For a good many years, my life revolved around plants. I grew up with a fondness and deep fascination for using plants to make well-planned and kept gardens. Back in the days before the internet, there used to be these things called ‘magazines’ and I didn’t know of any other kid my age who relished reading through garden-design magazines. I dreamt of the day when I would have my own home to build my own garden. As time went on I began a full-time job in a nursery where I sold plants and garden supplies. It was during this time that I first encountered bonzai plants. Bonzai gardening is one of the most fascinating horticultural art-forms I can think of. It was a technique developed by Japanese gardeners who experimented with how to reduce an ordinarily very large tree to be a full-sized extremely small tree. Thinking about bonzai trees it is striking to me just how many parallels there are for our spiritual development.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. First Corinthians 3:6-7
TALL TREES BECOME SMALL TREES
Bonzai trees are amazing. The Japanese discovered that they could trick a big tree into thinking it was always meant to be a very, very, small tree. They would take a cutting of a maple or oak tree and coax it to form its own roots and then plant it into a very shallow glazed earthenware pot. Each time it developed a shoot they would prune it back appropriately. Once the root system was developed, they would upheave it out of the pot and trim its roots back before repotting it back into its shallow pot. They would then repeat this process over and over and over until the miniature tree resembled its fully mature huge relative — except in miniature form. At some point the bonzai tree becomes convinced that it was always meant to be a miniature tree. Again, I think there is a spiritual parallel to draw from this process of bonzai tree making.
They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green Psalm 92:13-14
OUR SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IS LIKENED TO A GROWING TREE
Consider how the bonzai gardener tends their bonzai trees. They must continually keep cutting it down to size and uproot it repeatedly to cut its roots back. I wonder whether this hurts the little tree to be continually uprooted and cut? I know it hurts a person when it happens to them. I also know that the result to both a little tree and a person is the same. Both are stunted in their growth to some degree. While I marvel at the artistry of the bonzai gardener, I can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for the bonzai tree. (I also feel sorry for those people who get treated—or worse still, treat themselves—like a bonzai tree.)
¶ 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
The Scriptures describe God as a Gardener who plants people (note Jer. 11:17). The Psalmist describes the blessed person being like a tree planted by streams of water that grows and bears bountiful fruit (Psalm 1:3). But the Scriptures also indicate that we are gardeners of our own soul. And while it is not a horticultural metaphor, the same point is made by the apostle Peter when he wrote that every new Christian should desire to nurture their soul just like a newborn baby who desires to drink milk in order to grow, but as a Christian, Peter says, there should be a desire for spiritual milk in order to grow into their salvation (1Pet. 2:2).
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. First Peter 2:2-3
Sometime later, the apostle Peter wrote what would be his last epistle. This time, in the very last verse of his last epistle he doesn’t just exhort new Christians to actively take steps to grow in Christ, he now exhorts all believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of the LordJesusChrist so that God is glorified.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. Second Peter 3:18
It is God’s will for each of His children to grow tall, strong, and mature. That is, it is God’s will for you to grow into the man or woman of God He has always designed for you to become. This can only happen if you are spiritually planted, spiritually well-watered, and able to spiritually grow without allowing hurt to hold you back. Or, another way of putting it is, God hasn’t called you to be a bonzai Christian!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section below and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.