Trees make life possible. They provide shade, beauty and numerous other gifts—from the tires on our cars to the aspirin in our medicine cabinets. But beyond meeting physical needs, trees can also teach spiritual lessons.
Other than people, trees are mentioned more than any other creation in the Bible. There is a tree on the first page of Genesis and on the last page of Revelation. The first Psalm exhorts believers to be like a tree. Every major character and every major theological event has a tree marking the spot. Indeed, Adam’s first instructions were to “dress and keep” (Genesis 2:15 KJV) the trees in Eden.
Here are four important spiritual lessons we can learn from the trees God planted in Scripture.
Turn toward the Light
One of the clearest memories I have of kindergarten is planting seeds in two pots. One was placed on the window sill; the other was placed in a dark closet. Every day we examined both of the pots. For several weeks, nothing happened. Then, the seeds sprouted.
At first, both plants looked the same. Then they began to diverge. The plant on the window sill began turning its leaves toward the sun. The one in the closet became pale, thin, and grew in a confused manner. Trees grow toward light in a process called phototropism, from the Greek phos (light) and tropos (turning).
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). A tree naturally seeks light. We can follow their example and seek the Light of the world.
Put down roots
Trees need water as much as they need light. The first Psalm is a description of what Godly women and men look like. They are like “trees planted by rivers of water” and they “meditate” on God’s law day and night—i.e., they are thinking about what Bible reveals about God’s will and plan for our lives. In order to do this, we need to study the Word of God—His Bible.
The deeper our “roots” go in the Bible, the more we’re able to withstand the trials, troubles, and other droughts that come our way. Healthy, mature trees have roots that travel in all directions seeking water and nutrients.
Before Bibles came in book form, they were attached to scrolls. The handles of these Biblical scrolls were called the etz hayim, Hebrew for tree of life. Proverb 3:18 says that the Bible’s wisdom is a tree of life to those who take ahold of it, and that happiness results from knowing this life-giving book.
Bring forth fruit
What good would an apple tree be if it never produced any apples? Likewise, our lives should produce meaningful fruit. It’s easy to look like a fruit tree, but Jesus said that we’d be known by the fruit we produce (Matt 7:16-20).
We should not only produce outward fruit—but inward. What is inner fruit? It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our mind and soul to make us into the image of Christ. Paul the Apostle described the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Gal 5:22-23). In fact, Jesus chose you for the very purpose of bearing fruit (John 15:16).
Think long term
Human lives are short. Not so for trees. There are trees alive today that were alive in the time of Moses. God put the notion of living on a vast time scale in our hearts (Eccl 3:11).
How many times do we make decisions based upon short-term gain? What would the world look like if the first thing we thought about were our roles as stewards, responsible for the coming generations?
According to the book of Revelation, trees have a place in heaven as well. Revelation 22 describes the tree of life, saying, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Trees remind us that life is much bigger than our present moment. Their deep roots and sprawling branches call us to look to heaven and eternity.
Matthew Sleeth, MD, is a speaker, author, and executive director of Blessed Earth, an organization promoting faithful stewardship of all creation.
His most recent book, Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us (WaterBrook), was released in April 2019.
*This article first appeared on Guideposts.org