Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
I Peter 4:12-13
I know that Jesus said that we ought to “consider the birds of the air…and the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:26, 28), but lately it’s been the pine trees here in the northern woods of Minnesota that have got me to thinking.
It began one day as we walked under a colorful autumn canopy of maple, oak, and basswood trees in Lake Bemidji State Park, and stopped to read the sign: “Fires of Life”. As we read, we learned that a great pine forest once flourished where we stood. For centuries the jack pine, eastern white pine, and red pine had grown here. But due to modern fire suppression efforts and the resultant lack of fire, the pine forest had died. This was because pine cones can only open and release their seeds when they are exposed to intense heat or fire. Thus the pine forest that once stood here was unable to reproduce. Yet the sign about the “Fires of Life” concluded with hopeful words for the future of the pine tree in that area:
Like many landscapes, Minnesota’s forests and prairies evolved with fire…wherever fires raged, the forest responded to the new opportunities for growth.
It was the last words of the sign that got me to considering the parable of the pine, and how fire might provide new opportunities for growth not only for pine trees, but for us. The idea that fire provides for opportunity seems contrary and counterintuitive to all common sense. How can there be life out of ashes, and opportunity out of charred disappointment! Then I thought of the words of the Apostle Peter in today’s Scripture text and the need for “fiery ordeal” in our lives.
Peter writes not as an armchair theorist about life or fiery ordeals, but as one who has endured many hardships in following the Lord. From a lifetime of experience in walking with Jesus, Peter tells us not to be “surprised” when life seems to fall apart. He says that we must not think that something “strange” or out of the ordinary is happening to us when trials come rushing at us. Even the fiery ordeal is part of our Father’s purpose for our good and glory. It should not be seen as something strange, unexpected, or guilt inducing.
Pine cones will lie on the forest floor for years, closed, unopened, and unable to reproduce life. The resin of the cones seals them shut until a fire sweeps through the forest leaving only ash and char. But the intense heat of the fire melts the resin in the cones, and the cones open and reseed the burnt ground. The fires are, as the sign said, “Fires of Life”. The forest responds to “new opportunities for growth”.
I walked home through the forest that day considering the pine and how my own fiery ordeals had always opened new opportunities for me. I also thought of many others for whom cancer, failed dreams, financial disaster, chronic pain, and failed relationships had opened them up and released something powerful and alive within.
That which we fear and rightfully mourn becomes, in time, a creative force rather than destructive one. In time we feel ourselves becoming new people because of the fiery ordeal that passed by, releasing the power of new life within.
Consider the parable of the pine!
Grace and peace–Tim Smith