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I love living in the country surrounded by a lot of trees, don’t know why but it is pretty much how I have been most of my life. As I understand trees, it would not be uncommon for a healthy tree to have as big of a root system below ground as you see with the crown of the tree above ground. Simply put, it is what you don’t see that determines the health of a tree and how well it will stand up against heavy winds and storms. Take any tree with a very shallow root system and it will probably get blown over. If we are talking about fruit trees, the health of the roots also will affect how well it produces and if it produces fruit.
What is unseen is more important than what is seen.
What do your spiritual roots look like? How deep are they?
These are valid questions if we want to grow in our faith. If we want to weather storms of life, and we want our faith to bear any kind of fruit, then we have to grow our spiritual roots. In Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus elaborates a bit on prayer. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” So many times in the gospels we see Jesus doing this very thing, going off to pray, often early in the morning.
Prayer is one of several ways to grow our spiritual depth, another is to read passages from the Bible and think about them, meditate on them.
Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
The word law here means the teachings of the Lord… the Bible… specifically it probably meant the Torah or the first 5 books of the Bible. But it applies to all of the Bible. Did you catch the imagery? Meditating on the teachings of the Lord grows spiritual roots where we will be like a tree planted by streams of water. Our spiritual roots will grow.
There is some other imagery at play here too.
The Hebrew word for meditate in verse 2 is hagah… in Isaiah 31:4 we see the phrase “As a lion(Q) growls, a great lion over its prey—” the word for growl is the Hebrew word hagah…
How would it be if we hunger for God’s teaching, hunched over it and growling over it as a lion over its prey, how much deeper would our spiritual roots be? It is the roots of the tree that produces good fruit, it is the roots of a tree that enables it to withstand vicious winds and storms. Jesus often went off alone to pray and Jesus knew his text, he quoted Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book these were two aspects that were crucial to him, and he was God’s son. How much more are they crucial to us?
We have seen them before, old signposts.
Maybe it was in a movie
Or a trek across the countryside.
Their purpose was quite simple, to show the way when you reached a crossroad.
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
I like the sound of that… but I find it a curious thing to ask. Why ask for the ancient paths? Maybe this connects to Psalm 23 where “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”.
Think about a person you know and greatly admire. Maybe they have the kind of marriage you want, maybe they are an incredible musician. And you say to yourself, “I want to be like that.” How are you going to accomplish that? Do you try and go it alone to learn it? What about someone who you look up to for their faith? Why not ask and look to them as a model for your own life? We live in a culture that likes to do it our own, but why recreate the wheel?
Take another look at the photo of the sheep and shepherd from Israel.
Notice the paths are not created by the existing sheep. The paths were already there, they are following the same paths that they have followed for hundreds of years. Why? Because it takes them where there is sustenance, where there is life. The paths of righteousness aren’t anything different.
Hundreds of thousands of believers have walked the paths before us. They devoted daily to spiritual practices like prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, worship and adoration of God, and fasting all because they loved God. The very things that would draw us into a closer relationship with God, deepening our spiritual foundations, are the same things that have been drawn believers to God for centuries.
“Ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”
Ever wonder why someone who is solid in their faith can seem so at peace even when life gets painful and messy? Watch them closely and see how closely they walk with God. Ask them what things they do on a daily basis that strengthens their faith to such an extent that they handle difficult things with so much grace.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think it’s rocket science. If a spiritual mentor of mine memorizes massive amounts of the Bible and I desire to be like that as well, I am going to ask him how he does it. What is his routine? If I want to gain a solid overview of the whole Bible then I will ask someone who has a really good understanding of the Bible what they do and how they learn it.
Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I don’t believe he made it difficult. So far, the daily Bible reading plan has been a fantastic thing for me. Even when I may not understand why or what something means, being able to read and have that connection with God through the biblical text helps me to start my day right. (Here is a link to download the Bible Reading Plan)
And I can sure tell the days I start it wrong. Follow the paths of those who have gone before.
I am thinking about green pastures today.
It’s not because we have a few inches of snow on the ground and I’m ready for spring.
I am thinking of green pastures because of the green pastures I saw on my trip to Israel and Turkey in 2016.
Before the trip, Psalm 23 would often make me think of funerals because that is about the only time I would hear it read out loud. Images of bright green peaceful fields would flood my mind, a place where there was so much green grass that a sheep could eat all it wanted and not have to move. Except maybe to sun itself on it’s another side.
When I think of green pastures this is the image in my head. It could be flat green pastures but either way, there is an abundance of green.
But this is not the land in which Psalm 23 was penned.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
This is what it looks like in Israel when a shepherd leads his sheep. Shepherds have led sheep over these hills and paths for generations.
You might be asking where the grass is, what are they eating because it looks like rocks and sand. Believe it or not, there are small tufts of grass there. You can almost make out a green haze when the sun hits it just right. There is not an abundance, there is just enough. The sheep might get a mouthful of grass and then have to move to the next little tuft of grass. There is no laying around in a cushy, plush green field of grass eating when they feel like it. They must keep moving, following the paths of those who have gone before.
When I think about this now, I see a lesson in trust and in contentment.
Being content with God providing just enough. Maybe not everything I want but all that I need.
Trusting the leading and the voice of the shepherd. The sheep move at the sound of the shepherd’s voice and they trust his voice. He will not lead them into danger, if you notice the shepherd is on a horse at the top of the hill, simply leading the sheep with his voice.
He knows where the grass will be, he knows what they need to survive. Life is not always easy but in trusting and believing God’s love for me, I have never lacked for anything. I have hopes and dreams, things that I want, but I am reminded today of God’s goodness. Today it is cold and we have several inches of snow on the ground. But I have a good house that is warm, full of love with sunlight bouncing off the snow and dazzling my eyes as I type. I have food to eat, a family that loves me, a “job” that I love, and a fresh cup of coffee on my desk.
It is enough.