I stood before a tall magnificent pine tree. Its trunk was huge and its branches were very wide. The tree was very old and the markings of its history were deeply embedded in its trunk. The magnificence of it made me feel insignificant. I could hardly see the branches toward the top, because just below them there were masses of strange leaves which, seemingly, were a part of the old tree. These leaves obstructed my view of the top of the tree. It was hard to distinguish that these leaves were different from the pine branches themselves. The odd leaves seemed to dominate the tree and were like none other I had seen before. Then I realized that they weren’t pine needles at all. As my eye followed these leaves down the side of the trunk, I realized they were actually part of a vine, deeply entrenched in the trunk of the old tree itself. At the bottom of the trunk was a beautiful ivy plant, growing very inconspicuously beside the tree with normal looking ivy leaves. Then I noticed that where this ivy began to grow up the tree, it was much older than it appeared and had been around a much longer time that I had originally thought. The ivy vine had slowly and deliberately entrenched itself onto the old tree trunk, until midway up the tree it actually looked like the tree itself. The further up the tree it grew, the more a part of the tree it became until midway up the tree the ivy and the tree seemed to become one. At midpoint, the leaves took on a very strange appearance. They weren’t like pine needles, and they definitely weren’t like ivy leaves, either. They were sort of distorted images of a different tree altogether yet very much a part of the original tree.
As I looked at the tree, Jesus began to speak to my spirit and revealed to me that the tree represented my life. Tears filled my eyes as He said that at one time I was like this beautiful and flourishing tree. I was excited about Him and walking with Him and happily sharing His life with others. He was my companion. I was growing straight and tall with my branches reaching up to heaven and out to those around me. Then one day I began to entertain a stranger called religion who was very subtly growing along side of me. Very beautiful and appealing this stranger was. “Just compromise a little bit,” he said. “You need to follow the men I have put into your life who are ‘called of God’. You need to be obedient to what they tell you and begin to follow the rules. How can you hear God’s voice unless those who are more mature validate that it is truly God speaking? Let me show you new things,” he said.
At first I was kind of confused, because I loved my relationship with Jesus, and it seem as if this stranger was someone who would take my eyes from my Lord. But I was getting very tired, and there were just so many storms beating on my trunk and this beautiful stranger of compromise looked so appealing and protecting within the confines of the church walls. I could just entertain him a little bit I thought, and my vain imaginings allowed the possibility of permitting this companion to walk along side of me, to just help me through all of these awful storms. So, I went to work and began doing just so many good things for the Master.
In the beginning this beautiful ivy of mine was such a joy and brought me such a feeling of doing well. And all the validation of people made me feel important. The more I worked the more I pretended that Jesus must think me even more faithful. I envisioned myself gaining a higher place with Him because I was such a faithful daughter. And being so busy was such a diversion away from all the continual hardships coming against me. But as I continued in my tree business, my companion began to change. I didn’t notice it much at first, because I was changing too. This Ivy called religion talked to me so much that I began to think more like him and react more like he would react, forgetting about what Jesus would do. Jesus was still speaking to me and I did hear Him at times with such a longing for what we once had, but when He told me not to listen to this outside voice, it was easier to pretend I didn’t hear Jesus than to tell my beautiful ivy to leave. I began to feel less convicted, and each day it became a little bit easier to ignore my precious Savior’s voice and to listen to this ivy of religion that was gradually invading my entire life.
After a while, I still looked the same to most people, but there were definitely changes in the way I saw things, the way I thought, and the way I acted. As the ivy became a part of me and choked off the fruit of my branches, its branches became my own. It brought forth ugly distorted leaves of judgment of others, self righteousness, depression, anxiety, sickness, loneliness, self doubt, and unbelief. How deceptive my companion of religion had been. If only I would have listened to my Lord’s voice of warning in the beginning I could have avoided all this heart ache and pain. So, the church elders told me I should work harder; teach another class and join another women’s group. I was taught being within the church walls comes first in our lives. Even my own children lost time with me because of my holy stance of religiosity and works. I was sacrificing for the Lord and He would reward me accordingly. The tree was dying.
I began to feel hopeless and entrapped with this ugly vine choking off my life in Christ. I wasn’t created for this hardship. I wept before the Lord, feeling totally unworthy, because I had worked so hard for Him and now He wasn’t even there for me. The Ivy had obscured Him from me. Now, I wasn’t the same person, or tree, that I had been before. Oh, I still bore fruit in some areas. But it was pitiful, sad, fruit compared to what the Lord used to do through me. Soon there would be no fruit at all.
I knew that if I didn’t rid myself of this ugly ivy on my trunk, it would be so much a part of me that it would eventually choke out my spiritual life completely, and ultimately my physical life, as well. It was no longer a welcome companion, but by now was so rooted in me, that I didn’t know how to get it removed.
I cried to the Lord, but at this point, sorry to say, the vine still held an appeal to me. It seemed so much more comfortable to allow the vine to stay than to let go and trust God for deliverance from whatever was causing so much pain in my life. So, I continued on in my delusion.
The tree began to be totally choked off by the Ivy. Slowly the life I was leading of service no longer felt satisfying. The lies that led me to believe I would achieve greater status with God were empty, pathetic promises, that led my tree to whither and be totally choked off by the deceivers voice. The Ivy had won and all that was left was a stump with Ivy growing over it and the tree was dead. I was now a very religious person much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time on earth.
My life fell apart and I lost it all. But wait! As I sat in the shroud of death, I began to realize I was so steeped in delusion that the tree had to die before my life could be returned. Out of the death of the tree, a tiny seed had begun to spring forth at the base of the trunk.
So, I fell on my face before God and repented of my sin and disobedience, desiring to never turn back to works and judgmentalism again, and asked Him to restore my trunk to its original beautiful state. I asked Him to uproot my distorted branches and rid me of the ugly leaves, and to free me from my Ivy enemy’s hold and let me be pure and holy before Him.
I invited Him to be my constant companion once again, and continuously nurture my trunk, branches, and leaves with His light and truth. I would join back up with Jesus and let Him be my only focus from then on. I had been so busy trying to be holy that now, when I stopped working to be spiritual it was so empty at first. I was forced to press into Jesus for answers. It took strength and perseverance to stay free of the ivy once the Lord uprooted it and cast it away from me, because it kept trying to grow up alongside me again and the need for approval made it tempting. But as that tiny seed took root and began to grow again my eyes began to open to the absolute deception of this thing called religion and all of its rules and regulations. So subtle it was. It all sounded so logical, especially with my need to feel like I was doing something to earn my good standing with Jesus. But this time my eyes remained on the Master, for my sole purpose is to love Him, and as I continued to praise Him, the Author and Finisher of my faith, my enemy the Ivy left my presence.
Jesus began to show me Grace. That there was nothing I could ever do to earn myself into his good standing. He had done it all and if I never worked for Him again He would love me just the same. The freedom was astounding and the adventure of walking with Him outside of the bondage has enabled me to find a reckless love with Him I never knew existed.
So the tree grew from a new seedling into a mighty thing that reached to the heavens once again. Only this time it was a healthy tree with new revelation of who Jesus really is. It grew so large the Ivy was choked off and died from the root and was plucked out of the ground and discarded as the tree looked on. Now, my branches are reaching as tall and as stately as before, but with one difference. Having walked part of my journey with the Ivy, my eyes have been opened to its deceitfulness to choke the Life of Jesus out of our brothers and sisters in Christ. My desire is for all to find Him in true Kingdom Living and join the forest of thriving, healthy trees.