“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:13)
In our front yard on Franklin Street, where I grew up, we had a huge pine tree. I’m not sure which variety of pine tree it was in particular, but it was very tall, reaching much higher than our roof. I grew up with that pine tree, a difficult and most inconvenient obstacle when trying to play football in the front yard. Most football fields don’t have a giant tree taking up a huge part of the real estate around the ten-yard line.
One day my Dad decided the tree had to come down. He was sick and tired of all the pine needles everywhere, so he had the tree cut down. I was not there when the tree actually came down. Being a teenager, I’m sure I had other business elsewhere, but I do remember what happened afterward.
It turns out that cutting a tree down, even a huge tree, is not the hard part. I’m sure it took some thoughtful “engineering” on the part of those involved, but it was down in the space of a day. What I definitely DO remember, and was unable to escape despite my best teenage efforts, was helping Dad “grub” the stump. Who knew there was more tree under the ground than above it?! It took a long time getting that stump out of the ground, and though I drive by the old homestead sometimes and can’t tell the tree was ever there now, it took a long while for the yard to return to any resemblance of normal after that stump was finally removed.
The reason strong trees can stand through the years despite the wind and the storms is because they have deep roots. Some trees look strong but are actually sissies compared my old pine tree. I wanted to use an oak tree as an example of strength once when writing an article, and was surprised to read that in England many of the strong looking oak trees are easily toppled in the high winds. Why? They have shallow roots. Their “above ground appearance” is really an illusion of strength; a façade easily stripped away in a stormy season.
I think this is a good analogy of believers. All of us – every single one of us – will face storms in life. Whether we stand or topple is not determined by how tall we grow or how strong we appear, but by how deep our roots go into the soil. The Psalmist said the ones who flourish are the ones who are planted in the house of God. For roots to go down deep, you can’t be uprooting a tree every few years. You have to know where the tree belongs and commit to keeping it there indefinitely. I don’t really know how long that tree stood in our front yard, but judging from that stump, it must have been there when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee. All I know is that there was no storm that was going to knock that tree over.
Years ago a friend of mine lost his wife. She was tragically killed in a car accident. They had just accepted the pastorate of a church started by his brother and were beginning their life in full-time ministry together. On the trip home from their very first church service, a young man who got turned around in some road construction, stuck their car, killing my friend’s wife. I got a call from his brother, who is one of my best friends in all the world. His voice was so choked with emotion that I couldn’t recognize the caller. When I finally understood what had happened, I made arrangements and was on a plane the following day.
At a time like that, all pretense is stripped away, and all you have is what you’ve really got inside you. As you can understand, my friend who had lost his wife was heartbroken, and yet as the events of the week unfolded, I saw him exhibit a strength that can only come from having deep roots into God. He was a lifer; someone who had been serving the Lord for years in the local church, in community with other believers, hearing the Word of God regularly, and drawing life from the rich soil of God’s house. It showed. I saw him minister comfort to others who wrestled with all the difficult questions we ask during such times, and when the memorial service was held for his wife, which his brother preached, many souls came to Christ.
At a time like that, many are reflecting on the brevity and uncertainty of life, and losing someone for whom so many cared can open the door of even the most stubborn heart. Yet, I’m sure that it was my friend’s steadfastness and faith, so clearly evident in that time of sorrow, that demonstrated the reality of the life that is found when one has deep roots into God. Certainly, there is strength in numbers and a certain moral support that having connections in church gives one, but we’re not merely talking about having other people in our lives. The Church of Jesus Christ is the hands and feet of Christ in the earth. It is through the Church that we participate in and experience His compassion in a practical way. It is through our church family that God challenges us to grow through relationships of accountability, with people who pray with us when we struggle and rejoice with us in every victory. In short, it is through the Church of Jesus Christ that we connect with God in a very real and tangible way.
Many try it on their own, and others go from one church to another, looking for that perfect connection that will supply that “certain something” that none of the others seemed to possess. The reality is, however, that none of the trees in my yard growing up chose the place of their own planting. Likewise, God, the good husbandman, knows where you would be best planted, and by all means, you need to be planted so you can start putting down roots. We live in uncertain times, and when the storm comes, and come it will, pretense will not rescue you. A good show without real substance will not carry you through. Shallow roots will not enable you to stand. You need to be planted. Then, like my friend, you will not only stand, but even flourish in the midst of the storm.