This past spring, the pin oak in our front yard began to drop its leaves. Over the next couple of months, this autumn-like behavior continued. Honestly, we really didn't pay too much attention until a late summer windstorm left our yard looking more like it was November. Looking up into the exposed limbs, we noticed that a number of the branches appeared to be dying. So, I called a local tree trimmer to come and take a look. He slowly circled the tree, surveying it from top to bottom. As he pulled back the tall ferns and the monkey grass at the base of the tree, he discovered multi-tiered mushroom-type growth. "Your tree is stressed," he said. Pointing out issues with the branches, leaves, and the bark, he continued, "these are all symptoms of a tree suffering with a fungus. If you don't do anything, the tree will die from the inside out." He then suggested a path forward. Agreeing to the plan, we scheduled a follow-up appointment for the next day.
I stared at the tree after his departure, pondering his diagnosis. I was particularly intrigued by his choice of the word "stressed." Somehow, it personified our ailing oak. Lingering in thought, I sensed that God might be trying to speak to me. Taking some time, I began to reflect on the numerous times in Scripture where trees were used as metaphors for people. [Check out the Cedar in Ezekiel 17 and 31, the fruitful tree in Psalm 1, the Olive tree in Psalm 52, and the fruit-bearing trees in Matthew 7]. Most prominent in my mind was Isaiah's reference to the oak in chapter 61. In verse 3, he described those transformed by the comforting grace of the Holy Spirit as "oaks of righteousness." The Amplified Translation illustrates these oaks in more detail saying, “[lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
This imagery stood in stark contrast to the oak in my front yard. In the midst of this vivid disparity, the Holy Spirit tenderly revealed a painful reality: Sometimes I am more of a "stressed oak" than an "oak of righteousness." In His gentle grace, He showed me that like the vulnerable tree weakened by infection, fungal attitudes that I intentionally tuck away in my heart can gradually begin to compromise the structural integrity of my life. Early on, much like the inner destruction of diseased tree is hidden from view by the bark, a dis-eased heart can be hidden by a tough exterior. And, just as my landscaping covered the growing fungal mass at the base of my tree, I can all too easily ornament my life in such a way as to cover the festering needs of my soul. Sadly, it sometimes takes a storm to expose the extensive internal damage within.
This revelation prompted a prayer from Psalm 139:23-24. In The Passion Translation, Dr. Brian Simmons expresses the heart of King David saying, "God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test, and sift through my anxious cares. See if there is any path of pain I'm walking on, and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways, the path that brings me back to you."
In His profound compassion and lavish grace, God is answering that prayer in my own life. He is carefully revealing the fungus of irritation, offenses, and unforgiveness that have been causing dis-ease. He is delicately removing things that are "stressing" me and abundantly restoring life, strength, joy, and peace.
Are you a "stressed oak" today? Know that there is no wounding so deep, no infection so extensive, and no disposition so deep-seated that God cannot heal and restore. Join with the Psalmist in inviting God to explore your heart and to reveal and remove any dis-ease (Psalm 139:23-24).
As you daily surrender, rest in the assurance that God is the Perfect One who has begun this good work in you, and He will be faithful to complete it. He will perfect that which concerns you through the gift of His transformational grace! [Philippians 1:6,Psalm 138:8]. He will "give you a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes" and anoint you with "gladness instead of sorrow." He will "wrap you in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness" (Isaiah 61:3 [VOICE]). You will be an oak or righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. Watch and see what He will do!