Trees are an incredible part of God’s creation. The simple fact alone that they are necessary for our survival is awe inspiring enough, but the design of their nature provides great insight to our mutual Creator.
A root system for a single tree can spread over 100 square feet and move significant amounts of earth and man-made structures to reach the nutrients it needs. Many trees have visible roots near the surface, but more than 90% of the root system is below the visible surface*. The root system is large, expansive, and tenacious in its pursuit of water and food. However, even the roots visible on the surface and just below are still nothing but highways for the nutrients that the tree’s active roots are bringing in. The true source of the root networks are found in millions of tiny hairs near the root tip that are in fact invisible to our naked eyes. Every action required for the tree to survive happens without anyone seeing it. The tree must establish this root system first before sprouting even its first leaf. This system is necessary from the moment the tree is born and continues to be necessary for the roots to grow every growing season to feed and grow the visible parts of the tree. We can all see the bright green leaves stretch out to collect the sunlight, and the sunlight is indeed necessary for the tree. However, no one can see these microscopic cells grab onto each particle of soil to absorb what the tree needs to live. The most important resources, are not out for public display.
Our faith is intended to be initiated and sustained in much the same way. The heart of our faith root system is not intended to be visible to the public, and is beneficial to be established before any public expressions of faith begin to show. Our prayers, our study of God’s word and our heartfelt worship are not a matter for only public display. Like the leaves collecting sunlight, our visits to church, bible studies, service events and fellowship hours do indeed provide some of what we need to grow as a disciple and deepen our relationship with our Lord. They are good. They are necessary. However, these are not the heart of our root system of faith. The true heart of our root system lies in our daily, hourly, minutely devotion to our Lord. It lies in Christ alone. Our personal time with him to hear his voice, feel his care, take his direction, and worship at his feet. Our prayers behind closed doors and in the recesses of our heart; our study of his word in the privacy of our home and family; our honest and sincere gratitude that flows from our worship in the moments we realize the grace we have received; these are a few of the tiny, private, roots of a disciple grounded in Christ’s love. Not a checklist to be performed, or an achievement open to public witness, but the genuine foundations of faith to grow as a follower of Christ. Like the root tip grabbing a hold of each particle of soil, we grab onto each verse of his word, we absorb for ourselves the life sustaining needs for our lives. In the quiet of our mind and heart we allow ourselves to be saturated in his care and provision. Only once we establish our roots in Christ, will we grow into the disciple he has created us to be. Only when we abide in the true source of life will we truly live.
I didn’t start with daily devotions or a daily time with Jesus until my college years, and even then it was more out of guilt than true devotion of my heart. Over time, and witnessing growth in myself as a disciple, my desire to be with him grew. After years of figuring out the time of day, length of time, which bible translation that resonated with me the most, types of devotionals I connected with, ect., I had a nice routine that allowed me to be filled with the Spirit and seek to live my days in his strength. Perfection was never within reach, but I felt fulfilled by his grace and tried to live for him. Then…I had children. If there is anything in this world that will turn your life upside down, including what you thought was a balanced life, kids are it. And then…we had another one. With two kids ages 1 and infant my time with God was elusive. Our second child had a difficult start to infancy. Screaming around the clock and sleep was nonexistent. Previously my God time was in the mornings before the house was awake and it was truly quiet. Well, with a screaming infant acting like a ticking time bomb with an unknown eruption hour I would take every ounce of sleep I could get and forget everything else that should be done, including but not limited to: bathing, eating, dishes, laundry, ect. My time with God suffered, and my spirit suffered in the process. Anyone who knew me during that time of my life would tell you I was NOT a very kind person. I was grumpy, and short, and crying more than any other expression of emotion coming from me.
Eventually God’s pull on my heart was too much to ignore and he put his foot down. Insisting that we get back together because he knew I needed him more than I needed anything else. After making it through college, marriage, and my first kid on sleep alone, I started drinking coffee in the morning just to be able to get up and be with God. That stuff was horrible and I had more cream and sugar than coffee for about the first 6 months. It worked some days. I did feel more fulfilled again, and at the very least he gave me what I needed to be the wife and mother I needed to be. To be honest though, it still wasn’t like it was before. I’d get up a full hour before I thought my kids would be awake, but it would only work maybe 2 or 3 days out of the week. More often than not it was interrupted by little toddler feet running out to my chair in the morning ready to get in extra snuggles before the day started, or announce that they were hungry. Just as I would get into a time that I could reflect and hear God’s voice, I’d hear the little pitter patter of interruption running down the hard wood floor and around the corner to the living room. This interruption and distraction became such an annoyance to me that I actually dug out a closet, pulled down the shelves and made the tiniest room with a door on it so they couldn’t interrupt me. Well of course that didn’t work either. Now they have a super cool fort to read their books and play hide and seek in! So I just gave in. Figuring this is just what it is to be a parent and I just have to accept that they will interrupt everything, including my time with God. I continued to absorb what I could get from my time with God, set my heart on worshiping him, and rest in the fact that he knew that would be enough.
