I’ve been staring at the tree outside my frosted window; stark, desolate, fruitless. Barren, except for one shriveled, orange-brown leaf that clings stubbornly to the tip of a fractured twig lifted heavenward. No, wait. Today, even that final remnant has loosened its grip during last night’s temperature plunge.
Why do I sense I’m gazing at a self-portrait?
Why can’t I shake this palpable feeling of vulnerability, nakedness, insecurity, loneliness?
Memories of past seasons of verdant, leafy, fruit-laden limbs offering food and shade to passersby give me no succor.
I closed my eyes. And then, with those other eyes we all have, I saw.
I saw Winter’s tree-sap flowing in the deep, hidden places; nutrient-laden waters streaming into and inhabiting every cell of root, trunk, limb and leafless branch. Every fiber brimming with a mysterious source of sustaining life. Every branch-tip lifted upward, pointing skyward, revealing to me a pattern of humble dependency. Unpretentious confidence and hope and knowing that this isn’t the final story.
I looked again and I saw an elderly, frail, bent, white-haired man tipping back his head to draw in a thimble-full of wine. The richest of fare. Surely this gentleman has a story of past accomplishments, but today he silently parsed for me the difference between season-dependent fruitfulness and never-ceasing flourishing.
God and man, at table, are sat down.
Take a Deep Breath of Remember:
Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.”
“I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;
his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”
Hosea 14: 1-2, 4-8 (NIV)
 From the Hymn, God and Man at Table are Sat Down, Dr. Robert J. Stamps, 1972.
Photo Credit: Ron Silflow
One thought on “Fruitless, Yet Flourishing”
The Sabbath Rest
2 “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. – Exodus 35:2 NASB
31 “It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. – Leviticus 16:31 NASB
4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. – Leviticus 25:4 NASB
It takes faith to celebrate the Sabbath rest – that the manna from the 6th day will be enough for two days… that God will bless the labor of 6 days and, 1 day of rest and fellowship with God, with abundance rather than in your own strength seeking wealth by working 7 days.
Summer and Winter
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 1:1-6 NASB
The man who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night is like a tree firmly planted besides streams of [living] water – he yields his fruit in his season, and his leaf does not wither. What ever he does prospers.
“…He yields HIS fruit in HIS season…” Each man has his God-appointed fruits and God-appointed seasons.
I like your vision that near-death, miracle life, and celebration faith are all present in that one tree. Above ground, the tree has protected itself from the winter season – leaves have been discarded, the sap retreated, and the cells have contracted and forced out the water that would kill them as ice. But in the unseen realm, below the frost line, work continues in growing, seeking water, and collecting nutrients. And now, this tree, stripped of its summer glory, cold, dormant, and with little to distinguish it from death, still holds every branch, stick, and twig towards heaven in faith and celebration of God’s promise:
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:22 NASB
You give the picture to draw faith and encouragement from God’s example of the tree. The tree knows that, abiding upon the Word of God, “I will wait upon the Lord… While the earth remains summer and winter shall not cease… MY appointed season will return and I will bear MY fruit again.”
It takes faith to celebrate while in a personal winter season/Sabbath rest. After stripped of past confidence and security, now standing vulnerable, insecure, and lonely through the cold winds whistling through… yet hands still lifted in trust to the Author and Finisher of your faith and confident that He who began the good work in you is faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). Confident that in the unseen ream, God is building up your roots and tapping you into that stream of living water and nutrients for the coming season of new growth.
The tree, in its spring glory of fresh blossoms and, summer leaves laughing in the breeze, upheld by the strength and feeding of its roots, has one purpose above all else: bring forth the seed and get it spread. Like an apple tree, your leaves and fruit will again refresh passing pilgrims. But within the fruit is the Seed of the Word that you will sow into their hearts.
12 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, 15 To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. – Psalm 92:12-15 NASB
Thanks, Ron, for your example and word-picture of faith during a personal winter season.
ps, In talking with you on your blog, I realized that every barren winter tree is telling the story of the empty cross. In winter the tree allows its garments to be stripped and its sap to be drained into the earth and what is visible that remains appears dead. But the faith of the tree is in God’s promise and holds its branches up to heaven, “That as long as the earth remains, summer and winter shall not cease.” In spring time the sap rises from the grave and the tree breaks out of death with resurrection life. Jesus allowed His life blood to be drained out and gave up His spirit in faith to His Father’s promise to Him: ” For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. – Psalm 16:10 NASB”