In April of 2012, several tornadoes ripped through my city. Three of them went right through my neighborhood. They did not touch down but they were so close that they did massive damage to several homes and automobiles. Most of the roofs, fences and yards in our subdivision received serious damage of some kind. We lost our roof, fence and four big trees in that storm.
One tree had split right down the middle and had to be cut down. The following spring, my husband and I noticed something odd. There was new growth coming from a small section of the stump even though most of it was completely dead. We were surprised when we saw this and decided to let it go and see what would happen. Year after year, it grew a little bit more but it was very awkward looking. It was not quite a tree and not quite a shrub. Last year I thought about cutting it down but decided to experiment instead. I tried my hand at topiary design. I will not lie. It was a terrible idea and looked ghastly but I left it for a year because for whatever reason, I just did not feel right about cutting it down.
This spring, six years after the storm, we had a decision to make. It was too tall to be an ornamental shrub and it was never going to have the nourishment it needed to become an actual tree. I said to my husband, "It's got to go." He laughed and asked if I was going to take that stump out by myself. I shrugged off the insinuation that I was too weak or lacked the skills to take out a tree stump. I told him I would use an ax and just hack away at the thing until it was gone. I did not care if it took me a week; I was going to do it myself. He knew I was serious because I gave him that look that says, “Hi, I’m Cheryl. I never back down from a challenge.”
Fast forward to my last week of summer break. I looked at the tree/shrub and decided the time had come to put it out of its misery (and mine). I took my pruning tool and quickly dispatched of the live branches which were growing straight up, from the side of the original stump. I carried them away with a smug sense of satisfaction. This was going to be easy! I took the ax and merely touched the portion of the trunk that was the furthest from the new growth. It crumbled with no effort at all. I stood for a moment, looked at the rubble, and smiled. “My husband will think I am a rock star”, I thought to myself. I nudged the next section of rotted trunk and it fell away easily as well. Once I got closer to the healthy, living part of the trunk, I encountered a problem. It was evident right away that I was going to have to put in some work to take out this section. I swung the ax and barely made a scratch. I felt like I had struck a steel beam. The recoil was so hard that I fell back landed on my backside. I looked around, hoping none of the neighbors saw that epic fail. As I tried from different angles to make a dent in the stump, images began to flood my mind. I stopped and let the sweat pour down my face. What in the world was this about? When I realized what was happening, I just looked up and smiled. Was God really speaking to me while I was trying to take a stump out of the yard? The answer to that is yes. Yes, He was.
I did not get the stump out all by myself. I knew I needed reinforcements because my efforts were not cutting it (no pun intended). No matter how much I managed to chip away, it was not going to be enough. I needed an alternate plan of attack. I knew we had a chain saw but I am strictly forbidden from touching power tools. That's a story for another time, however. Anyway, my husband came home and when he saw what I had done, he chuckled and he grabbed the ax. I know he was thinking he would show me how it’s done. He found out real quick that stump was tougher than it looked. He is a strong man but he got discouraged before long. He decided it was going to require more than the ax. He went to the garage and came back with the chain saw. It was tedious work but soon he had compromised the integrity of the live wood enough that he was able to send what remained into oblivion with the ax. He filled the hole with garden soil and the job was done.
From the moment God first got my attention that day to the point when my husband was filling the hole, I began to see the similarities between a tree and a human. It applies to believers and unbelievers alike.
Both trees and humans can withstand storms/hardships in life and bounce back or they can be utterly destroyed. When it comes to personal attacks by the enemy, the stronger we stand, the more he wants to take us down. Sometimes he brings on bigger storms (like that tornado) to break us (split us in two). One possible outcome is spiritual death – the person who turns his back on God or never comes to believe in Him at all. That’s the stump that remains dead and eventually rots away completely.
However, there is always the exception. For instance, the one who has, by all appearances, been knocked down for good but a glimmer of life remains. It may lie unnoticed until just the right conditions coax it to the surface. Receptiveness and exposure to the gospel or an ember of faith, presumably long burned out, comes sparking back to life. Regardless of the catalyst, where there is hope there is life and vice versa. Much like the buds that burst forth from the dead stump the spring following the storm, what we thought was lost is suddenly found. All of heaven and nature rejoice at the miracle of rebirth.
Now very much alive but constantly fighting for survival, the healthy part of the soul must be guarded carefully. Sin can invade (like insects and decay) and overwhelm. Those areas where we are found weakest are easy for the enemy to get a foothold and destroy. We all have them - those soft targets. These are the places where you are most vulnerable. He has studied you all your life and he knows them well. He likes to put a bulls-eye on them and once he goes to work, he barely has to lift a finger to make it all crumble away. However, when he gets to the strongest part of your faith, he has his work cut out for him. He has to swing that ax with more gusto and come at you from different angles to make a dent. He does not hesitate enlist help so that multiple areas can be attacked all at once using different methods. That's when he starts using people and circumstances to weaken your spirit and penetrate the surface. He's the master at using different tools as he seeks out a soft spot to capitalize on. He delights in making us miserable and no one is exempt from attack. But wait! Do not be discouraged. Just because he tries, does not mean he will succeed. You see, through Christ, the enemy’s efforts to steal your joy become ineffective. Remember where your joy comes from. If you don't hear anything else I have told you, hear this. YOU do not have to defeat the enemy. Jesus is fighting the war for you and we all know how this ends. He wins. That means WE win. Period. That's some good news, right?
When I grabbed my ax that day, I never expected to learn anything other than how much I need to work on my upper body strength. I love that God shows up the way He does. I truly believe He is always speaking to us, but it is in those moments when our minds are free from the noise of the world that we actually hear Him. I am humbled and grateful for the quiet and unexpected moments when God speaks wisdom in my life. It is times like this when I am simply astounded that I matter enough for Him to reach out and reveal something to me that I can pass along to others. The message that day is certainly one worthy of sharing and it applies to each of us and those we care about.
(1) Faith is like the roots of a tree. As you grow in your walk with the Lord, faith is nourishing your soul. It is the foundation, constantly spreading out and going ever deeper, that will help you stand firm. You can withstand even the most catastrophic attack as long as your dig in, cling to your faith and trust in the Lord.
(2) Guard your heart against this world. Sin (rot/decay) creeps in, often unnoticed or disguised as something harmless but it can spread like a cancer leaving you vulnerable to attack.
(3) Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom to realize they cannot fight this war alone. They may have to lose it all, be split in two, cut down and be reduced to rubble before they finally understand the only thing they really need is the Savior.