Then one day my kids were playing together in the living room as I cleaned up a meal in the kitchen. One of my kids said “Let’s go have bible time.” Curious as to what that would mean to them I peaked in on them around the corner. My child had grabbed his children’s bible from his book shelf, a pencil from his drawing box, and sat himself down on the couch. He opened his bible to the first page and started writing on his pages, underlining words. He could barely recognize letters, let alone read a single word other than his name, but here he was “studying.” I asked him what he was doing and he responded with the most attitude I’ve seen from him in his young years, “I’m reading my Bible. This is how you read a Bible, Mom. You know that.” As if my question came from such a ridiculous place that it should’ve been rhetorical. In that moment I almost lost it. I swallowed the lump in my throat, walked back to my kitchen sink and just felt my heart smile and tears run down my face. Here I was, frustrated at their interruptions. Annoyed that they would impede their needs upon me for things like breakfast and snuggles when I hadn’t gotten what I needed from God yet for that day. All along, it was not just my roots he wanted to feed. It was theirs too. He was planting seeds in their heart, just by asking me to feed my own. Every time they waddled around that corner, or opened that door to crawl into my lap, it was not just I that saw and heard them, they saw me too. They saw my Bible in my hands. They saw my head bowed in prayer. They saw me with God, and they saw God in me. He used what I disliked for his good despite how I felt about it. My children will never have a perfect mother, but they will know that she knew the perfect Heavenly Father. The roots he tends to in my faith feed further than my own heart. They feed more than my own branches. To this day I continue to wake in the morning for my time with God. To this day, more days than not, I am interrupted by my children, but I no longer find it an annoyance. They are invited into my arms, the same way our Father has invited me into his…and brought my children with him.
Consider the Word
Read Ephesians 3:14-19
Paul’s heartfelt prayer to the members of the church of Ephesus is there for us too. The fullness of God is experienced and expressed in our hearts. Not only in the pews of our church, not only on the streets of service, not only in the community of believers, but in the hearts of each believer as they dwell in communion with the Holy Spirit. Paul longs for all believers to grasp the complexity and limitless resources of our God. You are nowhere that God can’t reach. You are never without the life given by God alone. All we need to do is grab hold of the rich soil around us and allow the life giving love to be absorbed.
Read Luke 10:38-42
The verses dedicated to Mary and Martha are short, but very rich in truth. These sisters embody the constant struggle of what it means to lead a Christian life. Trying to work for the Kingdom of God but at the same time putting God first in our hearts. Martha encounters her Lord and flies directly into the work that must be done. The service to be completed. She sees the needs around her and is compelled to meet them even at great sacrifice to herself. Mary on the other hand has the same encounter with her Lord and cannot be bothered to do anything but sit in worship and adoration of him. Soaking in everything he has to say, even given the great cultural faux pas she is committing by sitting among the men of her time. She will not be distracted by the business around her. She is intent on taking whatever her Lord has to give. Martha’s frustration with Mary’s choice is well earned. Anyone with a sibling that they’ve tried to complete a chore with is standing in solidarity with Martha at this point. Raising our fists saying “Yes! Make her help her!” But as always, our Lord is not concerned with our business, no matter how righteous it is, but with our hearts. Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha shows us exactly where he stands. He does not imply that Martha’s work is unimportant, or unnecessary. After all, she is working to feed him and his disciples. As a wandering missionary, he knows her work must be done for even himself to eat that day. Even so, he points to her heart in the matter. He pulls out her worry over the details that are clouding her ability to take advantage of her time with him. When faced with the same choice, “Mary has chosen the better part.” It’s not the details that are the problem, it’s the level of concern she has for them. Better implies they are both good. Service work is not a bad choice. The work we do day to day is important. The time we spend serving and loving others is important to further the Kingdom of God. But it is not the better part. Worship at his feet is the better choice. Here is our Lord saying ‘It’s ok to stop worrying about the list of things to be done. I know they need to get done. I see the needs you see in this world too, and the responsibility you carry for them. Lay them down. Come to me. Find my peace. Find my rest. Be with me first. Let go. Choose the better part. Choose me. Everything will be ok. I love you too much to let you carry this load by yourself.’ Allow God to speak to your heart right now. Give him the business in your life. Give him the deep cares you have for humanity. Give him the thoughts and lists you have running through your mind, and let them go. Allow him to fill you first. Allow worshiping our God to be first. Let him be your God.
Read Matthew 6:5-13
Jesus teaches us exactly how he wants us to pray. The first step is often the most skipped and the most overlooked in our prayer life. The first step he gives us is to seclude ourselves. Not just ourselves from other people, or public surroundings, but to seclude ourselves from the world. Seclusion from the thoughts that drive us to bring our agenda to him. Seclusion from our selfish demands for him to rid our discomforts. Seclusion from our drive to achieve, even our achievements for him. He asks us to start in complete surrender to his voice and his peace. When we begin there, our prayers will flow from the Holy Spirit and not from our own desires. He loves us too much to let us settle for anything less than his ultimate peace. Free yourself to take the first step, and allow him to be your first choice.
Reflections and Questions to Consider
-Where does your “busy” come from? What demands are placed on you that get in the way of being with your Lord?
-What can you do without to put God first? Ask God to show you what needs to be moved so he can be first in your heart. Do not be afraid of the answer he gives you, but do your best to embrace it. Remember, it is not that he is telling you it is unimportant, it’s just not AS important as what he has for you.
-Find a time in your day, no matter how short, that God can come first and your thoughts come second. Ask him to show you the difference. Set this time aside each day for one week and see what happens in your heart. What you do with this time is up to you. Possible suggestions include: Reading from the Word. Sitting in silence. Journaling your thoughts. Listening to a Christian song. Anything that says to God ‘You come first.’ Wait for God to act and like the root tip of the tree grab hold of what he has to offer when he does. Your time with him will not be perfect and wonderful each day. There will be business and interruptions. Just remember that He will use that time with you no matter what. It will never be wasted, or regretted.
* “Trees”, Discovery Channel written series.