Instant Oaks?

I saw a cartoon in a magazine yesterday that really spoke to me. A man was standing over a little seedling, saying something like “If you don’t start turning into a tree pretty soon, I’m just going to have to dig you up again!”

It’s getting more difficult with each passing day, in this age of instant gratification, to work on long-term projects. We’re accustomed to “instant” everything–from beverages to banking. We have software that sells itself by saying that you can “create a web site in a day.” Of course, they don’t count all of the time that needs to be spent in research, planning, and strategy. And they promise that you can “create a site,” not that it won’t look cheesy. That doesn’t much matter to the marketing guys–they’re cashing in on our modern lust for the instantaneous.

The fact is that really great things rarely happen overnight. We see actors and musicians that seem to be “overnight successes,” but on closer examination you’ll usually find years of hard work that led to that “overnight success.” When you find a true overnight success, longer term observation will generally show that they peaked almost immediately, and then went downhill. Instantaneous success is a warm, romantic fantasy—but the realities are generally cold and hard.

I used to live in a rural area in northern Pennsylvania, and one of my favorite relaxation modes was to walk in the woods. It was interesting to observe the growth patterns of the various trees that were common in that climate. There was a variety of Hybrid Poplar tree that grew so fast that you could almost see it grow. One day, it would be a seedling, and the next it would be a couple of feet high, and before long, it was over your head. I saw a lot of those trees–they would grow just about anywhere, particularly where you didn’t want them. Yet with all of the examples of that tree that I’ve seen, I have never seen one over 6″ in diameter, because the tend to fall over when they get to be that size. Most of the tree’s growing energies are focused above ground, and the tree doesn’t grow enough roots to support that growth. Eventually, these top heavy trees fall over in the wind, ripping up their shallow roots. While you might think that these plentiful, fast-growing trees must be a useful commodity, their wood is very soft, weak, and sappy. They’re really not good for much of anything other than CaseStudies illustrations.

In stark contrast are the large, slow growing Oak trees that dominate those woods. The wind doesn’t usually bother these trees. When one comes down unexpectedly, it is usually because it has been struck by lightning or has some sort of disease or insect infestation. These trees stand so firmly against the elements because they put just as much energy into growing roots as they do into growing a trunk and branches. I’m told that there is usually as much of these hardwood trees underground as there is above ground, and if you’ve ever tried to remove an oak stump, you no doubt agree. These trees have substantial value, particularly mature trees with tall, straight trunks. Their strong, beautiful wood is prized for everything from fine furniture to structural applications, and even their smaller branches are the finest firewood you’ll ever burn.

God doesn’t want us to be hybrid poplars. He’d rather we were mighty oaks. He’s invested in us for the long haul, not the short term. That’s why James writes:

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. {8} You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:7-8 NIV)

Don’t let this world’s lust for instant gratification make you impatient and settle for less than God’s best. Plant your seed. Water the crops. Pull the weeds. Fertilize and cultivate the soil. Be patient, stand firm, and let your roots grow, so you can stand up to the storms of life like a mighty oak. Don’t get impatient–give yourself time to grow.

Then, get ready for the harvest—on God’s timetable, not yours.

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