Burnt Orange Pine Trees – Harnessing the Means of Grace in the New Year

pine-trees-blog-2016-2A serious drought struck our region of the country, beginning back in August and extending until just a few weeks ago.  I imagine a lot of spiritual lessons could be drawn from observing and considering the impact of no rain for weeks and weeks on end.  It certainly gets everyone’s attention when we realize that something essential for all life, that is usually available in plenteous supply, might actually run out – a reminder that God’s presence and His saving grace are blessings He chooses to give as a gift.  And the picture of how hardened the earth becomes when it has not been watered drives one to think on the hardness of our souls without spiritual moisture in the forms of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer.

But what struck me lately, in this Christmas Season, was the mix of burnt orange dead pine trees on the hillsides, intermingled with the usual vibrant green ones.  Like other parts of the country, Alabama’s leafy trees (my “forestry” major sister would not be excited with that terminology!) get brown and lose their leaves in the fall, even when moisture is overflowing.  But the pine trees in our region rarely shift colors from their steadfast green.  Since pine trees sprout up here like dandelions do in other regions, it is hard to avoid the sight of the burnt orange blighted scenery.

As I think about my spiritual life this last year, and look to the upcoming year, I am convicted about the message these scorched “never-greens” send about growth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I cannot say that I have ever had a stellar year of spiritual vibrancy, and in some ways this past year has probably been better than others.  Spiritual growth is not something we can put on a scale to weigh or time around a race track, so only God ultimately knows what is happening in each of our souls.  But this past year has certainly been a battle to maintain the means of grace:

  • to keep up with my good plan to read through the whole Bible for the first time in several years (my app tells me I’m at 38% and yes I started in January, not July! Ha)
  • to carve out regular focused time in prayer (I’m glad there is no app to tell how I’ve done with that!)
  • and to draw close to God in worship, including the sacraments God provides (as a pastor, my attendance record is usually pretty strong, but heart and body are not always in the same place).

What a joy, then, to realize that the security of my salvation is not dependent on my perfect follow-through on these, or any other good spiritual practices – that the tree of Jesus’ righteous life and sacrifice for me is the most remarkable green, and I have his vibrancy credited to me by faith.  And what a joy to realize that although sun-charred pine trees may not recover in the new year, God’s gracious empowering can renew me and anyone else who needs it.  And what a conviction, that God is always offering rain – word, prayer, sacraments – for His people, and we are foolish to extend our roots in the direction of the world’s dryness, when his streams of water abound.