Have you ever wondered why trials seem to come in abundance and with a vengeance in the lives of believers? Although we’d like to think that following Christ means we’ll be protected from earthly harm, it doesn’t take long to realize the fallacy of that belief. We’re then left to face the question, “Why?” If we’ve been covered in Christ’s righteousness and are no longer under the wrath of God, why doesn’t he protect us from the painful effects of sin in this world?
Through the countless storms and trials of my life, I’m gradually growing to understand various facets of why.
Oaks of Righteousness
Near the end of Isaiah, after countless chapters which speak of God’s judgment and wrath in response to Israel’s perpetual disobedience, Isaiah gives the promise of God’s future favor that would come through his Servant (Jesus). Within that prophecy, there’s a beautiful promise –
“To grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”(Isaiah.61:3)
Despite Israel’s disobedience and the immense suffering that came as a result, God was faithful to redeem his children’s suffering for his purposes – to exchange beauty for ashes and to make a rebellious people into oaks of righteousness that would display his glory. And if you know anything about oak trees, this promise offers a beautiful encouragement to us in our own trials.
Strength Through the Storms of Life
A fascinating (and slightly odd) study was done years ago where scientists created the “Biosphere 2”, a replica of earth’s biosphere in a controlled environment. During the process, they began to notice that, although the trees would grow more quickly than normal, they would weaken and fall over before reaching maturity. They learned that the lack of wind and stress on the trees prevented them from deepening their roots and thickening their trunks as they naturally would when faced with the storms and winds of real life.
God’s Word is full of spiritual analogies that are seen within creation. And this one has been a profound encouragement to me in my own trials.
When storms beat against an oak tree, it causes the roots to quickly deepen in search of the excess water underground. Additionally, the trunk grows something called “reaction wood” (or stress wood). “This stress wood usually has a different structure and is able to position the tree where it’d get the best light, or other optimum resources. This is the reason why trees are able to contort towards the best light and still survive.”Overtime, as the tree faces wind and storms, and creates more stress wood in response, it grows thicker, stronger, and more resilient to the storms that will come.
Similarly, God can use the storms of life that threaten to break us to be the tool that strengthens our faith by driving our roots more deeply in search of the life-giving water, and builds our spiritual resilience as the Holy Spirit develops the strength of Christ within and around us. The stress and pressure that we long to be free from is actually what causes us to lean towards the light and truth of Christ, and keeps us rooted more deeply in him, strengthening and equipping us for the storms to come.
Brother or Sister, regardless of whether the storms you are facing are the result of personal sin, the enemy’s relentless arrows, or simply from living in a fallen world – they can be redeemed for God’s purposes just as he promised the Isrealites.
Although we often like to equate God’s goodness with protection from storms coming into our lives, God shows us that his goodness is actually the provision to strengthen and grow us up in him to withstand the storms of life and make us into God-glorifying oaks of righteousness.
Because the truth is, trials and storms are not the greatest threat to believers – comfort is. Although we may feel strong in faith while the skies are blue and life is mostly free from difficulty, in actuality, our roots are most likely shallow and rooted in self-confidence and a false sense of independence. It’s not until the storm clouds roll in, and the winds and rain threaten to break us, that we’re brought to the end of ourselves and driven to a strength and dependence on the One who desires to shape us into oaks of righteousness – strong, rooted in his word, and beautifully displaying the character of Christ.
Scars That Tell a Bigger Story
Even after an oak tree has matured with deep roots and a time-tested strength, it will still feel the strain and stress of the storms to come, and will likely bear scars from the pounding winds and strikes of lightning it’s endured.
Similarly, when trials come into our lives, no matter how strong our faith may be, it’s normal to still feel the pain of each new storm that comes. Just as Christ wept in moments of grief and agony, in our humanity, we will still experience the pain, disappointments, trauma, and scars of living in a fallen world. But as believers, when we see and feel the scars wrought from life’s storms, they are no longer evidence of defeat or pointless pain. Instead, they can point us to and unite us with the One who bought us forgiveness, healing, growth, and strength through his own scars. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and subsequent scars are what enable us to become oaks of righteousness through life’s storms – not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what he has done on our behalf.
Friend, whether you’re in a season of rest, a season of light rain, or being pummeled by a hurricane, if you’re rooted in Christ, you have all you need to stand firm in his strength and be shaped into an oak of righteousness as you trust in him – and it will all be worth it in the end. As James 1:12 encourages us,
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”James 1:12
Sometimes, in God’s kindness, he allows trials to reveal who and what we are rooted in. Because God-glorifying faith is a faith that’s been tested and proven true when it has nothing to fall back on but Jesus himself. And the beauty of being called “oaks of righteousness”, is that despite deserving death, and despite the scars from living in a fallen world, we have the privilege of watching God bring branches full of life, strength, and beauty through the very things that should have destroyed us. And when we do, we ought to do nothing but humbly thank and praise God for the depth of our roots, the strength of our faith, and the fruitfulness of our branches. Because God alone has provided the water for growth, the strength to endure, and the fruit that we bear as a result. We are able to be called oaks of righteousness because we are rooted in the righteousness of Christ – and we have the divine privilege of displaying his glory as a result.
Present Strength with Future Hope
Friend, whatever storm you may find yourself in right now, I hope you will find comfort, encouragement, and hope in this precious promise in Isaiah. Though life may seem filled with ashes, mourning, and a faint heart as it was for the Israelites, take heart. For every moment of a believer’s life is a part of God’s redeeming work – “To grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Is.61:3).
Let these storms drive your faith roots deep into God’s word and a dependence on his strength in your weakness. Lord willing, you will one day look back in amazement at the strength, resilience, and fruit he has born in your life – for your eternal joy and to the glory of God.
Rooted in Him,
You can now purchase Sarah’s new book – Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life, an evangelistic resource on pain and suffering for both believers and non-believers.
To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can also purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here, or Jeff and Sarah Walton’s marriage book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts.