Be Like A Tree And Let The Dead Leaves Drop
So, as most of my church knows – as well as my neighbors – I have a giant sycamore tree in my front yard that I planted about twenty-four years ago. When I planted the tree it was about five feet tall; now it stretches a good sixty-plus feet into the air. The reason this tree would be known to both the church and my neighbors is because over the years this beautiful shade-producing tree has become a much talked about albatross around my neck.
Why? Because the sycamore sprouts giant leaves – millions of them – and they all fall off in the autumn. I look at it as a reminder to me and my neighbors of the picturesque and cool-air briskness of a northern autumn – a lovely season of change and color. And of course, autumn is not only a precursor to the dreaded northern winter, but a cue to we former northerners that the inconvenience of winter is something that none of us have to endure any longer.
My neighbors don’t see it that way: All they see are these giant leaves that blow out of my yard and into theirs. I have noticed that this millstone of a tree has actually turned my Jewish and Catholic neighbors into prayer warriors! They both have told me that during hurricane season they pray that a strong wind will blow the tree over – but not on my house! How kind of them!
Actually, I’m pretty good at raking the leaves as often as I can to minimize the inevitable “blow over” into their yards, and I’m pretty sure they are just kidding me about their disdain for my tree….at least I think they’re kidding me!
This tree is so tall that a good breeze blows many of the leaves off the tree and straight over my roof into our little back yard, so Monday I spent part of the day raking leaves. I really enjoy raking the leaves (I really do! Plenty of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and I always have my music playing!) and this past Monday was no different. After the refreshing chore was over I washed up, went online, and saw that a blogger friend of mine – Marji J. Sherman – had posted online a quote from a 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi – that, having just raked a backyard of leaves, was quite providential to me. Rumi said,
Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.
At first glance I thought I was finally discovering the originator of the classic one liner ‘Act like a tree and leave’ (or as Biff in ‘Back to the Future’ would say, ‘Act like a tree and get out of here’), but I then realized that this quote was intended to be an elementary, yet profound bit of wise counsel. The Lord put into the genetic disposition of every leaf dropping tree the exact moment when each leaf would die and drop off to make way (after the winter of dormancy) for new growth.
And of course, Rumi wasn’t talking botany here….this is a simple but insightful metaphor for each of our lives. It should be ‘natural’ or common sense, to let the ‘dead lives’ – the worthless ‘junk’ of our lives to drop off, but we all know how that is! Most often we don’t use our ‘common sense’ and let those things go; rather, we intelligent bipeds masochistically cling to that ‘ugly stuff’ and it eats us alive.
But for Christians, this metaphor is biblical, thus it is not only true and practical, it should be a natural consequence of a transformed or repurposed life in Christ.
You see, the world without Christ has to take this virtuous advice and try to work it out in their own strength in order to allow the ‘dead leaves’ of their past or present – the hurts, rejections, the ‘mistakes’/sins, destructive habits, faulty teaching, insults, abuse, stinkin’ thinkin’, ad nauseum – to fall away from their minds, and even though some people are able to suppress, repress, deny, or somehow actually come to grips with their past, I believe that it is only through Christ that this ‘stuff’ can be effectively, healthily, and perfectly resolved, dealt with, and learned from.
So where does God’s Word speak about ‘being like a tree and letting the dead leaves drop’? I’m glad I asked. Here you go:
1 Corinthians 5:17-18a – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God…”.
When one comes to faith in Christ, the old – our past, our sinful nature, our sins, our guilt, etc. – are put to death and we are given a new heart – Christ’s life – and we are born again – born of the Spirit. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” – John 3:6
Galatians 2:19-20 – “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Our old self – our sinful nature – has been crucified with Christ – put to death – buried with Christ – and we’ve been risen with a new life – a new spirit – Christ’s Spirit. The old truly has passed away, and we have truly become new. Speaking of the crucifixion of our old sinful nature –
Romans 6:6-7 – For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
So, since our old life – our sins and everything that goes with it – has been crucified – then what are the ‘dead leaves’ that we are supposed to drop?
Well, first we have to realize that even though our sinful nature – our spiritually dead spirit that ruled us (itself being ruled by the devil and the world – see Ephesians 2:1-3) – has been crucified and is no longer controlling us, we still have our mind/flesh (thoughts, will, emotions) that have been tainted by the sinful nature, and although powerless in it’s constant attempts to rule us (Romans 6:1-14) the flesh still tries to influence, remind, pout/cry, and talk us into living as we ‘used to live’, but no longer need to. We’ve been set free from the control of sin. We read in Romans 6:18 that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” And it was Jesus our Lord and Savior who said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We’re not so foolish to think that the past won’t try to rear its ugly head; I’m not proposing that a repurposed life in Christ won’t ever think about the past – and we certainly aren’t to swallow our past and live our lives with giant plastic smiles on our faces, all the while denying our hidden or buried pain.
It’s just that when Christ spiritually transforms us, He truly does take all of that pain, sin, guilt, etc. and nails it to the cross with Himself. We were bought with a price – the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19), we are not our own, but rather we belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19). That ‘junk’ is still there traveling through the neurons of our cerebral cortex as memories, but they no longer hold their bitter and condemning bite or control over us. They’ve lost their poison, their power, and their critical and judgmental assaults to our souls.
So, we are told in Romans 8:12-13 to ‘put the flesh to death’, meaning – consciously remind ourselves who we are in Christ and that the cravings of the flesh – although they are real ‘cravings’ – they are not more powerful than the Spirit of Christ within us. We are told to renew our mind with God’s Word and Spirit (Romans 12:1-12) and teach/retrain that crybaby flesh what it means to walk in the Spirit. Again, as we read in Romans 8:12-13 –
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.”
And Paul says a similar thing in Colossians 3:5-10, when he tells the church there to put to death – “drop the dead leaves’ – all that junk that used to rule us. We have to deliberately ‘drop’ what Christ has already crucified. Here we read:
Put to death (drop from our limbs), therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Three quick biblical examples of “dropping the dead leaves of our former life” and then I’ll be finished:
Mark 10:50 – Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. Jesus healed Bartimaeus of his blindness and he symbolically throws off of himself – drops the dead leaves – his beggar’s cloak. The old is gone – the new has come.
John 11:43-44 – “When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ Lazarus no longer needed to wear the grave clothes of death because he was now alive. This verse opens up a whole other message, that I won’t expound upon here, by reminding us that ‘others’ are to help/assist in taking off the grave clothes – encouraging us to drop those dead leaves of the past.
And finally, John 4:28-29, where Jesus speaks and redeems the Samaritan woman at the well: “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’” The transformed woman would never have to go to her own well of her mind/heart or to the well of the world to find spiritual refreshment. She found true refreshment – repurpose – in the Living Water of Jesus Christ, so she leaves her old jar (drops the dead leaves) behind.
So, as believers we are to let those dead leaves of our life drop off our limbs so they will not hinder the new growth of Christ’s life that He desires to spring forth from our transformed lives. And the good news is that we don’t have to rake up the dead leaves of our past, present or future, even though they originally came from our ‘tree’. The Lord sweeps them up and casts them away from us (or as we used to do years ago up north – burned them up!). The Lord has already crucified them in Christ, we just have to let them go and the Holy Spirit will blow them as far as the east is from the west.