Rick and I lead a small group with church every few weeks as a way to get in the Word and connect in life-giving relationships. We have been using a technique called “Lectio Devina”(Latin for Divine Reading) which was introduced to me by our Pastor, Mervin Charles. Graham Cooke describes this as “…an ancient way of reading the Bible – allowing a quiet and contemplative way of coming to God’s word. Lectio Devina opens the pulse of the Scripture, helping readers dig far deeper into the Word than normally happens in a quick glance-over.” (Beholding and Becoming, p 56). In short, we take a section of scripture and meditate on it in every area of our life for four weeks (two sessions) and discuss how God is changing or speaking to our hearts through the chosen scripture.
The past four weeks we have been looking at Psalm 91 (showing v. 1-2 below):
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.”
As our group discussed this Psalm I realized that all of the protection listed in the poem and all of the things God will do are contingent upon us dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. Without our conscience choice to trust God we are stepping out from underneath the protection and grace that He provided to us through the finished work of the cross.
How many areas of my life are unprotected? How many times do I step out from His protection and grace and try to handle things myself? Do I quickly notice when my mind or attitude drifts away from God’s perspective on things?
Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania spring is in full-swing. I’ve began to take notice the past few years of the different types of flowering trees and shrubs in the springtime along with characteristics of those. One that I absolutely love is a white dogwood tree. The pink dogwood trees are more domestic trees and often used in landscaping, but the white
ones are typically wild and you can see them growing alongside of the road or woods. Of course, because the flower is so beautiful in the spring and the leaves are very vibrant in the fall many people take these and plant them in their front yards for accent. As a matter of fact, we have one growing in our back yard in direct view of the window at the kitchen sink. Each day I look out at this beauty and contemplate the amazing view while cooking or doing the dishes.
Now where my Dogwood grows there is a larger tree that grows directly next to it. It shadows it and I feel it takes away from the beauty of the smaller but full dogwood. I wanted to cut it down to get it away from my stunning dogwood. I began looking around as I drove places at other Dogwood trees and could see that my tree is of exceptional beauty and quality. It is much larger than most white Dogwoods I have seen in this area and the number of flowers on my tree is of great quantity! “Such a treasure, in my own backyard,” I thought, “if only we can cut down that bigger over-shadowing tree and allow this gem to shine and sparkle on its own!”
I voiced this opinion to an older man in the family when he came to visit. We were sitting out back and he mentioned how extraordinary the Dogwood tree was compared to the ones he has seen in his long life. The size, the amount of buds, the healthfulness was “really something” he said. He went on to explain to me the secret of Dogwood trees. He said that Dogwoods do not grow well standing alone. They like to have a larger, older tree shadowing them. While they do like some morning sunshine, under the protection of the larger tree they find relief from the harsh afternoon sun, wind, and other environmental elements. To have a very large Dogwood tree means the older tree is truly protecting it and shadowing it perfectly. “If you cut down that bigger and more unattractive tree,” he warned, “you may as well kiss this beauty goodbye within a few years.”
As I have meditated on Psalm 91 over the past few weeks the word “shadowed” in the first verse has reminded me of this Dogwood. Each time I enter the kitchen and look out the window I have thought about this in a new way. When I am driving down the road I also think now about the Dogwoods I have come across and whether they are shadowed in a healthy way and are set up for growing into an exceptional gem like the one in my yard. Sure enough, the Dogwoods standing alone in yards are straggly and wiry at best. The wild Dogwoods I see popping up randomly are much the same. But I have seen a few that are under the shadow of an older tree that allows just the right amount of light through without extreme wind. These are thriving and while at different points of their growth process/journey I can tell they are destined for a healthy and full cycle each year.
Finding rest in the shadow of the Almighty and trusting Him doesn’t always seem to be the easy choice at first glance. It seems that if we just would push harder and allow our roots to grow deeper that we would bloom just fine on our own. Yet the fact remains that there are a lot of harsh environmental factors in the world today. The sun is hot, the winds blow hard, and in fighting to survive we often do not thrive. But in the shadow of the Almighty we can rest from those things and trust not in where we are placed but in who God is: the Mighty Cedar or Oak standing above us. He will be our protector and in His shadow we can reflect His image and grow to be the great ones that He created us to be. What we think we need is not always true so why not trust in the perspective of our shelter who grows taller than us, sees far more than us, and can keep the coming harsh weather from battering us about. Why would we try to be something that we aren’t? That is the hard path, not resting in the Shelter of the Almighty and simply growing as it comes natural for us to do.
I thought that I knew best for that dogwood. I really thought that I could help it to grow and to be its very best if I just got rid of the excess baggage/tree limbs hanging over and around it. In doing that I really would not have had the tree’s best interest at heart. We are like the Dogwood trees, I believe. We need to trust in our Protector and rest in the shadow and covering provided. It may not look like what we want it to and it may not even be understood by others (an uninformed visitor once questioned me about why I don’t chop down the ugly tree next to my Dogwood), but it is the only way for us to bloom and thrive.
“The trees of the Lord are well cared for— the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.” Psalm 104:16