After my grandfather died years ago, I planted an oak tree in his memory in our front yard. The skinny stem stood only 6 feet tall (like Granddad did). I planted it on a windy day.
A few hours later, my neighbor hollered: “Hey, Wayne, your tree was really leaning over in the wind!” I grabbed the trunk and slightly bent the tree over. The whole base moved, because it had no root system yet. So I staked it down.
Two years later when I bent the tree, the base didn’t move. But you know what? The tree looked the same. No visible change. Its goal for its first two years was its roots, not its limbs and leaves.
That little sprig offers a contrast (and a lesson) to you and me.
I Think that I Shall Never See . . .
Most of us feel a daily tension giving priority where it belongs. It isn’t easy. Our culture pressures us and preaches its priorities from the magazine racks: Body Builder, Fashion, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.
We’ll never see slick publications called, Popular Morality, Self-Control Digest, The Perseverance Report, or Love Illustrated (though that last one might sell a few).
In the world we live in, it’s all about the leaves.
The roots are assumed.
This type of marketing baits our weaker natures. To keep up appearances, we’ll water our leaves and lengthen our limbs . . . but neglect our roots. We’ll give priority to the visible and impressive and assume the unseen will care for itself.
But our spiritual lives never take care of themselves.
Nobody ever accidentally grows spiritually. It is a daily decision. (Tweet that.)
The Danger, My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind
The problem, of course, reveals itself when the wind blows. With shallow roots in our lives, the leaves and limbs upend the whole tree—and it dies.
Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the soils:
The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. —Matthew 13:20–21
I’ll never forget seeing a friend who spent two years in a federal prison. At one time, he had a million bucks in the bank—that’s a lot of green leaves! When I visited him, he told me money never made him happy.
He had focused on the leaves, not the roots. The wallpaper, not the foundation. The starched shirt, not the heart beneath it.
How to Get Your Roots to Reach Deep
Most likely, we have all the leaves and limbs in place. Our externals appear impressive—a decent income, comfortable cars, a good home, a fine-trimmed lawn, the latest clothes and techie gadgets. But what about the silent and unseen parts of our lives?
What about the roots? Are they in place too? I’m thinking of:
- Your relationship with your kids or parents
- Your steady affection for and affirmation of your spouse
- Your commitment to serving the body of Christ
- And the taproot of your life—your relationship with Jesus Christ
These remain the silent, unseen, and yet, essential roots of what makes life really matter. They keep our tree standing tall when the wind blows. They give a joy that grows deeper than any leafy branch could grow tall.
The roots will never seem urgent. What’s more, no one in our culture cares about the roots of our lives. (Just the leaves.) But in 20 years, the roots are all that matter. All of what we care about stems from those roots.
The Best Time to Plant a Tree
We have since moved away from the house where I planted my grandfather’s oak. But I drive by occasionally to see its progress. More than 20 years after I planted that tree, it flourishes. And its lesson stands tall.
Water those roots.
Tell me what you think: What root in your life is a priority to you right now? To leave a comment, just click here.
This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing.
• What do you do when the life God has promised you looks nothing like the life he has given you?
• If you find yourself waiting on God—or if you don’t know what God wants you to do next—this book offers a wise and practical guide to finding hope and peace in life’s difficult pauses.
You will discover what to do when it seems God does nothing.