I love trees. I especially love them in the fall. There are many mornings I find myself sipping coffee and gazing out the window as the autumn breezes blow the leaves into the air. If I sit long enough, a smile will come to my face along with countless memories from my childhood. I remember that one kid who was always climbed higher than everyone else. Another friend had a tree-house that provided a safe haven from the boys. I loved those times when my friends and I would swing on the branches and share our “deepest” secrets. On weekend overnights with my cousin, I remember playing under the weeping willow and imagining it was our house. But some of the best memories came from the huge tree growing in our front yard. It was a Northern Catalpa. In the spring, its fragrant flowers would litter the driveway and stick to the bottom of our shoes. By summer, long bean shaped pods hung from its branches. I remember my brothers and I jumping up and pulling a few down. We would chase each other around with the hard beans imagining they were weapons for sword fights. As I write, I can still feel the sting after getting whipped by one in the back of the legs. If you’re smiling, I’m sure your childhood stories involve a tree or two.
As an adult, trees now speak to my heart through their grandeur and beauty. I’m struck by how each tree, even those of the same variety, can grow and develop unique features that separate them from the rest. And I know I’m not the only one who loves to watch trees showcase their glory as they transform into various colors! Their vibrancy becomes the annual performance we eagerly await; one last song before being tucked into bed. It reminds me of a scene in my favorite childhood movie – the Sound of Music. I can hear the Von-Trap children singing their last song before being ushered to bed; “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night.”
If we continue this idea of autumn as a performance, it’s safe to say that most of us have failed to recognize all that has gone on behind the scenes in anticipation. The true magic lies in the unseen preparation the trees have gone through in the weeks leading up to what we call “fall.” Those who study trees have identified several internal changes that happen during the preparation phase. One of those changes captured my attention. You see, similar to humans, trees are primarily made up of water. Toward the end of summer, something within each tree is triggered to begin storing sugar. As their sugars increase, their sap thickens and acts as a preservative to prevent freezing and damage in the winter. It’s a similar logic when looking at the use of antifreeze in cars. Thicker sap has a lower freezing point allowing the trees to tolerate lower temperatures. Once ready, they reduce their activity and declutter their branches. When we finally see the leaves change, the trees are communicating to the world that they are ready to put their work aside and “go to bed.”
The more my hands are in the soil, the more I see God’s nature and plans woven throughout the earth. In Romans, Paul references this as well: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” You see, creation carries the fingerprint of God. God designed plants and trees. He designed seasons. They act like the rhythm of a heartbeat. It is a sustainable life that includes patterns of work, play, and rest. But in our western world-view, we easily cling to work and play without understanding the need for rest.
In our fast paced world, busyness is rewarded. It seems like the more congested your life is, the more “important” you appear. It leaves one struggling to take rest or acknowledge the need for it! Let me stop here and remind us that God’s introduction to rest – Sabbath – was not the byproduct of sin; it was a part of His creation! Even when the world was perfect and untainted, He saw the need to stop:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:1-3)
God speaks to the need for Sabbath again when He gives Moses the 10 commandments. In the fourth commandment, He declared that the seventh day be set aside and consecrated (made holy). God even went on to specify ways to prepare for it.
Now before I’m accused extreme religious behavior and encouraging boycotts of stores that are open on Sunday, let’s me take you to the New Testament. Throughout his ministry, Jesus became notorious for teaching the people to look at the heart of the law not just the written code. We need to understand that when Jesus arrived on the scene, the religious leaders had become obsessed with keeping the law. Their focus was behavioral. Since receiving the law through Moses, the religious leaders took it upon themselves to write several additional rules and regulations (the tradition of the elders) to “help God” enforce His commandments. For example, the fourth commandment is “Keep the Sabbath holy.” The regulations they enforced restricted the people on the number of steps they could take on the Sabbath. Thank God they didn’t have fit-bit! The heart of these regulations was shame and condemn the people in order to control them. They tried to hold Jesus to these standards too. Scriptures shares many accounts of Jesus being scrutinizing for ministering on the Sabbath. But Jesus understood the heart of God when it came to Sabbath. In Mark 2:27, Jesus explains: “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath,” [NLT]. Of course Jesus would push against the religious preoccupation with keeping rules! Here He is telling the people, “You have needs! This day was made for you!” Don’t you love how this translation points to the needs of mankind? Just think about this for a moment: Jesus is not only saying it’s normal to have need but it’s necessary to take time to address those needs! Hear the heart of God in that it’s not ungodly to have needs! It’s not lazy to rest. Your spirit, soul, and body need it. And the icing on the cake? You need it often. God knew we needed rest on a constant and repetitive basis. Why? It’s in those moments of rest where our hearts can pause to recognize our need for reconnection with God. Of course Jesus didn’t just say these things. He modeled them too: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer,” (Luke 5:16).
Until recently, I assumed Sabbath simply meant to stop working. It wasn’t until I looked up the Hebrew definition and discovered it also meant to celebrate and enjoy. Dan Allender speaks on this topic in more detail as he describes Sabbath: “It’s not just stopping work… it’s actually attending to things that bring your body, your heart, and your mind goodness, glory, and delight.” Sabbath offers us an understanding of delight that invites us into a beauty. It awakens desire and brings healing. Ultimately, these precious and consecrated moments are a taste of the coming Kingdom of God.
Let me take you back to the trees for a moment. In winter, the trees look barren and dead. But the truth is, they are very much alive. I love how one researcher spoke about dormancy as the ability of trees to rest while remaining ready. Did you hear that? Even though they are not working, they remain ready and waiting. Isn’t that amazing? We don’t need to remind the trees that they will bloom again. Deep within their makeup, they understand that when spring comes, they will grow bigger and stronger than they were before. This isn’t lazy. It’s actively waiting with expectancy and hope.
Seeing Allender’s statements about enjoyment offers a better understanding into why God took Sabbath at the completion of creation. How foolish of us to think that God rested because he was exhausted. He wasn’t tired at all! He was delighted by what He had made and stopped to celebrate it. He enjoy it. He breathed it in and declared, “It is good!”
All of these thoughts have stirred my heart as I look toward winter’s call to Sabbath. The garden has stopped producing. The days are shorter and we spend less time outside. But for our family, I recognize this season offers game nights at the kitchen the table and laughter around the fireplace. I have come to understand that winter doesn’t mean death and loss. It’s the gift of slowing down to reconnect with God. It is the pause necessary to celebrate and enjoy life.
As I end part one, I felt lead to pose a few questions. These questions are meant cause a pause within our hearts. If you can, take a few moments with the Lord and reconnect:
- How is the Father calling you into Sabbath with Him?
- What are their places or activities that allow you to withdraw from the busyness of life?
- What are the desires within your heart that bring joy and delight?