A Lesson from the Myrtle Tree
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead…
It’s funny how we can fly through life, surrounded by the awesomeness of creation, but unaffected by the powerful message it conveys. Personally, I find this true, especially when a particular aspect of creation has been around as a backdrop for my entire life.
I grew up in a city that is nestled at the base of a massive mountain range. People visiting from out of town would always comment on the grandeur, majesty and imposing presence of them, often gazing in amazement and wonder. From childhood, I was always puzzled by this, because since I came into the world, those mountains were always there. They were in the backgrounds of pictures taken in the yard, and served as landmarks on the horizon when I was trying to get my bearings and determine which way was north. Silently, they occupy a huge portion of the sky, but I never really gave much thought to them. I pretty much took them for granted. I think the first time I really took notice of their intricate beauty and massive greatness was when I moved a couple of hours away to college and drove through a mountain pass to get home from school each weekend. Being alone in silence and seeing great cliffs and protrusions, along with the splendor of all of the colors displayed in the rocks, made me suddenly feel like I was very close to God. I would sing worship songs and talk to him like I never done before. I would also call out to him like never before when I found myself driving the twisting and turning road in a mountain snowstorm.
Similarly, all of nature testifies without ever speaking a word of the awesome glory of God. It is a grand demonstration of how great he is, and how wonderful a craftsman he is, forming each and every specimen of earth right down to the smallest detail, with amazing precision and purpose. Then, as if that weren’t awe-inspiring enough, he puts each individual creation together with the others in a way that the whole system functions in order by his design, with every created thing serving its purpose and fulfilling its responsibility, contributing to supporting the continual function of the rest of creation. Except that wild card creation known as “man”, everything abides in its purpose.
And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
So today, I stopped to once again take a closer look at nature to learn one of the many lessons it teaches. This time my instructor was the myrtle tree. The myrtle tree is only mentioned about six times in the bible, but seeing it mentioned got me thinking about exactly what kind of tree it is, so I did a little research.
The myrtle tree that grows in Oregon and Northern California is not the same tree as mentioned in the bible that grows in and around the holy land, but they are related and have very similar properties. It’s even speculated that the early settlers of the west coast may have picked up some myrtle nuts in Southern Europe and planted them here. At any rate, the mention of the myrtle in the bible led me to study the myrtle tree that is a little closer to home.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The prophet Isaiah uses the myrtle to illustrate life and fertility, as he prophesies it growing instead of a plant that symbolizes dearth and drought. The myrtle tree is an evergreen characterized by leaves clustered so densely that the branches can’t even be seen. It reminds me of the descriptive words of the Psalmist:
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season, his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Also the prophet Jeremiah:
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and that shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7, 8
The imagery of those metaphors is strikingly similar to the myrtle tree. It is always green and has a strong root system that keeps it going even during dire times. Even when cut down to a stump, its roots cause it to sprout again.
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
The myrtle tree grows slowly, and starts out as just a small shrub, only adding to its stature about twelve inches each year. This means that it takes over a hundred years for this tree to finish growing, but when it matures it is great in size and nothing like the shrub it was when it started. The massive trunk of the full grown myrtle tree is actually several stocks that have grown together over time to make one great tree.
The comparisons abound between a Christian and this remarkable tree. It becomes strong by joining with other trees and becoming one, much like we become a part of the body of Christ—one body with many members (Romans 12:5). Sometimes the Christian is cut down to what looks like nothing, and it can appear to be the end of his/her story because of the tragedy or misfortune that has befallen them, but because those roots run deep, eventually signs of life will begin to emerge and again the child of God will resume growth and vitality (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).
Those roots are what led me to the most important lesson this myrtle tree conveyed to me. In my reading about the myrtle tree, I found out that the wood of this tree is used to make a variety of beautiful pieces of furniture and decorations carved by craftsmen of the northwest. The beauty of myrtle wood is that it varies in color and design because of where it grows. As the roots draw minerals from the soil, those minerals color the wood giving it its beautiful variety of colors. This variety enables it to be used in all kinds of settings because its versatility lends to it being able to work well with other pieces that may already be in someone’s home.
When I read this, I pictured God’s people as myrtle trees, who are planted in rich soil, saturated with the word of God, drawing from an unending source of strength and wisdom for every situation. This believer is equipped with everything needed for every purpose for which God intends to use them. The versatility of the Spirit of God is shown in the numerous gifts that he has given to the church by one Spirit. We draw from the same spirit, but we are as diverse in gifting and uses as our great and diverse God.
Roots that run deep speak of being entrenched and having a firm foundation so that nothing sways or moves us. When the water on the surface has dried up, the tree that is rooted will still draw water from deep within the earth that will sustain it. When situations around us appear to be hopeless with no sign of getting better, we can draw from the Spirit of God within us, who is able to sustain us with the assurance that we are his, reminding us of his word and that what he has spoken will come to pass.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
Lastly, the myrtle tree has a myriad of grain patterns. I read that each tree’s pattern is developed by the things that occur in its surroundings. So each storm, and each draught, every adverse condition and every pleasurable season, contributes to the beautiful design displayed in the wood of the myrtle tree. When it is molded in the hands of the craftsman, after some cutting away; sanding here, and shaping there, the myrtle wood becomes a beautiful creation. Pieces made from this wood often become treasured heirlooms because of the years of growth that took place to get the wood to maturity, before it even began the process of being molded into what it was to become.
Likewise, we go through a process before we reach the finished product that God had in mind before we were ever born. We grow through various storms and adverse conditions in our lives, and sometimes things happen that cut us down and it feels like we are starting over again. But all of our trials and tribulations, and the good times that we experience, contribute to the raw beauty of who we are. Before we are ever brought into the body of Christ, we come from a place that has shaped who we are thus far. Our experiences have shaped us, and given us a different perspective than anyone else. They make us material with which God can shape and mold a vessel that serves his purpose. I believe that God’s hand was as much involved in the making of us before we yielded to him as it is now, our eyes were just not open to the fact that he was at work. Since no two purposes are alike, it makes sense that the circumstances and conditions that we come through to get to our place of purpose are also as different as each of us. We can’t really compare ourselves to one another, because each of us is unique and created for a unique purpose. Where we are planted, and the environment in which we grow were all planned out by God, contributing to the finished product we will become.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Yep, that myrtle tree is quite the instructor…