Blog, Living in the Abundance of Christ, My Health Journey

Birds Still Perch in Dead Trees

Reflections on Psalm 1 and Joshua 24:15

No tree however deep the roots,
However high and green the shoots,
However strong the trunk has stood,
Or firm the fibers of the wood,
No tree was ever meant to be
A never-ending shade for me
Or you.  Save one: where Jesus died
With bleeding branches spread as wide
And far as faith, for sinful men.

But there was shade, especially when
The tree was old: the leaves were thick
With life, and though the root was sick,
The bark deep-creased with age, the limbs
Were laden down with love, and hymns
Were heard beneath when wind bestirred
The bowing branches with the Word
Of heaven.  O there were years of shade!

And more: there was the fruit he made,
Or better, bore, when all the ground
Seemed dry, we turned again and found
The branches heavy with some rare
Well-watered food and sweet, called Care.
There must have been a river there
Beneath the arid earth somewhere
Deep-flowing up around the tips
Of dying roots, and giving sips
Of everlasting life for him
To share with us while every limb
Gave up its own.  O, there was fruit!
Life-giving from the dying root.

And more.  Much more.  There was the wood
And it was strong.  It had withstood
A thousand storms, and everyone
More firm.  And now for every son,
Grandchild and every daughter here
He lies a fallen tree and dear,
And leaves in you the solid wood
And bids you stand where he has stood
Beside the river of the Word,
And that you keep what you have heard,
And sing with him in one accord:
“My fruitful house will serve the Lord.”

–John Piper


Today our cherry blossom tree, that stood in the middle of our front yard, and directly outside my dining room window, was cut down. It was dead and the bark was starting to fall off of the branches. Blight passed through a few years ago, and although I had it pruned, trying to save it, it couldn’t be saved. I keep looking out my windows, and seeing the space that it has occupied since we moved into this house almost 11 years ago, empty. It makes me sad.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

I loved that tree. I especially loved the bright pink blooms that would come annually, and how the color would soften to a pale pink before blowing little petals all over our yard. In fact, this tree is part of my heading for Weary and Resting. It was a picture I took several years ago, in the height of the trees bloom (the color is slightly enhanced). The tree was one of the things I loved about this house. And over the course of time that we’ve lived here, it has brought me great comfort. A tree that brings comfort? Yes!

While dealing with chronic illness, I have spent A LOT of time resting. In the early days, when the illness was just starting and I had no idea what was going on with my body, I would need to take several naps, or periods of rest, every day. I would get my kids ready for school, or get myself showered and ready, or run an errand, and have to lay down. Almost any activity I did would need to be followed by a period of rest. And much of that rest was spent on my couch, where I would look out my window and onto our tree. Depending on the season, there might be new blossoms, or green leaves with cherries, or many bare branches. No matter what the season was, there were almost always birds perching in the tree. And this brought me both, joy and comfort. I loved looking upon the tree and I loved watching the birds. It was calming, serene, and lovely.

Over the last few years, as I have regained much of my health and energy, I have not needed to take multiple naps or periods of rest throughout the day like I used to. And during this same time of my improving health, I started noticing the deterioration of my beloved tree. Last year, after it didn’t get any blooms, I knew it had to come down. I still liked seeing it there even though I knew it was dead. I liked watching the birds. Birds still perch in dead trees, but they can’t build a nest there. There’s no protection for them. I thought of this and it got me thinking about people.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:13-14

People often try to get safety, and protection, from things that are dead. Dead things have nothing to offer us, they cannot nurture our life. We may perch there for a little while, but eventually the bark starts peeling off, the branches break, there’s no shelter there, no safety. So, we go to a different “dead tree”, and we sit for a while. What are these dead things, or dead places that we go to in hopes of nurturing life? It can be an ideal of what you think your life should be, idolatry of things that you want and what you will do in order to get those things, it can be a place with people who offer you praise and flattery. Any place you go to, outside of Christ, for life that only he can give, is dead.

“For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD.” Proverbs 8:35

When we go to Jesus, the source of all life, we will have life too. How will we know if we have life too? We will be nurtured and start bearing good fruit, and as we bear good fruit, we will be able to share that fruit with others. What is good fruit? The Bible says that good fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) looks like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jesus says “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit…”  I abide in him and he in me, and then, and only then, will I bear fruit. Apart from him I can do nothing (John 15:4-5). I no longer need a literal tree to bring me comfort, because I have the source of all comfort. I do not need to look to other things, or people to fill me up. I look to him. He is the source of life. All life. My life.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2

Are you abiding in Christ and bearing much fruit? Or are you trying to perch in dead trees, hoping to get life?

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7:19

cherry tree stump

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.” Proverbs 11:30

 

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