In the face of a powerful and unrelenting wind, the willow tree will bend to the force without breaking. And when the gale subsides it will resume its former upright posture towering over trees too weak or too rigid to withstand the blast. No doubt the willow tree has found its way into any number of sermons as an illustration of the nature of a believer standing and against worldly pressure (or some such sin-driven force) without compromising the inviolate truths held dearly by the one who bears Christ’s name.
Such a comparison, however, I think fits only those circumstances in which the forces of evil attack relentlessly and for a limited time only, leaving a believer only slightly – perhaps imperceptibly – scarred. What happens if the pressure to compromise one’s deeply cherished faith has left a permanent mark on the believer? Isn’t this something akin to Paul’s description of the messenger of Satan, the thorn in the flesh which Christ permitted to perpetually torment him in order that the Lord’s magnificent supply of grace might be found more powerful than earthly suffering? Do we have examples in nature depicting this type of spiritual struggle in a concrete – that is, a visible and tangible form?
I recently met a pastor who had endured four years of great suffering for his faith in his former homeland of Cuba. He is very much like a willow tree in the sense in that he does not still bear physical or seemingly emotional scars from his horrific ordeal. His intense, though temporary, suffering developed him into the godly and humble servant he is today, one whose ministry touches thousands every day.
During some recent travels, I saw a tall, sturdy oak in the distance. It looked like any other oak in the area except that it was bent at the top, essentially growing sideways. No doubt this tree had spent several decades upright, rigid, firmly maintaining its lofty stature with a tenacious root system not easily torn from the earth. But at some point in its existence, perhaps a powerful hurricane or some other “act of God” bent the trunk at its most vulnerable spot and everlastingly marred its majestic form. Nevertheless, despite the visible deformation, it stands firm today, it thrives today, and it is perhaps even more resilient to the unstoppable force that shaped its destiny. I wonder if there’s a good sermon application here?