Like an Olive Tree

Like an Olive Tree

The olive tree is a recurring element within scripture. References to it appear across the Biblical canon—it’s mentioned (in some form) in nearly every book. The olive tree was seen in ancient cultures as a symbol of peace or victory, and in modern times has been prominently featured on the flags of seven countries, four U.S. states, and the United Nations.

Known for being exceptionally hardy, the olive tree is highly drought-resistant and can live for thousands of years. The olive trees standing in the Garden of Gethsemane today have been estimated to be aged more than 900 years, built upon root structures that predate the time of Christ!

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise You forever, Because You have done it; And in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.”

—Psalm 52:8-9

Many varieties of olive trees require long periods of maturity (15-20 years) before they produce fruit. And interestingly, they often seem to thrive in adverse conditions. This was noted by scientists that studied their trunks and root structure. During years when water was scarce, the trees seemed to thrive when compared to years when water was more abundant.

Forgive me if the comparison is too obvious; I can’t help but draw a parallel between the olive tree and the Christian life. It takes time for us to mature as Christians. We don’t become “fruitful” overnight. Similarly, we grow—that is, our character grows— the most during adversity. I can testify to this in my own experience, and many I’ve spoken with have said the same. So it was throughout history. When examining periods of growth within Christian history, it can often be traced to times of (often severe) adversity. It was adversity that initially scattered the Christian movement during the first century. According to church historians, there were four additional persecution events before 300 A.D. (not to mention the many that followed). Each time, the church did not diminish—it grew!

Understanding the source of our strength is the key concerning personal growth. When we attempt to struggle through adversity under our power, we’re often consumed by its overwhelming weight. However, when we trust that God is (and remains) our source of power, joining our efforts with His, we can grow through these times of adversity. There’s a critical distinction: we’re not gritting our teeth through adversity, hoping to hold station and emerge on the other side exactly as we were. No, rightly experienced, adversity causes growth. Like the olive tree and the early Christian church.

Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of His blessings during difficult moments. It may not help your experience to be any easier at the moment. Still, it can recenter your perspective onto Someone larger and infinitely more powerful than the adversity you’re facing.