I am writing a book called, "Lessons From the Tree." I don't post that here to brag or in hopes of sparking interest. I mention it today because the book is all about learning to hear God's voice. The title comes from the vision that I often see in prayer: Jesus and me sitting under an ancient tree in a beautiful garden. This image has come to me countless times now and each time I allow the scene to unfold, I am blown away by the lessons the Spirit teaches me there. Under the cascading branches, I have learned about God's holiness, his mercy, his never-ending love for me. I have learned about how he sees me as beautiful even in my weakness, how he loves even the smallest area of obedience, and how he loves me - not forces me - into greater faithfulness. All of these lessons, taught right under that tree, are tied into the greater lesson of having the confidence to believe that I really hear him. That's why it is so ironic that I am writing this book now.
You see, right now I am in the midst of a season of great uncertainty. I am filled with questions that don't have answers. I am fighting doubts on a daily basis, sometimes even an hourly basis. One minute I am confident I hear His voice, only to be wondering the next minute if I missed Him somehow. That's what its like when God so graciously places you in a place of beautiful shaking: all your doubts and fears rise to the surface until all that is revealed is your absolute dependence on Him. If you allow the shaking season to do its work, you come out with a greater trust in Him. I should know - it seems my whole life has been a lesson in shaking and trusting Him more. And yet here I am finding once again that my humanity is still so strong and reminded that his grace is still sufficient in my ever present weakness.
As Christians, it's like we think we outgrow weakness, but the truth is we never can. He didn't design us that way. In the Kingdom, we don't grow out of weakness as we grow in maturity - we grow into it. As we grow in maturity in God, we find our weakness is revealed more and more. But for those who will "boast in their weakness," as Paul tells us to do in 2 Corinthians 12:9, we receive greater grace, greater strength, and greater victory.
So boasting in my weakness should come easy right now since I am in a season of shaking, right? If only that were the case. Oh, I have my moments where I am resting in God's ways. But it is a fight. It is a choice. In fact, the prayer I find myself praying over and over without even trying is simply, "Oh, Father." It's like a little cry for help, a little admittance of my absolute emptiness and his absolute power. "Oh, Father," I say as I wait. "Oh, Father," I say as I doubt. "Oh, Father," I pray on good days and bad days and all the days in between. And though I don't always hear an answer, I know He hears. And although I don't always see Him respond, I know he is moving in my life. Every lesson in every past shaking has taught me this. Every lesson in prayer under that garden tree has taught me that even in the seasons of shaking and seemed silence, God still speaks.
Today was one of those weak days for me. With pain and disappointment and accusation trying to build a home in my heart, I cried out over and over throughout my day, "Oh, Father." As my day began to its winding down, it has been the same: "Oh, Father. Oh, Father. Oh, Father." This prayer was still on my lips as the sun was setting and I stepped into a bubble bath with my new Reader's Digest. With a sigh I opened it up and read the very first article, choosing to put my mind off of my situation and onto the words before me. It was a blurb about the National Park, Yellowstone. The article had bold letters about half way down that read, "Renewal springs from the raw underbelly of loss." I didn't notice it as anything special and kept reading. As I read, I wasn't looking for a sign. I wasn't listening for His voice. But I found it. Right there on the pages of Reader's Digest. Underneath those bold letters about renewal and loss was a story about the 1988 fire that destroyed countless trees at Yellowstone. At the time, the author noted, it seemed like a catastrophe. But then the author continued, it turns out that the pine trees that grow in the park can only reseed themselves after a fire.
I reread that sentence over and over: These trees can only reseed after going through the fire. Slowly, I smiled. Here was his voice teaching me once again from a tree. A tree not found in a perfect garden, but one that had gone through the fire. I was the tree in that fire and here he was promising me that renewal would come from the flames. In that moment I knew: I heard his voice. It hadn't come as I had expected, but it had come. Laughing to myself, I looked up from my Digest and prayed the same prayer I had prayed all day: "Oh, Father." Only this time, it wasn't a cry for strength or a cry for help - it was a prayer of thanks; thanks that he will remind me of just how near he is even on my weakest day. I can't promise that tomorrow won't be a day filled with, "Oh, Father"s born out of weariness and need, but of this I am certain: the lesson I learned from the tree tonight will be a constant reminder of His voice until the shaking and the fire ceases, and I am left standing like a tree planted by the rivers of living water that has grown even more beautiful in her weakness.