I love trees, but these were more like TREES! This past summer, my family and I took the opportunity to walk among the giant sequoias in King’s Canyon National Park in California. While pondering these phenomenal trees, which are a truly magnificent part of God’s creation, I thought of a number of spiritual lessons.
But first, consider these key facts regarding the sequoias:
• The scientific name for the sequoia is Sequoiadendron giganteum —the giant sequoia—and they are related to the better-known redwoods.
• Sequoias grow naturally only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, most often between elevations of 5,000 and 7,000 feet. They grow up to two feet in height per year until they reach 200 to 300 feet high—then, like people, they grow outward in girth.
• The average base of a sequoia can be as much as 40 feet in diameter—and a few reach more than 100 feet in diameter.
• The thick, spongy bark can be as much as 31 inches thick.
• Its branches can be up to eight feet in diameter (many of these branches being thicker and longer than an average tree) and can have more than 11,000 cones, ideally dispersing more than 300,000 seeds per year.
• The oldest living sequoia is a tree named the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park (adjacent to King’s Canyon). It is more than 275 feet high, has a base diameter of 102 feet, weighs approximately 2.7 million pounds and is estimated to be more than 2,200 years old.
• The giant sequoias are the largest trees measured by total volume (redwoods are taller and the bristlecone pines are older) and are the largest living things on the planet. They can weigh 4,000 tons (eight million pounds) and can have a volume of 30,000 to 50,000 cubic feet (20 Olympic-size swimming pools of water).
Let’s now look at some powerful life-lessons we can learn from the mighty sequoia.
Fire is necessary for the sequoia to reproduce.
While the sequoia is massive when fully grown, the cone it produces is only the size of a chicken egg, with seeds smaller than oat flakes (a lesson in itself—compare Matthew 13:31-32 Matthew 13:31-32 31 Another parable put he forth to them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
American King James Version×). The cone can hang on the tree for years, green and unopened. Even if it falls to the ground it remains unopened until it dries out—and this is where the fire comes in.
When the National Park Service took over the care of King’s Canyon Park in the 1800s, they worked hard to prevent forest fires. It was more than 100 years before they discovered they were actually working against the sequoia, because the sequoia needs fire for the cone to open and the seeds to germinate.
Fire is a purifying process even in forests. What looks like a trial for the sequoia is in reality the process they need for future growth. What about you? What fiery trials have you gone through (or are going through) that God is using for your future growth?
The apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13 1 Peter 4:12-13 12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you:
13 But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy.
American King James Version×).
Fire clears the underbrush so newly germinated seeds can grow.
Since the sequoia can withstand fire that consumes most other trees, it is left standing after the fire is extinguished. As a result, the ground around it is not only cleared for its seeds to germinate, but the ground has also been fertilized with the ashes of those other burned trees and underbrush. The seeds can only grow successfully in full sunlight, free from overshadowing vegetation.
During that fiery process, the sequoia itself is protected. The thick, spongy bark shields it from the tremendous heat of forest fires. In fact, the bark contains tannic acid, a fire retardant used in modern fire extinguishers.
Commonly referred to as the “faith chapter,” Hebrews 11 records the stories of many faithful followers of God. Most of them did not have easy lives and faced various faith-testing situations. They are historical examples of people who, like we must today, stood fast in true faith toward God to extinguish those fiery flames (verse 34)—like the mighty sequoia in the natural realm. Faith carries you through the fires of life and helps you grow.
Sequoias don’t die of old age—they die from falling down.
The sequoia is so resistant to pests and fire that their most common cause of death is simply falling down. For a tree so massive, how can this be? The answer is that the roots of sequoias only go 6 to 20 feet into the ground, and a sufficient windstorm can topple them, particularly if there is a buildup of ice and snow on the branches.
But sequoias don’t typically grow alone. They grow in groves. Even though their roots may only grow 20 feet deep, those roots spread out to cover a wide area—intertwining with other sequoias. Combined together, their roots help them to withstand the winds.
True followers of Jesus Christ need to be well-grounded and rooted deep in God and His Word—and also stand together against the devil and his negative spiritual influence in this world. In advance of Peter’s denial of Him the night He was arrested, Jesus told Peter, “When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32 Luke 22:32But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brothers.
American King James Version×).
We are stronger when we are rooted in the foundation of God the Father and Jesus Christ, standing together with others of like mind.
Sequoias can die from fire—if the fire gets through their protective bark.
The mighty sequoias are unique with their fire-resistant bark, but if there is an opening in the bark or if fire is too close to the roots, then the fire can get inside or underneath the bark. Once fire gets past the bark there is nothing to stop it. The fire won’t consume the tree immediately, as there are still the tannins that resist fire, but the fire will smolder, essentially slow-burning the tree from the inside out.
When explorers first found the sequoia, they couldn’t believe the size of these incredible trees. They found many massive trunks on the ground, and many of these trunks were hollow. They often used those hollow trunks for shelter and storage—some being large enough for men and horses to stand up in! There are still some trees like this on the ground, and if you walk through them you can see evidence of the fire that consumed the inside.
Negative, emotional and evil spiritual fire for a Christian—or anyone—is dangerous if we allow it to take hold. A Bible proverb speaks of this danger: “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27 Proverbs 6:27Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
American King James Version×).
Becoming offended, being offensive or harboring hatred, anger or wrong desire is like a slow-burning fire that can consume us from the inside and cut us off from Jesus Christ and His people.
God has “concealed” many wonderful spiritual truths and lessons in His creation for you to seek and find (see Proverbs 25:2 Proverbs 25:2It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.
American King James Version×). It was truly awe-inspiring to stand in the presence of those giant trees. As we ponder God’s creation, let’s remember the spiritual lessons we can draw from it—including the lessons from the mighty sequoia.