What kind of tree are you? I have pondered on this image and question a lot over the past months. A related image of being ‘well-watered’ has been a focus of mine for even longer.
Psalm 1 prompts me to pray, ‘Make me like a tree planted by the water, make me like a tree that yields its fruit in season, whose leaves will never wither but what I do may prosper! Watch over me, Lord!’
However, the truth is, for many months during the pandemic, I grieved over not being able to go into HMP New Hall as a volunteer as I have done since 2015. If there was ever an image to capture this feeling, it would be brown falling leaves! I saw this time as a season of not being fruitful . . . and, to be fair, Psalm 1 does acknowledge that some seasons are more fruitful than others. However, whatever the season, this tree never becomes dry, planted, as it is, by the ‘living’ water, its leaves never wither and it is always nourished, ready to prosper and be productive.
When Jesus talks about the living water with the woman from Samaria in John 4, He says we need never thirst again and that the water He gives is to be a perpetual spring within us. I am forcibly reminded, when I read this, that hard times do not have to be dry times. The past months have certainly been very hard for many. But I think I will say it again: for those of us who know the source of living water, hard times do not have to be dry times. ‘Stay well-watered’ has become a bit of a mantra of mine.
It thrills me to think that the Samaritan woman became like the tree in Psalm 1. This woman, who was marginalised in so many ways, was chosen by Jesus to be his first evangelist/missionary, and we can only imagine how her life was transformed from that point on. I certainly imagine her ‘well-watered’, producing the fruit of the Spirit and prospering in Him! This is my vision for those in our prisons. Oaks, they are to be oaks! I read Isaiah 61 and, of course, Luke 4:16–19, and my heart sings! Jesus comes to them, proclaiming good news, bestowing beauty for ashes, a garment of praise for despair. And then, it is those very people, the ones who were broken hearted, captive, in darkness . . . who ‘will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of His splendour’. Yes! That’s the woman at the well, it’s the women at New Hall and all of us whom Jesus has set free!
Have you ever considered the prayers that God loves? Does that sound odd? Over the last few years, I have had reason to cry out to the Lord to centre me, to really centre me on Jesus. This was a heart cry for a good while. As I approached retirement from teaching, a heart cry of mine was that the Lord would make my later years greater than the former in His service. In other words, there will be no retirement! I know He heard; I know these prayers were His will because He has answered in a wonderful way.
So, for all of us, here is a prayer I’m pretty sure He loves:
Make us like trees, planted by the water, make us like trees that yield their fruit in season, whose leaves will never wither, but what we do will prosper! Watch over us, Lord!’
Julie Evans is a former teacher, who now works as a volunteer in HMP New Hall in Wakefield. Julie is also one of our Operations Assistants.