The Power of Bare Trees

bare tree

‘The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen.

During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul.

 This view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since.’

(Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 1693, p1)

This is the story of the conversion of Brother Lawrence, an unschooled peasant born in 1611 in eastern France. As a young man he went off to be a soldier and was soon wounded. This led to a life-long disability that made him clumsy and awkward.

He recounts here the story of how he came to faith.

All it took was the sight of a bare tree in winter.

Which is amazing, as I know that I have seen many thousands of bare trees in my life-time, none of which has been a moment of spiritual epiphany for me.

I imagine Brother Lawrence had previously seen many of them too.

Yet such is the power of the Holy Spirit in a human soul that when he chooses to act he can take a mundane ordinary object that we have seen thousands of times before and yet use it to bring insight and whole-life transformation.

I imagine if Brother Lawrence were to have lived in our time the story might have been very different.

There would have been books written about how to use bare trees in evangelism. There would have been conferences and seminars. No doubt there would be good-hearted Christian groups going up and down the country tearing the leaves off trees as a missional act.

Which is, of course, to completely miss the point. What made the moment a spiritual revelation that altered the whole direction of Brother Lawrence’s life and made him one of the most valued spiritual guides in the world-wide Christian church was not the tree – but the activity of the Holy Spirit in his heart and mind.

When the Spirit moves He needs almost no material to work with. He can take anything at all and make that a means of open a person’s heart and mind to God. And that can happen in an instant.

It is interesting to read that Brother Lawrence says that at that instant there was born such a love for God in his heart that after 40 years of monastic life, centred on living for God and for others, he was not sure at all that his love for God had increased one bit.

I suppose that is a bit like falling in love. When you encounter someone and your heart goes ‘boom’ and you feel such an intense attraction to them – does that ever get stronger over the years? I would say it alters, it matures, it widens and deepens, but I am not sure it gets stronger than that initial ‘boom’ moment.

All of which is to say that;

  • we need to have more faith in the accessibility of God’s grace.
  • we need to have a greater expectation that God can reach people where they are in the midst of their ordinary lives and activities.
  • we need to re-focus our energies and efforts less on programs and methods and more on prayerful bringing people to God asking that His Holy Spirit would be at work in their lives, ambushing them with God’s love where and when they least expect it.

A bare tree – who would have thought what it could do?

Creation Groans

Red deer shoutingLyall Watson, in his fascinating 1995 book “Dark Nature – A natural history of evil”, describes the unpleasant reality of the natural world.

He quotes research which shows that an observer would expect see one of the animals in his study kill another of its own kind every 1,000 hours.

In contrast, the same observer would have to study humans in an urban context for 300 years to see the same event.

Eliciting the comment,

“I suspect if Hamadryas Baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week.”

Which only confirms what Thomas Henry Huxley said in 1893, that nature is morally bankrupt and stands condemned.

Contemporary evolutionary studies have only sharpened this critique as a recent Professor of biology at the State University of New York noted,

“No one of Huxley’s generation could have imagined the current concept of natural selection, which can honestly be described as a process for maximizing short-sighted selfishness. I would concede that moral indifference might aptly characterize the physical universe. But for the biological world, a stronger term is needed.”

To which Watson proffers the adjective “evil”.

All of which is of great interest for the Christian.

As is often the case, modern science only find itself arriving at the Bible’s understanding of things 2,000 years late!

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:19-22 NIV

This brutal, violent, immoral creation that we experience is a sign and an evidence of the same disorder we find in ourselves. Its cause is the same – our fallen-ness and sin. Its redemption, and ours, depends solely on the one possibility, the death and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ, He who has removed the guilt of sin and opened up the way of forgiveness, reconciliation with God, with each other and finally, with the created order itself.

We know the story, we’ve read the ending, the Lion and the Lamb will lie down in peace together, the child will play with the scorpion.

After millennia of breakdown, through God’s redemptive self-sacrifice, ‘normal service’ will be resumed.