Lessons from the Bonsai Tree
Lessons from the Bonsai Tree

By Megan Rawlings

I have always wanted a bonsai tree. The whole concept absolutely fascinates me. Unfortunately, I was born with a black thumb. When I enter a greenhouse, the plants lean away from me, scared for their lives. It’s so bad, a friend once asked me to come to their house to touch their grass so it would stop growing.

OK, so I am not a farmer, but it did not stop me from researching bonsai trees.

When You’re Planted in a Small Container

Bonsai is an umbrella term for small trees—not dwarf trees—that are clipped and tied in such a way that they reflect the image and likeness of a great tree. Part of the art of bonsai is placing the little tree in a container that is best suited for what the artist wants to create.

When I read this, I immediately thought about my relationship with God. The inspired author of Hebrews reminded us to fix our eyes on Christ and to remember his suffering on our behalf in order to serve God well and avoid sin (12:1-3). The author then wrote,

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:4-6). 

Have you felt as if you were planted in a “small container?” Maybe your gifts are not being used in a way that best serves the kingdom of God. Perhaps God has placed you in your situation because he has a specific outcome in mind and some painful clipping and binding is in store.

Have you prayed about this in a truly honest fashion? Have you asked God, “Did you place me here to shape me into a more disciplined, tolerant, and productive servant?” Have you spent time reflecting on what the Lord may be trying to teach you in your present circumstances? 

How to Grow Where You Are Planted

Trusting that God is in control and working on us gives us strength to move forward and find joy in the midst of pain and frustration.

Evangelist John T. Johnson, a congressman turned Restoration minister, preached for two weeks in 1846 in Richmond, Virginia, without a single convert, according to Leroy Garrett in his book, The Stone-Campbell Movement. I’m sure Johnson was disappointed, but he continued preaching there and eventually led 55 to Christ. 

And consider the life of George Mueller, who wanted to be a missionary. While Mueller had some ministry success in the 1800s—he preached for D. L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon—he spent a great deal of his life running an orphanage in England with his wife, Mary. The children’s home barely made ends meet. One evening, his wife informed him they were out of milk, which meant no oatmeal or anything to drink for the children in the morning. Mueller asked his wife to pray with him. Within seconds, someone knocked on the door and gave them money to buy provisions for those in their care. Yet, the Muellers’ life was still fraught with difficulty and immediate answers to prayers did not always arrive.

“I believe God has heard my prayers,” Mueller said. “He will make it manifest in his own good time. I have recorded my petitions that when God has answered them, his name will be glorified.”

Mueller kept his eyes fixed on Christ, and he accepted the place God had planted him. Eventually—beginning at age 70—he was able to serve as a missionary, but only after years of painful, difficult service at the orphanage.

You might feel like the bonsai tree planted in a small container. It’s painful to be pruned and shaped, but there is one thing you should keep in mind. The bonsai tree, no matter how small, can still grow full-size fruit. Sometimes all that is required is some shaping from the Master.

Megan Rawlings is the founder and CEO of The Bold Movement. She is an extrovert, pastor’s wife, and lover of the Scriptures.

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