God’s object lessons
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and last of a year-long series of Bible studies that explore objects-in this case, trees-that God has used as metaphors to describe who he is and what he does.
you, me, and a tree
Supplies you’ll need:
- a shovel
- an inexpensive sapling
- and [optional] a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Overview: God describes both himself and us as a tree.
Introduction: Place a small (inexpensive) sapling in the room. Say something like: Today kicks off our study of trees, and how they relate to who God is and what he does. A few tree tidbits:
1. Trees are the longest-living organisms on earth. The oldest tree is a Bristlecone Pine found in the Pacific Northwest-it’s at least 4,600 years old.
2. Trees are also the largest living organisms on earth-a Giant Sequoia in California is 360 feet tall!
3. Trees may die from weather, disease, insect, or ax, but never from growing too old.
4. God uses trees to describe both himself and us. And three significant objects in scripture are trees: the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Cross.
Form trios and explain that, for the next 10 minutes, each trio will explore two scripture passages. The first one uses a tree metaphor to describe God or the Kingdom of God; the second uses a tree metaphor to describe us or something about our relationship with God.
After reading their first passage, each trio should discuss this question: How does God use this image to help us better understand who he is? After reading their second passage, each trio should discuss this question: How does God use this image to help us better understand ourselves or our relationship with him? Here are the scripture passages:
group 1: Isaiah 55:12-13; Matthew 7:16-20.
group 2: Matthew 13:31-32; Jeremiah 17:5-8
group 3: Hosea 14:5-8; Luke 13:6-9
After 10 minutes gather and ask a spokesperson from each trio to share what they discovered. Then pass out blank sheets of paper and crayons to each person. Ask: If your relationship with God was a tree, what would it look like?
Give kids each a few minutes to think about the question and draw their tree on a piece of paper. Then invite kids to each share what they drew.
Then point out the sapling you brought. Ask kids to brainstorm a fitting location for your tree (make sure you get permission first!). Then go outside, dig a hole with your shovel, and plant it. End your meeting in prayer, circled-up around the tree.
(Extra Idea: If you have time, return inside or find a place in the grass and conclude your meeting by reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.)
Supplies you’ll need:
- small sections of cut ¼-inch tree branches-two for each teenager
- electrical tape
- a computer with online access
Overview: We’ve been grafted into Christ.
Key Scripture: Romans 11:17: “…You, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive shoot….”
You can do this study at a garden center, with an expert offering the grafting illustration instead of the YouTube video I’ve suggested below.1 Otherwise, you can do this study in your regular meeting room as long as you’re able to collect two small pieces of tree branch for every teenager.
Open by telling a “scar story.” Then ask: Who has a scar? Can you tell us how you got the scar?
After several stories, say something like: Let’s learn about a growth process known as grafting. It’s similar to the scar stories we just shared, because grafting always begins with a cut. Some cuts heal so well you don’t scar; other cuts heal less well and scars result. The same goes for trees.
Play a YouTube video on grafting-go to youtube.com/watch?v=Jy1Ca8RotRI&feature=related for a nine-minute demonstration.
After you watch, read aloud Romans 11:13-24. Then say something like: When we become followers of Jesus, we are like branches being grafted into God’s family tree. Let’s learn more about grafting by doing it! This exercise is a little different from what we watched because we’ll be grafting branches from the same species. Pay attention to what God is trying to show you about himself, and about you.
Give kids each two small sections of tree branch. And give everyone access to a sharp knife and electrical tape-make sure you have plenty of supervision for this activity. Then follow the procedure you just watched on the YouTube video and have kids graft their two branch sections together. When you’re finished, ask:
- The trunk and branch join at their cut-how is this like our relationship with Christ?
- The video pointed out that the “skin” needs to match. What are some ways we align our “bark” (our life) with the “bark” of Jesus?”
- We used tape to tie our branch tightly to the trunk. What ties help us stay connected to Jesus? What happens when those ties get loose?
- Grafts appear like a scar on the wood. We also have wounds that take time to heal.
But if the skins are aligned long enough, the scar will completely vanish. What might this mean for us in our grafted relationship with Jesus?
After your discussion, say something like: Jesus created each one of us as unique. He wants us to bear much fruit-unique to the qualities he’s invested in us. He is the trunk-the source, the nourisher, and the stronghold. We are the branches. Therefore, stay connected to him, so that the world does not miss out on the special fruit that he can only produce through you!
