My friend has a home with beautiful oak trees. Big ones. The kind that are older than you or me. The kind that can handle tree houses, swings, target practice, and lots of children. The kind that keep you cool in the summer and dry in its rain. The first time I went to his house, they were one of the first things I noticed and spoke of. “These trees are beautiful,” I said as I admired the way they twisted and stretched out over the yard, caring for it like a mother caring for her children.
I also noticed that the trees apparently needed a little help. Two support poles propped up one of the largest branches, kind of like a branch crutch. The idea being that the tree didn’t have the strength to hold itself up, so at one point in time, some kind-hearted people added a brace—just to help it a little.
In talking to my friend, I was surprised to find that the tree likely didn’t need the brace—at least not at first. Apparently, and this all comes through the words of the smart tree people (my new band name), oaks aren’t stupid. While it may have grown differently without the brace, the root system would’ve supported the weight and the sideways growth. The brace was just to mitigate against potential issues by well-intentioned tenants.
But now the tree needs it.
I laugh when I think about this tree and our Colossians series (the pastor illustration jokes can commence). Some things become so important to our growth that we start to set up our spiritual lives in such a way that we do not know what it is like to have the brace removed. What’s yours? A Bible study? Sunday School? Your family? Community group? Certain liturgy? A certain relationship in the church? Certain preaching style? Certain staff member? Certain sanctuary style? Unique programs? A mission trip?
These things can all be wonderful parts of our growth—instruments God uses—but they are not growth. However, what starts to happen is that we cannot imagine our life (faith) without their existence. Thus, when they go, we go. I, like you, am not the largest fan of change; but change challenges our identity and our trust. The anchor holding the firmest will always be Jesus.
Just like that well-intentioned tenant, we prop up our walk with the Lord with all kinds of things, not trusting that the roots of the gospel are all that is needed to support the growth of the gospel. The difference between our God and these huge oaks? Our growth won’t be destroyed if we stop trusting the brace. It’ll only strengthen.