Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Years ago, I wanted to write about the idea of our roots going down deep into God. Since I was pastoring a startup church in the California Central Coast at the time, where majestic oak trees grace the beautiful vineyards of the area, I wanted to use the image of an Oak tree to illustrate this idea. Certainly, of all the trees that could depict the idea of strength and stability, the mighty oak would be the front-runner. Right? My assumptions were dashed when I read about the English Oaks in Great Britain whose roots are so shallow that a good wind will knock them over. The abundance of water near the surface simply doesn’t necessitate a deep root system. Thus, the top-heavy trees are a literal pushover to anything above a good afternoon breeze. So much for the mighty oak.
The Lesson? Just because something has the appearance of strength doesn’t mean it can stand the storms of life. Jesus talked about two houses (see Matthew 7:24-27). The first one represented those whose lives are founded upon both hearing and doing His word. This was the house built upon the rock. Its foundation was solid, being well-rooted. The wind and waves beat upon that house, and it stood. The second house looked just like the first, because the only difference was below the surface where casual observation could not detect the liability. It represented those who hear the word of God but never build upon its sure foundation. This is the house founded upon the sand. You can imagine what happened when the wind and waves stuck it. The thing is, we can all look good above the surface. One whose life is built upon a faulty foundation may look no different than the one who has built his or her life on the immutable truths of God’s word. But there is one thing that will reveal your foundation for what it is, and that is the storm.
Storms come to every life, and often it doesn’t take long to find out that what once looked like an unconquerable edifice is little more than a sandcastle quickly exposed by the storm. Others weather storms in silence, building character through a steady faith that enables them to endure over the years. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which we are until the storm gives us the opportunity to find out what we’re made of. Sadly, so much of what makes a big “splash” today, even in Christendom, is based more on gifting and glamour than character. I am amazed at how googly-eyed even people in the Church get over some Christian celebrity coming to town instead of a seasoned minister whose character and experience have given him truly valuable things to speak into the lives of God’s people. That’s not to say that I don’t celebrate the changed lives of men like Derek Carr, Tim Tebow, or even a more recent convert like Kanye West. I am in their corner, cheering them on, and I am encouraged to see what God is doing in the world of sports and entertainment. My issue is more with the shallowness of the Church than those whose testimonies include bright lights, big stages, and recording contracts. Praise God for those who use such platforms well.
The real issue is how can we become more substantive, deeply rooted believers who can go beyond the superficiality which infects so much of modern life, both inside and outside of church life. For many of us, we live such busy lives that we really don’t take much time to think about soul-maintenance. If we can’t get it in a podcast, a brief Sunday message, or a small group meeting once a month, we just do without, which leads to the imploding house Jesus warned about. Even many ministers today are far more like the oak trees I mentioned earlier, not because they are bad people or are purposefully negligent, but because it can be easy to mistake volume for value or busyness for fruitfulness. I have been thinking about my own spiritual life today, and I want it to resemble an iceberg more than an oak tree. An iceberg may look impressive enough floating majestically in the northern waters of the world, but if one could see beneath the surface, there is far more below than above.
If what I’m giving you is all I have or all I know, it’s evidence of the fact that I’m shallow. If what I’m sharing, however, is just the tip of a profoundly deeper well out of which I’m living and speaking, then my words will have a far greater substance and speak life on an entirely different level. Too often, ministers are skimming the internet for sermon ideas from trendy preachers rather than hearing the voice of God for ourselves behind the closed doors of divine intimacy. Moses’ face only shown with the glory when he had come from the presence of God, and he didn’t need PR people to convince the crowd that he had something to say. A life lived in God’s presence has weight as do words that come down from the mountain with us.
Recently, I saw a young woman post something on Facebook about falling away from her faith. It seems to be trendy right now, with even former, high-profile Christian leaders doing the same. It also, however, exposes the shallowness of Christianity in the West, especially in the light of those who are giving their lives for the faith in more difficult parts of the world. I don’t think we take the words of Jesus seriously enough when He told us to count the costs of discipleship (see Luke 14:27-33). The apostles of the Lord gave their lives for the testimony of Christ as did many who followed after, and popularity and ease have never been promised to the one who chooses to follow Christ. Over the years, there have been many who have fallen away, and while the stories are all different, one thing is responsible for them all: shallow roots. Offense, trajedy, or betrayal, or disolusionment might have been the how, but shallow roots was the why. No crisis can upend our faith if our roots go deep enough.
None of us can live vicariously off of another’s walk with the Lord. We need to our have our roots to reach deeply into God. This requires discipline and rightly prioritizing our time so that what we’re giving out never puts us into a deficit of our internal resources. We might fool others for a time, but a storm is coming that won’t be fooled. Particularly in our current cultural climate, I anticipate hearing of many more “falling away” while others who have already seen the emptiness of life without God will take their place among our ranks. We’ve had it easy in the west. We still do for the most part, but the popular advantages enjoyed by believers in times past are quickly be replaced by an overall hostility toward all things Christian in our culture. It’s going to get real before it’s over. It might get far worse before it gets better, and the houses built on the rock will soon be distinguishable from those hastily built upon a compromised commitment.
I can only speak for myself, but I am making a renewed commitment to ensure my house is built on good ground, not shaken by the instability of our times or personal weakness. I’m reaching deep into God’s word and determining to spend time with Him that He might have my whole heart. I know I need community because Christianity is a team sport, and those who think they can go it alone are kidding themselves and failing to undestand how life in Christ works. I don’t want to be a hireling who just “works” for God and runs when the wolf comes for the sheep. I want to be a son who serves his Father out of love for both God and His people. It makes all the difference between standing or falling. After all, what good is the most beautiful house in the world if all it does is serve to make the tallest pile of debris when the storm has come and gone?