Every day as I drive up to our church building, I notice two trees standing close beside each other. As you can see from the picture, they are very different from each other. One is filled with green leaves and the other is completely barren. One is alive and one is dead. Now, some might think I'm crazy, but I believe God put those trees side by side for a reason. In fact, everything in this universe is upheld by our sovereign and purposeful God (Heb. 1:3, Ps. 115:3). He does nothing willy-nilly. So today as I looked at those trees, I asked myself, "Why did God do that?"
Let me be clear. I don't know for sure. I can't see into God's sovereign mind. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God." However, the verse continues, "but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law."
I may not know why God put those trees side by side. That has not been revealed to me. But there is something I do know. Something that's been revealed to me from the prophet Jeremiah thousands of years ago. Something that speaks of two trees. Jeremiah 17:5-8 says,
Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Because God is kind he provides us with pictures to help our minds understand his ways--pictures from his creation that reveal deep truths about life. This particular picture is of two kinds of plants growing in the desert. One is a barren shrub that's trying to grow where there is no moisture. The other is a flourishing fruit tree that is rooted by a steady stream of water.
These two types of trees represent two types of people. The shriveling shrub is the person who trusts in himself and turns his heart away from the LORD. The flourishing fruit tree is the person who trusts in the LORD and turns his heart to the LORD. Let's look at these a little closer.
The person who trusts in himself is withering and without hope in this world. He may be alive but he isn't really living. He has no purpose. He lives an unfruitful life only thinking of himself. Thus his life is slowly withering away because he has nothing from which to draw strength and life. He is all alone with nothing to look forward to but the fast-approaching final day of judgment.
Conversely, the person who trusts in the LORD is like a tree. He is fruitful, firm and ultimately fulfilled. His leaves are green as he overflows with love and joy. His fruit is merely the evidence of his faith in Christ. This faith is rooted and grounded in God's Word. It's a faith that weathers the storms of life and does not fear when the heat of trials come because his source of joy remains secure. Thus he is fulfilled, having no worries in the year of drought, but continues to bear fruit for the glory of God.
Yes, these two trees are different. Yet ultimately the final contrast between them is the most important. Because one will endure and go the heaven. And the other will die and go to hell. And heaven and hell are the most opposite things that we could ever imagine.
So, why did God put those two trees just outside the church building? You tell me. All I know is that sometimes I feel more like the shriveling shrub then the fruitful, flourishing tree. But during those times, more often than not, I am trusting in myself and not in God. I am "depending on flesh for my strength" instead of leaning on God and his strength. Make no mistake, both trees live in a difficult desert region. Both will experience the heat of life's trials and temptations. But I want to be like the tree who keeps drawing from the streams of the Scriptures and the steadfast love of the Savior--the tree who keeps coming back to the source of life because he is forever connected to Christ.
- For a wonderful treatment on this topic along with an insightful way of looking at this metaphor of the two trees, read How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp