In the mornings I can often be found on one of the trails in our nearby national forest. I like combining my exercise and quiet time by praying while I run (or bike). And the Geita Forest Reserve is just the place to do that. There aren’t many people around, and little more can be heard than the sounds which nature provides — the singing of birds and the rustling of leaves in the wind. I frequently spot monkeys and baboons, and even the occasional gazelle. But it’s the trees I enjoy the most. The trees are amazing. I have to cover a lot of ground before I can run under a beautiful, green canopy of trees; but it’s well worth my time and energy.
The portion of the national forest closest to Geita has been destroyed in order to provide firewood and charcoal for nearby citizens. I’m not one to value nature over human life, and I don’t know if there exists some better solution for cooking fuel — so I’m not placing judgment. It’s a tough thing when nature and humanity stand at odds with one another. Many westerners complain that “dumb Africans” don’t know any better than to drink water that’s not been purified. But those same westerners complain when those same “dumb Africans” cut down the surrounding trees in order to boil their water. I don’t think there’s an easy answer — and name-calling certainly doesn’t help.
But I digress. While I’m not placing judgment one way or the other (instead I’m thinking through possible solutions to said problems), I do enjoy a great deal running under the big, beautiful trees that stand deep in our forest reserve. Trees that have been around much longer than any of us living in Geita. Trees that once were food for giraffes and shade for lions — animals both long gone from this forest. Trees that have withstood the winds and storms of more than a hundred Tanzanian rainy seasons. Trees that are a testament both to God’s power and to his love of beauty.
Isaiah (and later Jesus) speaks of an anointing the Lord has placed on him — an anointing to preach good news to the poor and to proclaim freedom for the captives. Those who mourn will be comforted. And they will be crowned with beauty instead of ashes, and the oil of gladness instead of mourning. They will be clothed with garments of praise instead of spirits of despair. And in Isaiah 61:3, we learn this about those who will be comforted by God:
“They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
A few thoughts:
- The captives will be set free and the mourners comforted; and that’s great news to them. But ultimately this is for the display of God’s splendor, and not for their own good pleasure.
- Any joy, beauty, and gladness in my life was planted there by my God.
- Any joy, beauty, and gladness in my life is a testimony to others of my God’s glory.
- Missions and evangelism are most effective when others see the freedom and joy I’ve been given by God.
- I believe this is indeed God’s plan for mission: For those of us who have experienced changed lives to stand together as a magnificent forest, a tall and mighty witness of God’s power and love for humanity.
- I will go so far as to say that any system, program, or methodology designed for mission — which is not dependent on changed lives and observable righteousness, freedom, and joy — is not a strategy in keeping with God’s plans.
Father God, make us oaks of righteousness. Show your splendor and glory to the world through our lives. Set us free from that which holds us captive. Comfort us when we mourn. Plant in us joy, gladness, and beauty. May you be praised in our lives, and also in the lives of those who look upon us. Amen.