I grew up on the farm that my great-grandfather farmed. The white barn on the property is over hundred years old and is still a working barn. I remember as a boy walking into the tack room and seeing pictures of his teams of draft horses placed among the actual yokes and harnesses that those horses were hitched up to plow and pull the farm equipment to take care of his 80-acre farm. As you would look over the land, which is now grassy pasture instead of rows of crops, you will notice these long rows of small hills. These hills are called terraces. My great-grandfather actually created them. Over time, farmers became more and more innovative in their farming and creating these terraces helps keep all the precious topsoil in place. Farmers in the Midwest learned this the hard way. In the 1930’s, something called the Dust Bowl swept through the Dakotas, Nebraska and even all the way into parts of Texas. As farmers had machines that allowed them to farm larger and larger tracts of land, they began clearing out trees to make larger and larger fields. It seemed pretty ideal, large flat fields with no trees to get in the way. However, what happened is that it didn’t rain. For a long time. That is called a drought. So you have large flat, treeless fields, in hot, dry conditions. When you add wind that mix, you can start to imagine what happened, but imagine it happening over entire states and regions. These winds would pick up huge amounts of dirt and blow unobstructed through farms and towns. My great-grandfather would tell of stories of seeing these big, gray billows that you could hear the roaring get louder and louder and this massive wall of dirt would come crashing through the farm covering everything with layers of dirt and dust. The dust would find any cracks in the windows or house and your house would be filthy in an instant. Any crops that survived the dust storm would usually get devoured by the grasshoppers. These grasshoppers would travel in huge swarms looking for food. Again my great grandfather recalled hearing them like a giant helicopter coming closer and closer. They would frantically run to get a fire to light firewalls to try to keep them away otherwise they would eat everything. Clothes left out on the clothesline, leather harnesses, leaves, crops, anything they could sink their teeth into. I heard stories of how grasshoppers would even eat the shirts off the backs of farmers who tried to stay outside to fight them off. You see some of these horrible problems could have been avoided if the farmers would have done a couple simple things. First, if they would have terraces to help keep the soil in place better and secondly if they would have left some trees up to help block the wind.
Now when you drive by farms, more than likely you will see terraces and rows of trees in strategic locations. Some of those trees planted after the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s are still around today. These trees, usually oak trees, are massive. Their trunks are thick and strong. Their roots run deep. The tree reaches high in the sky and its branches make a huge canopy, bringing shade to all who pass under it.
In Psalm 1, King David has been telling us how we are to live a blessed life. He first told us to watch the direction of our lives and to be so careful. Every decision you make, both big and small, set the direction of your life. If you follow the selfish desires of your heart, things go from bad to worse. Instead, the thing that should bring you the most joy, the most delight, is God’s Word. You should love it so much that you should want to not stop thinking about it, to meditate on it. All day and night. Now David tells us to be like something sort of unusual. He says, be like a tree.
Psalm 1 describes this massive, healthy, vibrant tree. All those that have gone through a plant biology class will know that trees, like all plants, need rich soil for their roots to draw up food, plenty of water to stay healthy, and lots of sunlight to get its energy. The tree is Psalm 1 is planted by rivers of water. It has a fountain of a never-ending supply of nourishment.
The picture of a tree is an analogy. An analogy is comparing two things. In this case, how a blessed man is like this tree. So, let’s think about this analogy. What are the soil and water? This should be obvious. It is the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, gives us energy and life, just like rich dark dirt and fresh water brings life to a tree. We should be feasting on it. Things that are full of truth, beauty and goodness, give life to our mind, body, and soul. Our roots grow deeper and deeper.
We become unmovable.
Even when stormy winds blow, we are not moved. When the foolish and wicked tempt us to follow them, our roots hold firm and we say no. Just like a massive tree brings forth fruit and shade for others to enjoy, as we grow in our blessings, we bless others in how we live our lives. We love our neighbor. It can be something as simple as holding a door for an adult, looking them in the eyes, smiling and saying hello. It can be rushing to help someone in need. Praying for others. A blessed person is a happy person and one who wants to spread that joy to others.
Again, how do you become like the tree that is planted by rivers of water? Delight in God’s Word. What does a tree planted by rivers of water look like? One who obeys. Right away. With a happy heart. One who fears God, and keeps his commands. One who honors others, above yourself. That is how a person looks like a healthy tree. This isn’t just for kids. No, it’s for parents, teachers, and principals. We are also called to be like trees planted by rivers. How should it look like in our lives? For starters, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. This isn’t a good idea or principle, this is a command. Not doing it is disobeying. If God forgave much for us, then how can we not but forgive others much? Kindness, love, forgiveness, obedience is all the rich soil that make our roots run deep. This is the season of thanksgiving. If we are Christians, running to God’s word and being obedient to the Bible is an obvious response to thankfulness for the amazing things He has done. To not do this, just like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, is to invite drought of the soul and the winds of life will follow and eventually your heart and mind will be overtaken with a massive cloud of dust and dirt that will contaminate everything. So let us now give thanks to God for giving us the perfect gift of His son and giving us His word so that we can know how to live a blessed, flourishing life and be like a massive 100-year-old oak tree that reaches it branches to sky inviting the sun in.