The Lesson of The Olive Tree

gnarly olive tree

“On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” John 7:37-38 The Message 

An olive tree bends and reaches toward the sun, capturing the bright light in its almond-shaped waxy leaves. It is gnarly and twisted by age and a lifetime of harsh weather; hard rains, boiling temperatures and inadequate soil.

If you touch the tree’s bark, it feels like fossil…hard to believe it is alive. Walking around its trunk, it is thick and ungainly and looks like a grumpy old man. Yet deep inside this tree is a swift running stream of life, no wider than the width of an ice cream straw, the tree’s core is vibrant and fruit bearing. Tart black olives hang heavily from its branches, and in Autumn, children and adults will spread tarp beneath it and beat its branches and shake its leaves hard to dislodge its bounty. It is hard to fathom that this withered old giant could produce such a plethora of fruit…yet it does.

It was one October not too many years ago in the garden of Gethsemane that I encountered an ancient example of this old citadel.  There you will find  olive trees that are more than 2000 years old. They too have been subject to much…used for shelter in a storm, for respite and for a place to pray. They have had their fruit stolen, branches broken and leaves stripped.  They have been slashed with knives, used as tinder and watched corrupt men murder the Son of God.  They have been fought over, charred and endured the burning of their host city. One might say these trees have experienced the worst (and the best) of what this world brings.

You may ask why I am writing of olive trees…because today as I prayed with heavy burden, God gave me this visual.

Today, like many many days I feel like them. Thick and dry, old and beaten by the intimate damage life shovels on me. I am worn. I am bent and I have seen and felt too much of man’s ugliness…in myself and others. The illness of a friend. The unkindness of a teenager to another. The repetitive verbal abuse of a coach to a team. The selfishness of a me-focused population. The uncouthness of our society and the ungodliness of our world. The “wrong is right” mentality that is consuming our collective minds and hearts… The tragedies of man’s evil choices….the brokeness of our human souls….my complaints could fill a temple….

But God. He reminded me of the olive tree.

Did I know it grows where it is planted? It is quite prolific too, scattering seeds across winds to raise up other trees right where they land.  It is fruit bearing no matter what its growing conditions…and  I shake my head and wonder, does God see it less beautiful in its crusty old age? How much thought must have gone into creating this particular harborage….as a harbinger to teach humans of how to remain steadfast through the vagaries of our lives?

It is a hard-worn life for the olive tree, yet because it goes deep, it thrives. Roots search under thousands of years of rock and desert-like conditions under Israel’s crust until it finds water. As it sucks in the water and nutrients they does not alter its outward appearance but life-giving nectar helps it to strengthen…from the inside out . The toughened parts are still there in the outer shell…the tree needs that to survive. But the inside thrives – and is fresh and renewed each day…because it daily slurps from its living water source.  

As I write this, I smile at God’s timing and quiet sense of wisdom. He knows I have been languishing in my distraught for quite some time now feeling very much like a stranger in an even stranger world… yet, He whispers to me,

“Are you not like an olive tree”?

You see, God chose me – and you for this time, this place and this space in life.  We are planted where He put us.  He knows exactly the things that chip away at us, body and soul and yet He has already shown us how to not only survive, but to thrive like the olive tree. 

Truth is God has given us “living water” too in His son,  Jesus Christ.  Like the olive tree seeks daily sustenance, we must seek Jesus ever day to water our souls.   We will find respite under his arms only. If not, over time our souls will wither like a thirsty olive tree. Even as I read now what I just wrote I know, deeply sighing, when I focus on my troubles, I cannot see past them to the cross – to sustenance and peace in Jesus.   

There is really nothing we can do about the craziness of this world.  But we are here, at His choice and for God’s purpose.  Revel in that!  

Yup. Life can and will beat us up, shake us down and burn us out. We will be broken and stripped and used up.  We continue to see the abuse of the Son of God in a deeply profligate and dark world.  But friends, let us learn the lesson of the olive tree…reach high (for God’s life-giving light),  dig deep (below the crusty and parched soil of our strange land); gulp up (God’s stream’s of living water)…and seek daily (in God’s word and walk).  Then just hold on (and let God grow you from the inside out).  Then you too will be ready to cast your own seeds and bear fruit for others to harvest.  Ok, so life may make us gnarly and twisted and sometimes like grumpy old men (and women)…but in Jesus, we won’t just survive, we too can thrive…

“but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14 (NIV)

 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11(NIV)

 

 

 

 

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