“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1:3
To celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary a number of years ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a bonsai tree as a gift to ourselves and as a symbol of our marriage. Thirty-two years later, I’m happy to report that our marriage is still intact, but the same cannot be said for our bonsai, which suffered from neglect and had an untimely death. Through that experience, we learned the hard way that bonsai trees require a considerable amount of care and expertise in order to thrive.
Bonsai means literally “tray planting” as it is planted in a portable, ceramic container (i.e. “tray”) in order to control its growth. Bonsai care is actually an art form that involves cultivating a miniature tree to mimic the shape and scale of a full sized tree. This process requires pruning and root reduction using special tools under optimal water, nutrient and light conditions. Visiting a quality bonsai exhibition is like attending a famous art display. The artistic effects are stunning and the variety of trees that can be successfully cultivated as bonsai is equally impressive. One of the oldest known living bonsai trees, believed to be over 500 years old, was cared for by the Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu and is now kept as part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace collection. Obviously, this ancient Japanese ruler knew far more about bonsai care than we did!
In the natural world, trees need a steady supply of water and nutrients in order to grow and produce fruit. The same is true for God’s people who are to grow spiritually and in turn, produce spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Quality time in God’s Word, fellowship with other like-minded saints, meaningful worship and an active prayer life are the essential elements to cultivate godliness, much like a tree strategically planted by a flowing stream.
However, bonsai are purposefully removed from their normal environment as they require intentional nurturing under the hands of a skilled gardener. The natural propensities of the bonsai are shaped and redirected by outside forces, while life giving nutrients, water and sunlight are meticulously provided in carefully measured amounts. Under the watchful eye and care of the bonsai master, a common tree can become a unique object of beauty bringing glory to its creator. This is not unlike the analogy in John 15, where Jesus compared us to branches that must abide in Him as the vine, but are meticulously nurtured by God. Ultimately, like a carefully maintained bonsai, we are to submit to the purposes of our Master and in turn, produce fruit to honor Him.