The Lesson of the Oak Tree

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Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from chapter 10 of my book, Worship that Pleases God, the Passion and Reason of True Worship.  I wrote this book in the early 1990s as the end of a 20-year process of a biblical study of worship and then testing that theology as a pastoral worship leader.  As transformational as the lesson of the oak tree was at the time, I have had to return to this mountainside truth several times since then.  I was in my late 30s when I had this experience.  Now in my 70s, I still sometimes struggle with measuring my artistic output against its visible impact in the real world.  For a Christian artist who creates art for public consumption, sales, or the lack of them, can become a handy, but seldom pleasant, measure of one’s impact.  Writers write to be read, so the assessment of one’s audience or lack of it is a natural consideration and not necessarily an ego driven exercise.  Today, when I do the math, counting the unfinished projects still in my mind and in my computer files and then assessing the diminishing number of years that might be allotted to me to finish the work the Lord has laid out for me, the joy I write about here seems illusive.  Still, the “joy of the oak tree” remains my best option, and it still rescues me from worries about tomorrow.

THE LESSON OF THE OAK TREE—THE JOY OF PRODUCTIVITY

My family and I were out on a beautiful North Carolina mountainside one fine fall day.   Magnificent oaks covered the mountain and had produced a bumper crop of acorns.   I couldn’t help filling the pockets of my jacket with acorns, rolling them in each hand as we toured the park.  We decided to hike down a steep grade to some waterfalls.  As we topped the crest of the ridge, I could see the expanse of the mountainside before me, the tall oaks and the ground covered with their acorns.  At that moment, the Lord spoke clearly to my heart.  “Son, do you see how little concern the oak trees have for the acorns they have produced?   I have made them joyful in just producing their fruit.  They leave to higher powers the destiny of what they produce.”  I knew that some of the acorns would feed the squirrels; others would rot underground to feed worms, and a few would end up in my pockets.  But I also knew that each of them had the potential to become a mighty oak.

In that moment God started setting me free to enjoy my work. I was discouraged about my songs.   I felt I was laboring in obscurity, and I always would.  I had confused a profit motive with a ministry motive, judging my success as a musician by the standards of men–publication, recording, recognition.  I had almost stopped writing songs because I could not properly promote what I had already written.  Each new song became a burden added to my back.  But the Word from the Lord changed all that.  I decided to be like the oak tree.  I would take joy in producing songs, arrangements, writing projects and all the other fruit God has anointed me to produce and leave to Him which acorns would become oak trees, if any at all.

That fall day was the beginning of a new phase of productivity for me.  This book is one of the acorns from the tree of my life.  It takes its place among the worship services, the choir and orchestra anthems, and the seasonal productions.  They are all just acorns—mine to produce and enjoy and His to use as He pleases.

Parting Comments: There are two things to consider in this observation of the creative life.  The first of the two is the importance of creating what God gives you as a dream or a vision and seeing it through the creative process until it is finished.  No one else will write my words or my music.  Whatever they might be worth, they are mine, my “alabaster box” of worship and obedience to the Lord.  The second factor is the joy of creation.  The Bible makes it clear that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Even as the years pile up in our lives and as weakness is all too often our companion, joy need not become a rarity.  When I think of those mighty North Carolina oaks, I am sure that many of them are still there, winter in and winter out, spring, summer, and fall, bending to the winds, dancing in the rain, hosting the squirrels, and joyfully casting each year’s crop of acorns to the mountainside below.  They were there decades before our family visited them and were I to go there now, they will still be trembling in the winds of their God-appointed joy.

Semper Reformanda!

Stephen Phifer

© 2023 by Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

The Lesson of the Oak Tree

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