Have kids each take their grafted branch home and keep it somewhere in their bedroom-taped to their mirror or sitting on top of a framed picture, for example. Close in prayer.
Supplies you’ll need:
- modeling clay
- a bowl
- food coloring
- six cups
- a Bible
Overview: God prunes us so that we can bear maximum fruit.
Key Scripture: John 15:2: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
Say something like: We’ve been learning about trees. One critical aspect of tree maintenance that’s often misused and misunderstood is pruning.
Ask: What is pruning, anyway? (Pruning is the process of cutting branches from a plant to prod full growth.) What are the benefits of pruning? (Health, strength, fruitfulness, and beauty.) If we translate pruning to the way God relates to us, what are some practices and fruits of pruning in our lives? Write kids’ answers on a white board or flip chart.
Say something like: Just as an expert gardener gets the best out of his trees and shrubs by pruning, God gets the best out of us when he prunes us.
Read aloud John 15:2, then say: Let’s look at the benefits of pruning one-by-one.
Make a large, thick pancake out of modeling clay. With your finger or a pen, carve out a “trunk” of a tree in the modeling clay-it should go from the bottom of your clay pancake to about halfway up. Then, again with your finger or a pen, carve out three “branches” from the trunk that do not reach all the way to the top of the clay. When you’re done, your clay should have the impression of a tree with three branches. Then place the clay on a table with the bottom of the trunk slightly hanging over the edge of the table. Put a large bowl on the floor under the trunk to catch the water. Then slowly pour water down the trunk of the tree to fill the tree with water.
Then say something like: This water represents the tree’s life. See how life comes from the trunk into the branches and then back into the trunk? How is this “flow” like our relationship with Jesus?
Place a drop of food coloring in one branch. Then say something like: This color symbolizes disease. Notice what happens when the water flows now.
Pour water as before. The water in all the branches and the trunk will become polluted. Ask: Why does God choose to prune us? How has God pruned you for the sake of your spiritual health?
Scrunch up the modeling clay and remake a large, thick pancake. With your finger or a pen, carve out the impression of a tree that has one branch that extends through one side of the clay pancake. This time place the open end of that branch over the side of a table. Hold a cup under that branch, then pour water into the tree trunk, collecting it in the cup. Point out how much water is collected. Now, make a tree impression with five branches. Place the branch ends off the table with a cup under each end. Pour the same amount of water (use the first cup as the water source), then have kids pay attention to how much water you have collected in each of the five cups.
Ask: What do you notice that’s different about the way the water flowed and collected? Then say something like: We collected the same amount of water, but each branch only received one-fifth of it. Pruning even healthy branches is good for the tree because it adds strength to the other branches.
Ask: When you consider this truth, how does God’s pruning specifically strengthen us?
This is a difficult one to demonstrate, so show kids this short online video that explains pruning for maximum fruit production. ehow.com/video_4757702_prune-grape-vines.html.
Read aloud John 15:2 again. Say something like: Just as the vinedresser prunes the most productive branches to bring even more fruit, Jesus does the same with us. Ask: How has Jesus pruned the productive parts of your life? What fruit have you seen? How has God used pain for good in your life?
Hand kids each a piece of paper and a pair of scissors. Say something like: The fourth benefit of pruning is beauty-God prunes us to make us more beautiful. God could settle for keeping us like this blank paper, but that’d be boring. So let’s experience pruning for beauty by making “tree flakes.”
Have kids each hold their paper vertically, then fold it in half. At the bottom, starting about two inches out from the fold, have them cut their paper vertically straight up until about one inch from the middle of the paper, then straight out to the side. Then have them open the paper and fold each “wing” in accordion style, as if you were making a fan. Both sides should be folded into toward the middle in half-inch accordion folds. Then have them cut into the accordion folds any way they want. Wait to unfold your creations at the same time.
Then ask: How have the “cuts” in your life created beauty?
Close in prayer, thanking God for the impact of pruning in your life.
1. Special thanks to Paul Dorsett of L.A. Reynolds Garden Showcase (lareynolds.com) for his time, insight, and input on the contents of these studies.
ned is a longtime Young Life leader, teacher, writer, worship leader, and speaker. He lives in North Carolina. He also co-leads, along with Rick Lawrence, the “Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry” track at our National Youth Ministry Conference.