The Scriptures tell us that God reveals Himself in many ways, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Rom. 1:20).
Some years back, my wife and I, along with our two sons, took one of those vacations that provide a lifetime of memories . . . after flying to Denver, we spent three weeks driving all over the western United States. We put enough miles on the rental car that I had to do an oil change before returning the vehicle. The itinerary included Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Colorado River, Pike’s Peak, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and Yosemite. We hiked, climbed, did some whitewater rafting, and filled our photo albums. However, for me, the highlight was our time together in Sequoia National Park. It was here, in the midst of God’s beautiful creation, that I finally understood the power of a seed.
The Sequoia is part of the redwood family and only found in the coastal forests of southwestern Oregon and northern California—growing at elevations above 5,000 feet on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These giants of the forest are the largest living things (by mass) in the entire world—weighing in at an astonishing one to three million pounds when they reach maturity. They thrive in cold snowy winters and can drink thousands of gallons of water every day. Sequoias grow up to 300 feet in height and can be 20-40 feet in diameter. Many would grow taller if not for lightning strikes that strip off their tops. The bark alone is three feet thick!
Imagine for a moment standing at the base of one of these enormous trees and looking upward. The closest thing to it might be trying to see the top of the Statue of Liberty from the ground, which is also around 300 feet tall. It’s almost impossible to take a picture in one frame. I know; I have four rolls of film of bark and tree trunks. There are a few places in the park where you can drive a car through a tree if you so desire. Yes, it’s that amazing.
Sequoias are among the oldest living things in the world with several trees estimated to be approaching 3,500 years in age. My family and I stopped at a ranger station and saw a slice of a downed tree. There were map flag pins stuck on various tree rings with historical dates. I remember seeing the one for the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Then there were tree rings representing the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, Columbus’ arrival to America in 1492, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the first Crusade in 1096, the Council of Ephesus in 431, the destruction of Pompeii in 79, Caesar crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC the death of Alexander the great in 323 BC, the birth of Socrates in 490 BC . . . the events and the dates were mindboggling. I was literally seeing the history of the world being told in the rings of a tree trunk.
Walking away from the ranger station, I convinced myself that I simply had to have a cone from one of those trees. I wanted to put it on my fireplace mantle at home, just to reflect on how amazing God’s creation truly is. I looked everywhere for a Sequoia cone, but couldn’t find any. I figured the other tourists had beaten me to it and already picked the forest floor clean. There had to be a gift shop somewhere that sold them…the price didn’t matter. Then someone showed me what a cone actually looked like. Placing the treasure in my hand, I was stunned to see how tiny in comparison it was—only about three inches in length… fully grown. Sequoia cones don’t even appear until the twelfth year and then take another eight years before they begin to open. Every cone contains about 230+ seeds, each one about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. An adult tree can have as many as 11,000 cones and drop up to 400,000 seeds in a given year. In its lifetime of 3,500 or so years, one Sequoia will drop almost one and a half billion seeds.
All of a sudden the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13 and 17 was beginning to make sense. How much like God—in character and nature—is the mighty Sequoia. Yet, there is more. Sequoias are extremely fire resistant and scientists now know that fire is actually critical to the life of the tree—it facilitates the release of the seeds and helps them germinate. Fire brings life! These massive monuments also have one of the shallowest root systems of any tree known to man. There is no tap root and even though the root system may cover an entire acre, it only penetrates 12-14 feet deep. One must wonder how they manage to stand with nothing to anchor them in the ground. The key is that Sequoias are only found in groves… never alone… only in community. If you had the ability to peer below the surface of the ground, you would see that the roots of all the trees in the grove are intertwined, locked together and holding each other upright to support the incredible weight above.
You may ask: “What lessons can be learned here? What do trees have to do with relationships, the Church or one’s legacy?” The metaphors are numerous.
I see the Body of Christ as the soil God has provided (see Matt. 13:18-23) for every faith community that calls upon the name of the Lord—the seeds are like children, our talents, our time and our treasure—a legacy of God’s faithfulness across generations. As the passage unfolds, we see that those who hear the Word and understand it will bring forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. The fiery trials of life often do come, even in the household of faith, but as God promised Isaiah, “When [not if] you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (43:2). Finally, we are all connected as members of one body—the Body of Christ—intertwined and holding one another up before the throne of grace.
In closing, let me encourage you to take whatever seed God has given you and plant it in faith in whatever ground He has given you. May it yield a billion and a half times in return, for, “If you have faith as a mustard seed . . . nothing shall be impossible to you” (Matt. 17:20).
Eric Scalise, PhD, currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart. He is also the President of LIV Consulting, LLC, the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 42 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, and he served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. He is a published author, adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.