Along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains there is a narrow strip of habitat less than fifteen miles wide where some of the most magnificent trees in the world grow. There, and only there, in the absolute perfect combination of elevation, moisture, and temperature Giant Sequoias flourish. They are some of the largest and oldest living organisms on the planet.
These trees are spectacular for their size. Adorned with a billion leaves, they can soar to more than 300 feet tall, dwarfing everything in the forest below. But their true magnificence is in their girth. Some of the largest measure more than 150 feet around and weigh three million pounds. Just to put that in perspective, that is heavier than three, fully loaded, 747 jumbo jets.
These trees are unmatched for their longevity. The oldest have been growing for more than 3,000 years. Just to put that in perspective, when the stones were being laid for the Great Wall of China, already some of these trees had been standing on those California mountains for seven centuries.
There is a little known condition, however, necessary for these greatest of trees to reach their highest: Giant Sequoias have to live through forest fires. When we first look at them, mostly we are awed by their incredible size and beauty – but if you study them closely you will see that every single one of them bears the scars that come from passing through the fire.
When a forest fire rages through the Sierra Nevada’s we immediately fear the blackened destruction that it leaves behind, but for Giant Sequoias it is a necessary part of their path to greatness. It clears out the brush and smaller trees that compete for sunlight and soil nutrients. It opens up their vault-like cones, depositing thousands of seeds across the newly cleared forest floor.
God has fantastically designed these trees to survive what would kill most anything else. A fully-grown Giant Sequoia has the thickest bark of any tree on earth. It is fibrous, fire-resistant, and can measure up to three feet thick. A forest fire will scar the mighty trees, but it won’t kill them.
Not only will they survive the flames, but through them will to reach a strength and majesty impossible any other way.
The longer I have live, the more I discover that the same thing is true of people.
When I encounter people who have been raised up greatly for the Kingdom, I am usually struck by the great heights and reach of their lives. But I’ve learned that if I can get up close, and if I will look carefully enough, inevitably they too bear scars from where they passed through the flames – a season of painful testing through which not only did they survive but because of which they thrived. Those scars serve as a reminder of a necessary season of hardship God used to grow them taller and reach further than they could have any other way.
I don’t how it is with you, but I sincerely want to reach greater heights…it’s just that I’d like to get there, if at all possible, without having to go through the fire. I’ve learned, however, that in the most majestic of God’s natural creation and in the best of His servants, He refines all of them and opens them up to their greatest potential through seasons of trials.
God doesn’t just merely bring us through the flames, He uses those seasons of adversity to prepare us for the greatest heights we have been designed for. It’s true in grandest of trees, and it’s true for you and me as well.
“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.”