Recently I saw something that reminded me of the importance of having roots that go down deep: a toppled tree with very shallow roots.
On top of North Sugarloaf Mountain in New Hampshire, the trees can't put down their roots very deep...presumably because the soil is so rocky. There's probably a granite slab a couple feet under the soil. The result is that instead of putting down deep roots, the tree's roots spread out just under the surface.
When the high winds come (and believe me, they get very high winds in the White Mountains!), even though the tree is alive, it has no stability in its roots to withstand the blast. The result is tragic for the tree; it simply tips over, exposing the underside of its very shallow root system.
I began thinking then of how very much like us this tree is. For us, it is tempting to put down very shallow roots in our lives. Why? Because shallow roots are easier. They don't require as much work.
They don't require us to put off what we want in order to gain what we need. They don't require us to choose obedience in difficult circumstances, only the easy ones. They don't require us to choose honesty even when we know it will hurt us. They don't require us to choose compassion over unkindness. They don't require us to choose humility over pride. They don't require us to choose a strong work ethic over laziness or procrastination. They don't require us to have patience over grasping what we want now. They don't require us to choose generosity over selfishness.
For many of us, life is more about finding what is convenient, fun, and enjoyable, rather than choosing what is right no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what the cost. This is the way of shallow roots. If I choose the easy way over the right way, maybe no one but me will notice that I'm not living the way I should...but when the storms come, I won't be ready for them!
Remember this: a tree cannot wait for the storm to come before it puts down deep roots; then it is already too late. Put down deep roots now, so when the storm comes, you'll be unmovable and unshakable.
If you've been following the content of this site for very long, you've probably noticed by now some of my hobbies, because I do write about them from time to time. I like to play the violin and the guitar. I like to climb mountains. And I like to to paint.
Interestingly, each one of these hobbies has, in some way, changed the way I view the world.
Because I like to play music, whenever I hear music, I don't just sing along with it, I notice how it is structured. I notice the timing, the bass line, the percussion, and a lot of things that I never would have noticed before I started learning to play a musical instrument.
Because I like to climb mountains, I can't even drive down a country road without noticing every single mountain in the distance, and being amazed by their beauty. Strange...before I started climbing, I never even noticed those mountains.
And since I've started up painting again, I can't go anywhere without noticing the brilliant, vibrant colors all around me, and thinking things like, "What color paints would I mix together to get that particular shade of blue?" or "I wonder if this scene would make a good starting point for a painting?"
I think it's interesting that each of my hobbies has, in one way or another, heightened my awareness of the world around me. I didn't start climbing mountains because I always thought the mountains were so beautiful. Nor did I start painting because I noticed and understood color and structure and composition.
No, it was the other way around. My appreciation for mountains, my understanding of color, and of beauty -- these things came after a lot of hard work on my part. The work came first, and then the understanding and the appreciation.
You might not have realized it, but the Christian life is very much the same way. I occasionally hear Christians pray, "Reveal yourself to me," but really, that's sort of a lazy prayer, because Jesus already told us the circumstances under which He reveals Himself to us:
If we want to more deeply understand God, and the work He is doing in this world, it doesn't just happen. It happens because we have his commandments, and are doing them. And we are doing them because we love Him.
The work comes first, then the understanding. I never would have come to such a deep appreciation for mountains without first putting a backpack on my shoulders and doing some very hard work. I would never have understood music so well if I hadn't spent so many hours doing tedious scales and exercises.
Do you want to understand God? Do you want Him to reveal Himself to you? Don't just sit around waiting for it to happen. Put your nose to the grindstone and actually do his work, follow his commands. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it is sometimes discouraging, and yes, there are sometimes a thousand different things you would rather be doing. But do God's work with the same stubborn determination that a musician practices his scales, or a hiker keeps on climbing, no matter how tired he gets.
In the long run, the benefits are worth it, because bit by bit, God reveals Himself, His character, His love, and His work to us.
And that's more wonderful than the tallest mountain, the most beautiful song, or the most magnificent painting.
When I was a child, my parents both worked as school teachers. An easy job? No way! If you've never had the experience of standing in front of a group of people and teaching, let me assure you -- it is exhausting work!
And at the end of the day, when classes were over and we returned home, the day wasn't really over. Because there were still papers to grade and lesson plans to write. It seemed like a never-ending job.
But one thing I remember about those days is that, during the spring time, and again in the fall, when dad returned home from school, he could often be found out in our garden. Planting vegetables, hoeing, pulling up weeds, fertilizing...
Another never-ending job.
And mom -- she would be in the kitchen, preparing another great meal for all of us...four boys who ate so much, and rarely remembered to thank her for her hard work.
Not just a never-ending job, but often a thankless one as well.
There were days when I'm sure dad didn't feel like being out in the garden pulling up weeds. There were days when I'm sure mom didn't feel like diving into the kitchen work. There were days when I'm sure neither of them wanted to sit down in the evening to grade papers and plan the next day's lessons.
But they continually did these things, day after day. There is a word that describes this behavior: diligence.
Diligence means: constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.
Important tasks are often accomplished only through great diligence. If the garden is not weeded regularly, the weeds choke out the plants, and there are no crops. If the kitchen work is not done, the boys go hungry. If the lesson plans and grading are not done, the students stop learning, eventually the administration becomes unhappy, and in the long run there is no paycheck!
Diligence is a vital part of life, but in a society which wants nothing more than to be entertained, diligence often takes a back seat. We forget how to put our mind, our body, and our heart into a task and never look back.
In one of his epistles, Peter tells us to "make every effort", which simply means to be diligent. Perhaps more than any other area of our lives, the spiritual life requires diligence.
Unfortunately, we tend to hope that our spiritual lives will blossom without consistent, faithful, determined, constant and earnest effort. It won't happen. How diligent are you in your spiritual disciplines?
This object lesson is part of a series of "one-word lessons" from 2 Peter 1:5-8. Each week in our youth group I am teaching one word from those verses.
Today I did something I'd never done before in my life. I ran out of gas. I was on my way to teach a Vacation Bible School at a church about 35 minutes away. I'd been going every morning this week. On Monday I glanced at the gas gauge and said: "Oh, plenty of gas." On Tuesday I looked at it again and said: "Still plenty of gas."
And then I never even thought about it for the rest of the week.
Pretty embarrassing to have to call someone to come with five gallons of gas to get me going again! :-/
But as I was sitting there by the side of the road, with the hazard lights blinking, waiting to be rescued, something occurred to me.
Despite the fact that I'd never done it before in my life, the fact is that running out of gas is one of the easiest things in the world to do. You know why? Because all you have to do is stop thinking about it. That's it. Just stop thinking about it.
If you stop thinking about it, the only way you can not run out of gas is to never go anywhere! But if you want to go places, and you never think about your gas, sooner or later, you run out.
That made me think of the verse in Romans 12 that says:
Spiritually, it is very easy for us to run out of gas also. All it requires is that we stop thinking about it! Paul says that we should be "renewing our minds." That's the same idea as keeping your gas tank full of gas. How do we renew our minds? Our minds are renewed as we spend time in the company of other believers, who prod us on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Our minds are renewed as we spend time reading and meditating on God's word, which can keep us going, just like milk keeps a baby going (1 Peter 2:2). Our minds are renewed as we think on our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who should be at the center of our attention (Hebrews 12:2).
If we want to go anywhere spiritually, we must keep our gas tank full. And the moment we stop thinking about it, the moment we stop renewing, we begin an emptying process, and we're headed for trouble.