A few weeks ago, before the rain started, when the snow was deep and crisp and even...I decided to head outside for a walk and drag the big rolling trash can back from the end of the long driveway by hand. The trash can sits just at the corner where I first looked closely at the January trees, so I thought I'd go back and stand right in the same spot and look at them again before they begin to put on their emerald garments for the new season. While I was looking up at them, I was thinking that for five years I have been trying to learn how to identify trees by looking at their leaves with very little success, and now, in the leafless Wintertime I have discovered there are a lot of distinct features of each type of tree that have nothing to do with the leaves. This has been helpful to me in finally making some small headway in really being able to see the trees and recognize them. In particular, I have become an expert at spotting the wild elm trees that all died during one season three or four years ago. The reason I am interested in these is that they are standing, dry, easy to harvest, ready-to-burn firewood for our fireplace. These trees have become important to me in a way that no other trees have been important. I can now spot these medium-sized trees everywhere and am amazed that we weren't all full of grief at their demise, which at the time we barely noticed.
All Winter as I have taken walks, I have been looking at the same stretch of woods along the same driveway taking notice of the same dead firewood trees, which we have slowly been harvesting for firewood. On this day, I was wondering if I could also tell what the other trees were, by this time sure I had found all the firewood trees in the woods along that well-walked driveway. I decided to really look at all the oaks along there to try to see what is oakish about an oak. And halfway back, I looked up at the branches way up at the tips and stopped stunned. Right in the middle of the silhouette of branches against the sky - way up high, not too far into the woods, I saw the tell tale signs of an old dead tree. Small finger branches missing, just the medium and larger branches pointing up like spears to the sky. It was a dead oak, a big dead oak, and it had been dead for several years. Looking lower, some bark was peeling off - but it stood strong and tall and I didn't see any rot. A perfect firewood tree of the best type of hard wood, and most likely already seasoned and ready to burn! I had walked that walk dozens of times, looking for firewood, praying for firewood, being thankful for firewood and had totally, completely missed this huge tree.
I had not lifted my eyes high enough to see it.
Ever since, I've been thinking.
This hundred-year-old tree has been a happy surprise providing enough good hardwood to stretch this season and start next year's wood pile. It is an encouragement to me of the Lord as Provider–that He can be trusted to know of our needs and provide for them at just the right time and to reveal it to us when we will be most blessed by it. I'm reminded that He is my Abba Father and I am his child and I can rest in Him. I'm reminded that I'm more precious than a sparrow and the lilies of the field and I do not need to be anxious about my needs. I think of Peter and the temple tax and Jesus directing him to go and take the first fish out of the sea and take the coin out of the fish's mouth for the payment of the tax. This is not some slight-of-hand magic trick like an old uncle pulling a coin out from behind an ear. The fish had a real life, which included the mysterious acquisition of a coin, which in turn, eventually, in God's perfect timing, became the provision for Peter and Jesus. Likewise our old tree had a life of its own, day after day for a hundred years, serving many purposes before finally providing wood for us. God's designs are intricate and are fulfilled in the fullness of time, His sovereignty infinite and perfect.
Before we call, He is answering. He is answering before I have eyes to see it.
I'm reminded that my prayers are often small and hesitating, and even then I look for small answers. But with a new appreciation for big trees hiding in plain sight, and with encouragement from Andrée Seu, I am now feeling urges to make outlandish requests.
O Lord, give me new eyes to see!
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. ~Isaiah 65:24
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." ~ John 14:12-13
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." ~ Matthew 10:29-31
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” ~Matthew 17:24-27
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."~Matthew 6:25-33
*It's possible that I got the idea about the coin in the fish's mouth not being a slight-of-hand trick from a John Piper sermon...I have just the vaguest memory of him describing the life of that fish...