Jun 22 2011

The Secret to Thriving

While I was in northern California last week I was reminded that many species of plants (and animals) can only thrive where the conditions are just right.  The majestic redwoods do well on the coast of California for a reason.  Further east on the White Mountains, the ancient bristlecone pine forests exists because the conditions are just right for them to grow there.  The redwoods could not grow where the bristlecone pine trees are found and those trees would not last long in the environment where the redwoods thrive.  Rob and I also visited a bog area that is the home of the cobra pitcher plant.  You will not find this unique plant in many places because like the redwood and pine trees, it requires a certain type soil and environment to survive and prosper.  It is just a fact of nature that various species require certain conditions in order to do well.

What is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual realm.  There are conditions that are necessary in order to thrive spiritually.  Without these conditions we will not do well at all.  Our chances of growing without the right environment are about as good as a bristlecone pine tree making it on the coast of California.  What are the ideal conditions for spiritual prosperity?  Obviously, there are many.  Here are a couple of things that come to my mind.  First, we thrive spiritually when we focus on the kingdom of God.  Jesus placed great emphasis on the kingdom of God and taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  He also said “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)   Many of us fail to grow spiritually because our lives tend to focus first and foremost on ourselves.  We want our kingdom to come and our will to be done.  We won’t get far spiritually that way. 

Second, we will also have a better chance of thriving spiritually if we will seek to incorporate spiritual disciplines into our lives.  These are time-tested practices that put us in a position to grow.  Some of the classic disciplines are prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, solitude, silence, meditation, service, worship and confession.  Where these practices are found in the soil of one’s life there is far more likelihood of flourishing than if these disciplines are absent or neglected.

As humans created in the image of God we have the freedom to choose our spiritual environment.  If we find ourselves in a place where we are not growing we can change that.  This is good news!  It offers hope for everyone.  We can all thrive if we just make the effort to place ourselves in the environment God has deemed best for us.


(The redwood trees and pitcher plant shown above were photographed last week.  The ancient bristlecone pine tree image was taken a couple of years ago.)

Jun 14 2011

Feeling Small

Rob and I are photographing together this week in northern California. We have been concentrating on the magnificent redwood groves found in the area. Walking amongst these incredibly large trees has a way of making you feel quite small. I actually feel a sense of reverence in the presence of these giant specimens. Rob and I have paused many times just to express our sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of God’s Creation found here. In the forest here I, too, feel “hints of gladness.” The giant trees lift my spirits and bring me joy. They point me to the One who created this world. They also remind me of how trees play a vital role in the Scriptures from beginning to end. Mary Oliver talks about how she can almost say the trees save her and I understand what she means. They bring peace in a troubled world. But the Bible connects trees and salvation even more closely when it points us to the Cross upon which Jesus died for the sins of the world. As much as I am humbled and made to feel small by the redwoods of California, the Cross humbles me even more. It is there, more than anywhere else, I see God’s greatness and my smallness. It is there, more than anywhere else, I see the love of God.


 (Both of the images above were taken at Humboldt Redwoods State Park yesterday.)

While in the redwood groves yesterday I thought about a poem I recently came across in Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst. It is called “When I Am Among Trees.” She writes: “When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily. I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often. Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, ‘Stay awhile.’ The light flows from their branches. And they call again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say, ‘and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.'”