2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Gaining perspective can often be the key to the situations we find ourselves in in life. So many times we find ourselves dwelling on the insignificant things in this life giving over our attention and focus to the unimportant. All of this giving of our attention to the mundane is not so much a giving away but a taking away from what really matters.
In Sequoya National Park there are literally millions of trees, the hills are covered in blue oak and pine but that’s not what draws the thousands of visitors every year. It’s the giant Sequoias that people come to see, trees that tower over everything in the forest, the biggest trees in the world. Walking in the land of these giants you are surrounded by ordinary trees, they’re everywhere, but scattered throughout are the giant sequoias that captivate your attention. There in the silence of the forest you marvel at the majestic greatness of these trees, you reflect not only on their size, but their beauty, they are truly special. These amazing trees grow in groves scattered throughout the park but at a higher elevation than one might think, they like to grow between 5000 to 7000 feet. In order to see these giants you have to wind your way up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range through a narrow and steep road. Higher and higher you go, snaking your way up the mountain pass around corner after corner until suddenly, almost abruptly, there they are. It’s almost an unreal moment, like time is frozen and you step back into the past. There is a prehistoric feel to that moment as you reach out and touch these ancient trees that live to be 3200 years old.
As I walked by these silent trees, guardians of the ancient forest, I stood dwarfed in the shadow of their grandeur and the sheer size of these immense giants put everything into perspective. Staring at the largest sequoia tree in the park, (estimated to be 2200 years old, standing 275 feet tall, weighing over 1400 tons, and with a circumference of 103 feet) it caused me to reflect on what is really important and where I placing my focus. What if I had come to the park and spent my time on the lower slopes focusing on the abundant blue oaks or common pines covering the hill side, filling up my vision with the ordinary and the everyday common things? What if I had been content to leave my visit to the park at that, and then go home, you would have told me I was a fool for wasting my time on the insignificant. You would have told me to make the time and effort to go up the mountain to focus on the truly spectacular. So many times we are consumed with the insignificant things in this life, willingly trapped on the lower slopes of life unable or unwilling to journey up the mountain and experience the extraordinary, the really significant things in this life.
Because these trees live so long it is inevitable that they will not only see natural disasters but lots of them in their life span. Throughout the park you will see many of these giant trees that bear the scars of fire around their trunks. Their bases are blackened by the intense heat that has killed many of the ordinary trees around them and even though the sequoias are scarred, they are very much alive and well because of their incredibly thick protective bark which can be 30 inches thick.
If you live long enough, disasters will strike, trials will come and unlike the trees who don’t try to prevent the fire but to resist it, we often spend much of our lives trying to avoid the trials. We are not ok with being uncomfortable, too much heat and we run, but these trees can’t move and they don’t need to, they are growing where God planted them, in the right soil, at the right elevation, on the right slopes. We will have times of trial, Ephesians 6:13 (“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”) tells us that we are to resist the devil, who comes with fiery darts, not avoid. Like the giant trees, our goal is simply to stand, to resist going down in the fire, they do this using their protective outer bark, what do we have? Our protective outer covering is the shield of faith and as I touched the outer covering of these amazing trees and pondered their incredibly thick bark I had to ask myself how thick is my faith? Is it thick enough to resist the heat?
Most of us have a negative view of fire and trials but for the giant sequoias it is the heat of the fire that causes the seeds to be released. Green cones can hang on the trees closed for 20 years but as the fire comes it dries out the cones causing them to open and release their seeds. After a fire is the prime time for seeds to sprout and new trees to grown. The fire has burned the timber of other trees to ash which acts as fertilizer for the soil and it has also created a hole in the forest providing both space and needed sunlight for the new seedlings to grow.
What does the fire of trials do for us? James says it matures us. Sometimes it burns away things around us which lets in the light and gives us a chance to grow. Other times it’s out of the rich ash that we find what we need to grow.
What amazed me the most about these trees was not their incredible size but the size of their pine cones and specifically the size of their seeds. The pine cones are small, the size of a chickens egg, while many other pines that are significantly smaller in stature have much bigger pine cones. The seeds are no bigger than an oat flake, yet from these small seeds comes something great. It’s not so important how we start out but what direction we grow, these giants reach out for the light growing ever higher. What direction am I growing in? What am I reaching for? This truly is a magical place where the giants around me have helped me to regain perspective on what ultimately is important in my life.