There are so many days when I feel I’m just too old or too broken to be used by God. These feelings really crop up when the pain and fatigue that are my constant companions are worse than usual. It’s during these times that I pray, “Lord, make me like the olive tree.” That may seem to be a strange thing to pray, but when you take a look at olive trees, it may not be as odd as you think.
What’s So Special About Olive Trees?
Olive trees are fascinating. They’re not usually what you’d think of when you talk about a pretty tree, but they change and continue to bear fruit throughout their lives. If you look at them, you’ll see unique patterns, knots and twists in their trunks. The older they get, the more pronounced these can become. They may not be classically ‘pretty’ but they certainly are interesting-looking.
Their looks aren’t the most interesting thing about them though. What’s really interesting is how their life cycles can parallel a flourishing Christian life.
Olive trees are evergreen.
This means that their foliage stays green and functional through more than one season. They may drop more leaves at certain points during different seasons, but they don’t lose their leaves completely.
As Christians, there may be times we feel we’re not as close to the Lord as we want to be, or we go through seasons where our health doesn’t allow us to serve in the same way we have in the past.
These times can actually serve as periods of great growth. One of my favorite Bible teachers, Dr. Charles Stanley, often says, “We learn more in the valleys than we do on the mountain top.”
Not only do they keep their leaves, they continue to be fruitful.
They continue to produce fruit throughout their lives.
As they age, olive trees’ trunks begin to hollow out, but they continue to grow, and even more importantly, they continue to produce fruit.
I love the picture that paints for us. As we grow older, we can sometimes feel we’re ‘hollowed out’ and start to question our usefulness. So many times, I’ve seen people fall prey to the thought that once they reach a certain age, they’re not as valuable as they used to be. The fact is, though, that as we grow and experience life, we also gain wisdom and have a lot to share with others.
And olive trees leave a legacy.
If the tree is cut down, shoots from its roots continue to grow.
Even if you cut down an olive tree, it will ensure it continues to exist by sending up shoots from its roots.
The same can be true for us. We can build a legacy of faith and obedience for those who come behind us.
Olive Trees and the Flourishing Christian Life
Olive trees are extremely useful. As you probably know, olive oil was used for many different things in biblical times: as anointing oil, fuel to keep lamps burning, and part of many offerings presented to the Lord, just to name a few. Olive wood is extremely hard, and if you’ve ever seen it, you know what beautiful grain it has.
The thing about olive trees, though, is that they have to be cultivated. If wild olive trees are left to their own devices, their fruit is small and useless. They have to be grafted onto a cultivated tree in order to produce good fruit.
The same goes for us. We’re “grafted in” to the family of God when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. But we don’t want to just stop at that; we want to serve God throughout our lives. That means we may need to change with the ‘seasons’ of our lives and find new ways to produce fruit.
My prayer is, “Lord, make me like the olive tree.” I want to be able to say,
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.Psalm 52:8 (ESV)
Have you ever felt God couldn’t use you because of….. (your past, your health, your age….the list could go on and on…)? Please believe me when I say that He can use any of us. He can make us like those fruitful olive trees that continue to live on through sending out shoots. All we have to do is make ourselves available to Him.