The Lesson of the Trees
My Dad was a logger. He worked in the woods longer than I could remember and he insisted that his boys work in the woods with him. That means that when I was in 3rd grade my dad took me into the woods so that I could learn the trade. This never sat well with me because, well, it was hard work and I could not do what I wanted to do, which basically was lazing around, playing and being me. How dare he try to teach me to work! As I look back on it, it wasn't something that I enjoyed doing much.
One day when we were cutting some trees down, I noticed that the taller and larger trees were always next to older, large trees and I asked my Dad why that would be so. He told me that in order for for a tree to reach it's full potential, they needed a strong and tall tree nearby. He said that he believed that the older tree would shade the younger tree and in order for the younger tree to get enough sunlight, it would HAVE to grow taller so that it's leaves could rise above the other trees and capture the sun. If it did not grow, it would eventually die. That is how, he explained, that the older trees forced the younger trees to grow tall and strong and when they had served their purpose, we loggers would come along and cut down the older trees and then the job of growing new trees fell to the younger strong trees which were left and so, the process was repeated.
As I grew older and a little bit wiser, I began to understand and appreciate the reason my Dad took me into the woods in the first place. It was to challenge me to grow. He had learned the lesson of the trees and he was trying to teach me. He knew he had to challenge me in order that I might grow into a man and in forcing me to work in the woods with him, he was making that a reality. It wasn't something I appreciated or even wanted, but it was something I needed. I am now happy that he loved me enough to ignore my whining about the work.
I am working with Christians instead of trees and it is surprisingly like when I was a kid working in the woods, except now I am playing the role of my dad. I find that people are exactly like me and they too do not like to be challenged. Like the trees, if they are not challenged, they eventually will end up taking the path of least resistance and will not grow; they will be spiritually weak. If they do not grow they will die or be so weak that they are not effective and that is not acceptable.
This is a particular problem in the Church today. People want to be comforted. They want to feel good and like me, they certainly do not appreciate being challenged. However it is a truth that the trees have long ago learned....and that is while it is not the most pleasant thing to go through, we all grow stronger and more useful when we are challenged to grow.
So remember that the next time you feel uncomfortable during a sermon and your ego is not stroked and you come away saying, "You know, that really wasn't a feel-good sermon." Take a lesson from the trees and grow. In that way you might be able to say, "You know, that really wasn't a feel-good sermon...but I really needed to hear that!"