Ahh trees… how can you not love trees. After all, they do so much.
They provide shade. They often bear fruits or nuts. They add oxygen to the air. Their wood is fuel for fires or lumber for shelter. They give protection from wind. Their foliage and roots prevent erosion. Property is more valuable with trees than without trees. They are beautiful in shape, and virtually infinite in variety.
The souls of poets have been moved by trees. Among them, Joyce Kilmer, who wrote an ode to a tree which includes the words…
I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree… A tree that looks at God all day… And lifts her leafy arms to pray… Poems are made by fools like me…But only God can make a tree.
Indeed, only God can make a tree. And the Psalmist knows this, evident in the fact that the writer is not imploring us to make tress. But the writer is imploring us to be like trees. But not just any trees. We are to be like “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”
So how many species of trees do you imagine exist worldwide?
According to the Botanical Gardens Conservation International as reported in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, the planet Earth is home to more than 60,000 species of trees.
So when the psalmist speaks of a tree in verse 3 of Psalm 1, to what species is he referring?
Oak? Maple? Tulip? Hickory? Pine?
If in Colorado, perhaps the Psalmist is talking about aspen trees. They’re turning gold in the Rockies right now giving folks a chance to see the mountains dominated by aspen gold.
If New Englanders, perhaps the Psalmist is talking about Silver Maples, or Red maples, or Sugar maples, or Norway maples. Folks there are beginning to admire the reds, yellows and golds of the blazing fall New England colors.
Maybe the Psalmist is talking about Georgians magnolia tree. Or D.C.ers, Marylanders and Virginians beautiful Cherry trees.
Or maybe the Psalmist is talking about the great Red Hickory or Black Oak trees right here in Summit County.
Whichever trees the write is talking about, they are, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (v. 3)
It’s that use of the word “they” that stands out. “…they prosper.” They who? What is this “they” species? What are these beautiful, fruitful trees with leaves that don’t wither?
Probably not one of the 60,000 species of trees. Perhaps the Psalmist is referring to what could be called The Believer Tree.
It’s somewhat rare, but beautiful when you find it.
Like other trees, the Believer Tree makes life giving provisions. Comforting shade from the scorching heat of societal rage, hate, and angst. Fruit that can feed our souls. Air to breath deep into our spirits. Shelter from unbelief that robs us of life. Protection from the winds that will knock us down. Roots that make us stand strong in times of doubt.
It is a tree of life because there is life to be found when we believe God is at work making all things new and prosperous.
Now unfortunately, the Psalmist doesn’t indicate the species, but the text itself shows us what characterizes this Believer Tree.
First, “Happy are those…” who are like The Believer Tree.
It is well understood that God didn’t put us on this earth— and Jesus didn’t die on the cross— so that we could be happy. Our purpose and goals for a meaningful life surely must go beyond the desire to be happy.
That said, we can also say with certainty that a believer who is unhappy all the time just doesn’t make sense.
Yes, a faithful person will go through periods of life that are unhappy, and there will be good reasons for this. And one hopes these difficulties are resolved.
The psalmist’s point is that this healthy tree planted by “streams of water” is happy and finds joy even in spite of life’s struggles. How? Because the believer knows God is always at work to make all things good and new.
Next, those who are like the Believer Tree do not listen to or take bad advice.
Perhaps one reason for the happiness is that the believer is careful about whose opinions he/she values or respects. This is particularly timely because we live in a culture where it is easy to listen to fools.
The apostle Paul was even surprised by the tendency of believers to believe just about anything. Writing to the Galatians, Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)
Another characteristic of the Believer Tree is that it is always listening for God’s voice.
Next, those who are like the Believer Tree don’t hang out with the cynical and unbelievers. Why waste time hanging out with people who don’t share your values?
Yes, there is a place for evangelism, and yes, by spending time with the “cynical and unbelievers” we may learn more about their concerns and issues, but the psalmist here refers to those who prefer the company of the unrighteous to the company of the righteous. The Believer Tree is not like that. The roots of the Believer Tree are sunk into the clear, pure water of everlasting streams— not the acidic, caustic waters of the cynical and unbelieving.
Next, those who are like the Believer Tree delight in the Word of God.
Let’s face it. Many believers are lacking in this quality. The Bible is not the first book we’re likely to pick up. It’s not always light reading. Yet, it is a key to our moral and spiritual formation. And with discipline, daily Bible reading can be achieved.
For example, read five psalms a day gets you through all of the psalms in a month. Read a couple in the morning. Read two or three in the evening before bed. Do that for a year, and the word of God will be planted in your soul.
And lastly, those who are like the Believer Tree are fruitful. These people “yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”
It’s an apple tree that delivers apples in season; a cherry tree that produces cherries in season; a fig tree that delivers figs in season. In short, it is a tree that offers life giving sustenance to those around them.
Indeed, everyone loves trees. How can you not, right? After all, they do so much. Which is why we see them used as examples and metaphors throughout the Bible. Still though, even better than metaphor, is that of reality.
In 2007, students from Shanghai, China began a project called the “Shanghai Roots & Shoots Million Tree Project.” The goal was to plant a million trees in Inner Mongolia where the desert was steadily encroaching on farming land, which was happening, in part, because of poor farming methods, global warming and other environmental factors. Every spring, sandstorms threatened the livelihood of the farmers, made the air unbreathable and often sent the sand into the air where it would travel hundreds, even thousands of miles.
More than ten years later, and after catching the attention of renowned environmentalist Jane Goodall, and being featured during the 2016 Rio Olympics opening ceremony video, the students report the project has been a huge success.
The Shanghai Roots & Shoots Million Tree Project raises awareness of the Earth’s precious environment while promoting steps individuals can take to lessen their negative impact on the natural world. Million Tree Project is designed to improve both ecological and humanitarian conditions by giving individuals and organizations an opportunity to fight climate change by planting oxygen-producing trees. It also encompasses true capacity building as the local population is intimately involved with, and benefits from, every step of planting, maintaining and monitoring the trees.
To fund the project, the students helped individuals, companies and schools calculate their carbon footprint and then asked them to voluntarily offset this footprint by planting trees or giving a donation to fund the planting of trees.
To date, the project has planted two million trees in desertified areas in Inner Mongolia, enlisting the involvement of hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of volunteers.
This is just one example of how God can make trees, and make things new because of God’s trees.
The Believer Tree is somewhat rare, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be nurtured and grown right now, anywhere in the world.
And like other trees, the Believer Tree makes life giving provisions. Comforting shade from the scorching heat of societal rage, hate, and angst. Fruit that can feed our souls. Air to breath deep into our spirits. Shelter from unbelief that robs us of life. Protection from the winds that will knock us down. Roots that make us stand strong in times of doubt.
It is truly a tree of life because there is life to be found when we believe God is at work making all things new and prosperous.
So may we know we don’t have to make this tree. God has already made this tree— within us. We simply need to let this tree grow and grow and grow. Amen.