Recently I was privileged to walk among the untouched old-growth coastal redwood forest in Muir Woods, a natural habitat in northern California near the Pacific Ocean. Having grown up on the prairie, where trees are few, stunted, and far between, the significance of millennial trees seeped into my consciousness.
Thousand-year-old trees provide many lessons about spiritual growth and faith.
The blessed person obeys, delights, and meditates on God’s Word. This person “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:3 NIV).
Though planted near streams of water, what other factors allow the redwood to endure through millennia? What can we learn about growth and faith from this tree?
The pinecone of the towering redwood is the size of a mere olive; yet the redwood is the tallest tree on the planet and can grow for two thousand years. Along the tiny ridges of the mature pinecone, approximately 50 to 60 miniscule seed-flakes form per cone, ready to fall into the rich soil at the base—a drop of 100 yards from the tops of the oldest trees. If Jesus had trod the soil of Northern California, he could have used the seeds of the redwood tree, rather than the mustard seed, for lessons about faith.
Tiny seeds of faith can produce towering results.
However, the Creator didn’t leave redwood reproduction to those means alone. New young trees also burst forth from the burls—protruding knobs of wood—that grow low on the trunks of mature trees, sprouting clusters of trees growing tall together. These sprouts demonstrate the strength of community.
For support, the trees need one another. Redwood trees don’t have deep tap roots. Though they may stand approximately 380 feet high, their roots only sink 10 to 13 feet. The interconnected root mass of the tree clusters is what holds up the entire ancient redwood forest. The roots spread about 100 feet from each tree in all directions. This supports the forest. Below is a mature mass of sprouts from burls, reaching for the heights together.
In the faith walk, both the Savior and our brothers and sisters in Christ hold us up. The church is interconnected around the world; it is Christ’s body. We are in Christ, and He is in us. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:17-18a NIV). As interconnected members, we bear the fruit of good deeds, we grow in the knowledge of God, and we’re strengthened as he works in and through us. We’re like an old-growth redwood forest.
Redwoods are built to weather adversity. The bark of mature trees is spongy, fibrous, and at least a foot thick. It is designed to survive the natural forest fires that occur about every 20 to 50 years in the redwoods’ life cycle. Observing the mature tree reveals charred marks left high on the trunk by many fires, evidence of survival over centuries.
The Muir Woods area has never been logged. Since the area was donated to the federal government by the William and Elizabeth Kent family in 1908, it has been protected from fire. As a result, pathogens have begun to destroy portions of the forest. Fire is a natural cleanser, clearing thick duff from the forest floor and destroying bacteria and fungi. Without the trial of fire, the trees’ ecosystem grows out of balance. The National Park Service now conducts controlled burns to increase the health of the trees and their environment.
To grow in faith, we must undergo trials to purify, refine, and strengthen us.
“Now, for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6b-7 NIV).
A specific habitat is required to grow this type of tree. A damp marine cover of clouds rolls inland off the Pacific every night, providing moisture in the form of fog to accompany the rainfall. The trees grow best in valleys near the ocean, protected by the wind, yet near enough for this dampness. The Creator planted this forest in a location where all the needs of the trees are met, thus providing these towering lessons of faith and growth.
In like manner, God provides the necessary ingredients to grow our faith.
How has God caused your faith to grow lately?