Kessler Boulevard carves a scenic route through Indianapolis. Recently, I rounded a corner on Kessler and beheld a ghastly scene: workers had cut down at least five dozen gorgeous trees that lined the street. I almost cried. The sturdy Maple, Ginko, and other species were victims of a project to finally install sewer service to our part of the city.
The trees were at least twenty years old. Many were over fifty years old, and some probably much older. I felt a profound sense of loss as I passed stump after stump, knowing that it will take twenty years and more to restore Kessler’s canopy. In that moment, my grandfather’s words came to mind: “It takes about twenty years to see faithfulness built into a person’s life.” He was quoting someone, but in his years of pastoral experience, he had seen the truth of the statement. Mature, steady, faithful people are a precious commodity. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” asks Proverbs 20:6.
The number twenty is a bit arbitrary, perhaps. But, we send our children out of the house after investing about twenty years of love, instruction, discipline, and prayer. In Scripture, we see that the Lord taught David under Saul’s heavy hand for many years before he was ready to be king. Paul apparently needed about seventeen years of training in the wilderness after his conversion before he began the heart of his ministry as an apostle (Galatians 1:5-2:2). Jesus learned obedience for thirty-three years before taking up his public ministry. Some, such as the disciples, were quickly commissioned, but, they had three years of intensive training with the Lord.
The point is this: it takes years to see faithfulness develop. When sinner’s hearts are awakened by the Spirit, they exercise faith in Jesus. That is, they receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, and through faith in Jesus, they are justified and stand as those declared righteous by God. Then begins the process of sanctification in which the saints grow in Christlikeness. Since he is faithful, we grow to be like him. It is a slow process. The tree rings of the stumps along Kessler revealed that some years had produced more growth than others. Yet, even in dry years, growth came. So with God’s people. Of course, God is the one who gives grace for men and women to be faithful as they grow in Christ. He is faithful when we are faithless, and so we are wholly dependent on him. But we are called to be faithful (Revelation 2:10).
What are the lessons of Kessler Boulevard? Several come to mind:
1. Give thanks for the faithful men and women God has placed around you. I had thanked God for the foliage on Kessler before, but not enough. Show your appreciation for those saints you can always count on. Glean from their wisdom and harvest the sweet fruit of their lives. Paul twice commended his fellow-laborer Tychicus as “faithful” as he sent him to Troas (Acts 2:4-5), Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21, 2 Timothy 4:12), Colossae (Colossians 4:7), and Crete (Titus 3:12). The faithful saints around you now will not be forever, so be grateful before they are transplanted or lopped off by death.
2. Plant new seeds and nurture the next generation of saplings. Along Kessler, the city will plant new trees when the sewer is installed. In Corinth, Paul planted, Apollos water, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Individual mature trees will not last forever on this earth. Will there be a constant supply of “new” faithful souls? Only as we keep planting. Only as we keep watering. Where are you planting? Who are you watering? As we plant spiritually here in Indianapolis, I wonder who will comprise the next generation of faithful laborers when that stretch of Kessler is restored to its former beauty.
3. Patiently Persist. Remember that trees take time to grow. We cannot grab the top stem and pull upward to initiate growth. God causes the growth. We are called to nurture, fertilize, and water. It is a mark of faithfulness in laborers that they patently persist, even when some of the people they care for prove to have shallow roots and die off, or are choked out by weeds. Ministry is hard. The fact that so many do not stay the course proves that it takes years to build faithfulness. Patience requires that we stick with the weak, as Jesus does, and as Barnabas did with John Mark. Paul cast Mark aside in Acts 15:37-39. Thanks to Barnabas’ patience, Paul would write years later that Mark: “is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
4. Pray. Psalm 144:12 leads us to pray: “So be our sons like plants, grown sturdy in their youth.” Our hope rests in God’s power to establish a generation of faithful laborers. If the Lord leads us to pray for it, he does so because he plans to answer. Kessler Boulevard will regain its beauty. In his church, Jesus will establish “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).