So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Paul (Colossians 2:6-7)
During a message a few weeks ago I highlighted stories in the scriptures where people found themselves under something called a broom tree, a desert shrub that lives in the wastelands. We explored how God meets us through holy moments in our desperation.
But I didn’t talk much about the broom tree itself. And as you’ve seen from reading TFG, I find the natural world to be fantastically filled with spiritual metaphors. So did the scripture writers, by the way, so at least I’m in good company.
Broom trees grow in the Sinai Peninsula and throughout Arabia in ravines, rocky places, hillsides, and even open sand stretches of desert areas. Their roots sink deep to draw up moisture. They grow only 3 to 13 feet high, but because of their denseness they can provide valuable shade. A real broom tree is bushy and rather ugly, but in the desert it grows higher than everything else, so it gets the job done.
The image is simple. In extreme places, the plant that grows and thrives is the plant whose roots keep pushing deeper until it finds water. The deeper the roots grow down, the higher the plant grows up. One one level it’s a paradox; on another, it makes complete sense.
It seems that more and more people are finding themselves trying to grow in a desert wasteland. On of my copastors this week used the phrase “famine of hope” to describe the state of so many attitudes right now. I see that as well.
More than ever, Christians are experiencing the necessity of root tending right now. The mission of the church remains the same and community is still happening in beautiful ways. But for many, the easy church buffet of spiritual nutrition isn’t so readily accessible as before. Add to that the reality of so much brokenness in our world and you’ve got a real struggle for spiritual health. Enter the broom tree. It's drought resistant for one reason: the roots go deep.
If you feel like you aren’t able to grow meaningfully during this time, you may still be expecting to find water just under the surface. But until the roots push down faaaaaar beneath the surface, our leaves and branches won’t be able to provide much shade.
Discouragement. Cynicism. Anger. Judgment. Despair.
These are all things that Jesus addresses head-on in the gospels. These are all things that Jesus addresses head-on in our souls. But we’ve got to be willing to give Jesus real time and real energy if we want to move beyond these heavy realities. We’ve got to send our roots down deeper and deeper til we find living water.
It’s hard when we’re exhausted. But it’s how we find life.
We keep seeking Jesus and his kingdom. Simple. Hard.
It would be nice if discipleship was more complicated than this, so that we could just say we don’t understand. But most of the time we know what is needed, and it just takes too much effort. If we only knew the grace available to us along the journey!
So we genuinely, honestly, painfully, joyfully keep reaching for the source of life. We make the hard choice to be quiet and delve deeper into the desert sand of our spirits until we actually connect with God’s spirit. This is not just fancy metaphor. Friends, we need to learn to sit with Jesus until our perspective shifts. One of the marks of this, according to Paul, was that we are able to overflow with thankfulness.
I’ve experienced this. Not all the time, but I can attest to it. Gratitude doesn’t minimize our pain or make light of how complicated things are. Rooting down with Jesus until we find life and sense gratitude is how we gain strength to be a shade giver to a tired world. And it’s how we ourselves survive in the desert.
Be encouraged today that it’s possible to thrive in the desert. But it’ll take going deeper until the love of God fills us with enough strength to be able to start looking out up and out again.
Jesus, help my attitude today to be rooted in who you are.