far ahead and your chest gets tight, just focus on the very next step, even if it’s just inhale, then exhale, then inhale…. God will get you through it!
Honor the landowner. In many years of taking boys hunting and fishing through the youth ministry I founded, we developed clear-cut rules for relating to landowners: Get to know them, maniacally follow their rules, and leave the place better than you found it. It’s easy to think the things we have are “ours.” But the Bible says otherwise: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything that’s in it.” Start treating God like the landowner He is. The stuff you have (and/or had) isn’t yours! Remember the words to the old hymn, “I am but a stranger here, Heaven is my home.” Get to know the Landowner! Follow His rules! Leave the place better than you found it, every single day! And don’t be surprised if and when He trusts you with more keys to open more gates!
Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There was wisdom in that old Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. If God has given you something to do, do it, regardless of what you see or understand. If you play your chips, when times are high you’ll be careless and wasteful, and when times are low you’ll miss out on all the key opportunities. You can’t lose when you set your eyes on things above, and walk accordingly!
Playing chicken. So you’re staring the monster in the teeth, running headlong into some scary stuff? Great! Time to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Either all we hear and sing about in church is true or it’s not. This is your chance to see exactly what God is made of. Don’t blink, don’t swerve and don’t panic — stay on the narrow path as He leads you, and run the race with endurance! This may be the best opportunity of your life to find what’s meaningful and true! My experience is, the whole world will swerve to avoid crashing into a man of God.
Count the cost. Jesus said we should count the cost of following Him. What if He were to require you to give up all your earthly possessions so that you could remain in a personal relationship with Him? It’s not without precedent! You don’t know God’s plan: These “tough times” may be permanent. You must ask yourself, will you be truly content with simply being in His will? And learn to celebrate, not resent, others’ good fortune.
Focus on fruit. Someday we’ll all stand before the Lord and He’ll ask, “Where’s the fruit?” (I’m reminded of that old woman in the Wendy’s commercial … “Where’s the beef?!”) He gives us time, talents and treasure in this world for one primary purpose: To produce fruit that pleases Him. Have you been doing this? One thing is certain, even if you have less today than yesterday, you can. Be faithful with the little that you do have today! Keep planting seeds and working the soil, and be efficient and effective at it. Then He just may give you more.
Learn all you can! Keep asking the Lord, “What more can I learn through this?” That’s another prayer He’ll always answer!
Be transparent. Don’t act like things are rocking and rolling if they’re not. In being open, honest and humble, you may finally learn what the Body of Christ is all about! Don’t be ashamed — accept help from those the Lord brings your way.
Keep smiling. God is still in control! He still has cattle on a thousand hills! Don’t let others get you down. They’ll try! Remember Job’s source of hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
Take notes. That’s what I did, and now I might just be helping others. Plan to do the same! Be a living monument to the Lord to remind the world of His mighty power!