So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3 NASB).
Have you ever described your relationship with God by comparing it to a tree? The prophet Isaiah did.
In that well-known prophetic passage describing the earthly ministry of Jesus, Isaiah 61:3 states that the goal of Christ’s divinely orchestrated work was the planting of oaks of righteousness—magnificent trees that would bring glory to God.
Now, we know that Christ’s mission on earth was not the literal planting of trees, but the planting and growth of souls who would reflect the righteous nature of Christ wherever His Spirit planted them. Is that how you see yourself?
Are you a mighty oak, reflecting the righteousness of Christ? Or do you currently see yourself as some other type of tree?
Before I was aware of this passage, I believe the Holy Spirit led me as a young man to actually engage in this type of evaluative exercise. As a new intern to a very prominent pastor, I found myself strolling among the pines of east Texas during my very first church staff planning retreat.
My pastor was seen by all as a mighty man of God who walked with confidence in his relationship with Christ. I could only hope someday to be such a strong believer.
That morning, I visualized him as a tall, fully grown pine and myself as a little sapling standing beside him, safe under the protection of his leadership. It was a wonderful place to be, and I was so eager to grow spiritually. I purposed that day to become a godly pine, to stretch upward toward maturity with every ounce of spiritual energy within me.
Years later, however, while serving as senior pastor of the largest protestant church in a county seat town, my view of the type of tree I had become dramatically changed.
Sixteen years earlier, while serving as a church staff member, I had listened to the counsel of a pastor who feared man more than God. He told me to no longer teach the youth of that church how to walk in the Spirit. If I continued, I would be asked to leave.
I thought that submission to his spiritual authority was the best route to take; but with spiritual hindsight I now see that I should have left that position on my own volition. My poor choice in listening to human counsel instead of God’s Word led me to grieve the One who had so graciously protected me from sin all through my early years as a believer.
For sixteen years after that sinful choice, though moving up through the ranks of church leadership, I found myself falling into the rut of “doing church” in my own strength, struggling all the while with impure thoughts. Yes, you can pastor the largest church in your city, have the newest buildings, the largest budget, and the most baptisms, and still be backslidden in your relationship with God.
What did God use to turn my heart back to Him? What picture did He paint that caused me to hunger for revival in my soul? It was a tree!
Heading to east Texas one Saturday morning for a family reunion, I remember quietly weeping for the entire two hours it took to drive to the designated meeting place. My family slept, and I wept.
I was so dry and thirsty. I found myself longing for the joy that only comes from knowing the intimacy of God’s holy presence.
When we arrived at the community fire station where the reunion was held, I rudely hurried my family out of the car and just kept driving.
I believe it was the Spirit, hearing my cries of desperation that morning, who led me to pull into the gravel parking lot of a small, wooden-framed country church building nestled snugly between two pine groves.
There to the side of the old church house, right in front of my eyes, were two trees. One was a beautiful, thick cedar tree. Beside it was the kind of tree I had often climbed as a child, a chinaberry tree. They stood in stark contrast to one another.
The cedar was green and full of life. The chinaberry tree was almost dead. Its leaves were gone and many of its branches broken. The branches remaining stood as decaying, white appendages against the green background of the neighboring pines.
In the quietness of that moment, the Spirit of God spoke directly to my soul. With the compassion of a loving Father, He said, “Right now you are the chinaberry tree, but by My power you can become like the cedar!”
Feeling great remorse, I knew it was true. I was a backslidden, deceitful, religious sinner who desperately needed to genuinely repent and return to a walk of intimacy with my heavenly Father.
That one moment of honesty before God led to the most amazing season of radical change in my life. Through God’s power and grace, repentance was accomplished, intimacy was restored, and my life and ministry began to once more be filled with the delight of His manifest presence; and it all started with seeing myself as a tree.
Would you take a moment right now and ask God to show you, before His eyes, what kind of tree you are?