Sometimes life looks like a stump. Sometimes death seems so dominant, the brown looks so barren, the wood looks so withered that it seems like life in no way can sprout.
And every single one of us has situations or circumstances in our lives that cause us to look like stumps. Those circumstances can be anything from a barren marriage, to a barren womb, to a barren friendship, to barren finances, to a withered wallet. Those situations can be sickness, surgery, depression, or a diagnosis of cancer. But whatever the stump is, it is in area where we say, “Here, way down deep in this part of my heart, my family, my sickness, my past, my present, or my future, there is no possible way life can ever sprout.”
But here’s the thing: stumps are God’s specialty. In God’s economy, stumps are only platforms for real life to sprout. Whenever something looks barren in the physical realm, you can be sure that God is doing work underneath the surface to give life in the spiritual realm.
Several months ago, we drove out to my in-laws’ ranch with some family friends. We had a full day of eating great meals, riding horses, looking at cows, going off of rope swings, and doing all sorts of things you can’t do in the city.
The whole day was full of great memories, but the best memory for me came in the moment I walked by the stump.
I’ve walked by this one particular stump for years. And it’s been exactly that. A brown, dead, dry stump. But it was the strangest thing – this stump had shoots of green, thin branches, and even green leaves sticking out from it. It was so unusual I stopped to take a picture of it.
And I’ve thought about that stump often over the past few months in light of circumstances in my life and in the lives of those I love around me.
Because it looked like the stump I’ve always imagined shooting straight out of Isaiah 11 – “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
Jesus was the shoot that came straight from that stump. And His specialty is in the stump business. He brings beauty from ashes. Life from death. Resurrection from crucifixion. Healing from sickness. Redemption from failures. And healing from scars. Sometimes His answer comes in the form of a stump. And looks like a stump. But when Jesus makes His home in someone’s heart, the only option is for life to prevail.
While we are here on this earth, we often don’t get to choose what our circumstances look like on the outside. We don’t get to choose whether or not our sickness is healed, or our spouse remains faithful, or our children are always safe, happy, and secure.
But while we don’t get to choose our circumstances, what we do get to choose is the climate of our hearts. We can choose whether or not we will have hope in a God who promises us that He cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We can choose that we will trust even though God doesn’t always heal our circumstances, He always heals our hearts through great, deep, wide, long, and high love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17-19). We can choose to believe along with the long line of prophets and saints who have gone before us that “though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet we will exult in the Lord and in the God of our salvation.” We can choose to trust that “He has made our feet like hinds’ feet and He makes us walk on our high places,” even if those places greatly resemble barren stumps (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Sometimes when our circumstances don’t change and our spouse doesn’t listen, or our boss doesn’t listen, or our diagnosis doesn’t listen, it’s tempting to think that our God hasn’t listened. When God doesn’t choose to heal our circumstances, it comes dangerously close to looking like the stump has prevailed. It’s easy to think, “Really, God? What’s the good in this? Where’s the life in the stump?”
But that’s when we have to force ourselves to sit down, open the pages of our Bibles, and remember that we will not be wrestling with stumps forever. One day, we will be fully…alive. And what seemed to us to be such sorrow on this earth will be turned to stunning glory. And the green leaves we see beginning to unfurl out of our hearts and sometimes circumstances here on earth will one day be fruit, ripened to its full and greatest potential.
Stumps stink. But every stump here on this earth in the body of a believer in Christ is simply a holding place for life. And one day, one day, those shoots will burst forth and the stump will be remembered…no more.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18
(For more on the wait for healing and learning to choose hope in the midst of barren circumstances, look for the bible study Waiting on the Lord which will be released this fall!)