In full leaf, the majestic Angel Oak of Johns Island, South Carolina, can provide cover for approximately 17,000 square feet. For this oak, which is one of the largest on the planet, growth occurred not spontaneously but over 400 years. Consider how many obstacles it must have overcome to survive and thrive for so long—including storms and threats from disease, wildlife, and humankind. Yet there it stands, providing shelter for picnickers as well as untold numbers of animals, birds, and insects.
It isn’t difficult to draw a spiritual lesson from this tree. Certainly, there is great potential in a life lived for God. When Jesus told a parable involving good soil, He said the seed that fell on it produced a crop “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matt. 13:8 NIV).
It’s always been hard for me to imagine that kind of harvest. But then I consider this tree, growing bit by bit, surviving drought and storm. As the tree clings to its foundation and responds to nourishment, it experiences glory and growth from God.
In the same way, as our days add up and our hopes stretch toward heaven, our maturity (or lack thereof) becomes evident to the hundreds, even thousands, of people who come near or pass under our branches. When we’re just a sapling, the Holy Spirit directs countless rays of sunlight toward us through believers who proclaim the Word and express God’s grace and love. As we grow alongside others, we emerge with gifts of our own, and before long we develop mature branches that are ready to provide moments of rest and peace for others.
As we lean into God’s faithfulness, He produces good growth. Maybe we aren’t aware of it in ourselves because we impact only a person or two at a time. When stretched over a lifetime, however, and extrapolated to the children and grandchildren of those we’ve served, our influence can be seen in terms of a real harvest—one gathered at the end of the age (Matt. 13:39). Until that day, though we might be bowed by pain and hardships, Christ in us ensures that we’ll grow upward and outward.
Photograph by Charles F. Stanley