Olives and olive trees were important in Bible times and Scripture, providing food, ointment, illumination, and in the making of soap.
Our 30 years of serving here in Italy, have given me ample opportunity to observe the trees (right in our backyard), talk to farmers, and study them in Scripture. And I have come to see more and more that the olive is an amazing tree.
Though not generally tall this evergreen, with its extensive root system, is able to withstand wind, heat, and drought. And in its native dry and rocky Mediterranean habitat, can produce fruit for over 1000 years!
The winds batter and gnarl its branches, and its trunk becomes bent by heat, drought, and decay, but the olive gree only grows in strength and beauty with each storm and through the passing of time.
But the real secret to the olive tree’s survival is its incredible root system.
During our warm, dry summers, the limited rainfall remains close to the ground surface, causing the soil to dry out quickly. But the olive tree has a secondary system of shallow roots, known as a flocculent root system, enabling it to take in moisture even during the hottest, dryest summers.
And this is how God would have us be.
Five traits of the olive tree to cultivate for firmly rooted faith:
1. Be well-rooted.
Just as the olive tree sends its roots out at all levels and in all directions, we need to be firmly grounded – taking in all parts of God’s Word.
2. Become strong and enduring through Christ’s purity.
We’ve probably all seen photos of olive trees with their bent and twisted trunks. But did you know that those trunks are also often hollow, caused by internal decay? Which is actually a sign of their strength and endurance. Despite the damage, the tree endures, remaining strong and bearing fruit.
We’re a lot like the olive tree – full of internal decay. Full of thoughts, words, and actions that are unworthy of Christ and his love. And yet, when we allow him to, God continues to grow and change us, and through this purification gives us the strength of his character and righteousness, enabling us to become fruitful.
3. Cling to Christ and his word.
Olives often grow along steep rocky hillsides, where the soil is shallow and easily washed away. But they tenaciously cling to those hillsides where other crops are often unable to grow. And in doing so serve the great purpose of protecting the land from erosion, landslides, and barrenness.
When we cling to Christ and his word in the same tenacious way, not only do we grow in our own faith, but we also serve a great purpose within his body. Our steadfast faith helps keep biblical teaching from eroding. And it serves both to encourage and fortify others, and to lift Christ up so that others are also drawn to him.
4. Embrace the beauty of your scars.
The olive tree has long been extolled as a tree of beauty. Which is really quite amazing. By all logic, it should seem ugly to us, with its bent and misshapen trunk. And its branches twisted, gnarled, and deformed by the onslaught of wind, weather, and decay. Yet it’s those very defects that make it so beautiful. And in fact, it only becomes more beautiful with each storm and with the passing of time.
Likewise, we’re often beat and battered by the storms of life. Trials and troubles that create great wounds and suffering. Wounds which often take years to heal, and leave internal scars and deformities.
But when we place our lives – the good and the bad – in God’s hands, he can take all that ugliness and turn into his own beautiful creation. A creation which allows his light and loveliness to shine – even through all our imperfections and failures.
5. Bear up under the weight of trials.
The olive tree yields great fruit. So much, in fact, that much of it is made into oil. But before the olives can bear that oil (or what my husband calls green gold), they must be pressed. Which, when related to our own lives, means a painful process.
It’s interesting to note that the Garden of Gethsemane means ‘olive press’. And it’s really quite remarkable that the Lord went there to pray right before his arrest and crucifixion. There in that garden, which was an olive grove with large presses, he sweat actual drops of blood under the pressure of what he was about to face.
Isaiah foretold that he would be crushed under the weight of our iniquities, and the punishment he would bear for them (Is. 53:5). And there, in that place where the olives gave their fruit in oil, the Lord was bearing fruit of righteousness for us.
We too are often crushed under the weight of trials and difficulties.
But it is that weight which brings about fruit in our lives. The Lord uses it to change us and make us more like him.
And to help us cultivate a strong and enduring faith, able to withstand the storms of life, the times of drought, and the weight of trials and difficulties.
A faith that shows the fruit of righteousness that he worked out for us on the cross – and is working into our lives, day by day. And a faith that, in spite of all our internal decay and sickness, will show forth his strength and beauty.
Which of these character traits do you need to work on?
Putting deeper roots into God’s Word? Clearing out the internal decay which will only weaken you? Embracing wholeheartedly the storms that will only leave beautiful scars? Or learning to gratefully accept the trials and difficulties that God allows to transform you?
Choose one and work on it this week so you can become strong like the olive tree!