“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For all day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
(Psalm 32:3-4 (ESV)
A couple of summers ago we lost one of the really nice Linden trees in our front yard as a tornado blew through town. I kind of suspected that we’d lose the tree, ants had pretty thoroughly eaten at the base of the tree, and the leaves look sickly. Sure enough; one strong wind put the tree down on the roof of our front porch. One tree down, one to go.
Over the last month, I have noticed that the other Linden tree, which stands 40 to 50 feet high, was starting to lose its leaves. Let me correct that, it wasn’t actually losing the leaves, it’s just that the leaves were all turning brown and shriveling up. A front moved through last week with some strong winds, and the next morning I found a large, leafless branch laying in the front yard. And then this week, while watering the yard, I realized that almost all of the leaves of the tree were brown – from all outward appearances, the tree is dead.
Because the tree is on the easement – that space between the curb and the sidewalk – the city is responsible for removing any dead or dying trees. When I called the city office they sent someone over to take a look at the tree for us. Sure enough, he said it was dead as well. But the city man was stumped (sorry for the pun), he just couldn’t understand why it had died, and why it went so quickly. He was sure that though the summer has been hot and very, dry Linden trees were drought resistant, and this shouldn’t have happened. After assuring me that the city would remove the tree (hopefully before it too falls on the house), he drove away, shaking his head in amazement.
Curious, I did a little research (consulted Google). Come to find out, Linden are very resilient trees, but in extreme drought, they are susceptible to something called Verticillium Wilt. Verticillium is a fungus that can exist in the ground for 10 years, and while a Linden tree is resistant to the fungus, extreme cases of drought can stress the tree and allow the fungus to enter the roots, spreading toxins which disease and eventually kill the tree. Our Linden tree may not have Verticillium, but the picture on the information at the ISU Extension website looks exactly like our tree did about a month ago.
So if this is Verticillium, our tree is as good as dead. The fungus had lived around the tree for years, waiting for the right opportunity to enter the roots – an opportunity that came when the rain stopped and the drought came. With no rain to feed the roots, the tree began to open itself up to anything and everything it could find for nourishment. Enter the disease. The toxin entered the tree, dried the flowers, browned the leaves, and turned the strong and supple branches of the tree brittle and weak. One summer of drought revealed the nature of the soil and the tree – and now the tree must go.
Have you ever found that the droughts in your life reveal the health and the strength of your faith? Like a tree planted by the river, our faith and trust in God grows and flourishes, bringing cover and shelter to every aspect of our lives. Because of our faith we can face the challenges this world presents us. We know that God has delivered us in the past, that God has secured his promises for us in Christ Jesus, and so we can look on tomorrow that God will be faithful still. When we stand by the stream, fed by the Word of God through regular study, worship, fellowship, sin is kept at bay and tremendous growth is seen.
But what about when that stream dries up. What happens to our faith when we go through times of drought and famine in spirit? Sometimes the drought comes from the Lord, but usually it is self-imposed. For whatever reason we turn away from the reading of God’s Word, going to Worship and spending time with other believers takes a back-seat to “more important things,” prayer becomes a quiet, tedious, and unproductive thing. The sin that permeates the world around us, that was repelled by the nourishment from God’s stream, creeps back into our lives.
Absence from the Word of God, from regular worship, study, and fellowship, does not make the heart grow stronger. No, it invites the sins that would destroy us back into our lives so that our faith is choked out by the cares, worries, and passions of the world. Spiritual drought reveals the nature of our faith, and until we return to the Lord, the only one who had feed and nourish our souls, we will wilt and wither on the branch.
Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers…” (John 15:4-6). There is no spiritual health, no nourishment, no life apart from Christ. Does your spirit long for the water of life? Has the poison of sin seeped into your life? Then come to the fountain. Come to Christ. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-38).
Friends, end the drought, come to Jesus. Let him nourish your soul with the water of life. Abide in him, drink him in, and he will become in you a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).