Posts Tagged ‘Christians’
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears (Isaiah 11:1-3)
The last couple of days have been somewhat difficult for me. I am sometimes stricken with doubt and second-guessing myself. I can go days, weeks, even months it seems and never be swayed from or persuaded to veer from my confidence in the course I am following for Jesus. Then one day it seems I look up from the path I’ve been so earnest and diligent to follow and I am all alone… nobody there with me… and it’s quiet, and it’s scary, and I wonder if I should turn back and run or try another path. I think I’m not the only one who experiences this.
In the midst of my doubt and in the midst of my feeling alone, something else also occurs within my soul and I wonder how many other believers share the experience. This “something else” is faith; enormous faith and huge confidence. My feelings of desolation may go on for days (sometimes weeks), but my faith is renewed and I am capable through a strength beyond my own to persevere and continue on in the direction I believe I was called. I may not “see” or “sense” Jesus with the same degree of intensity and clarity as I was in previous moments, but I know He is near and I know He upholds me…and because of this knowledge and confidence of heart I press on with renewed fervor.
I don’t know if this experience is being shared by the rest of my Christian brothers and sisters. I see so many people blown about by the winds of circumstance and enticed by the scintillating distractions that are the faith-wrecking siren songs played at max volume each day of our lives in the media-frenzied world in which we live. It takes a special resolve, and faith that has been nurtured, in order to stand in the midst of desolation and trial, and ultimately…emerge strengthened, refined, and even refreshed.
What does it take to nurture a strong faith? Trust and discipline are the first things that come to my mind, at least in the context of my personal experience. In the circles I have traveled I have often heard the phrase uttered, “Our congregations are a mile wide and an inch deep.” Translation: the Christians we know are shallow or immature. This sounds somewhat arrogant, condescending, judgmental, harsh, and just plain not nice. The truth of the matter is that it is true and it’s not a phenomenon relegated to this particular era or restricted to Westerners (specifically North Americans). In fact, the writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews said as much almost two thousand years ago; see the following:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The path of the Jesus follower does not flow from belief + conversion = maturity. There are also the integers of practice and process, neither of which bring with them overnight success. Jesus talks about his followers being the branches to him as the Vine (John 15:4-5). Thinking about this a few days ago in conversation with my family during morning devotions, and I began thinking about trees and their root systems.
There are a lot of trees that look healthy on the outside, but it’s hard to tell how hearty they are by what they look like on the outside. I think there is a high percentage of Christians that are like trees. Jesus also describes a similar scenario in the Parable of the Sower. I’m not a farmer and I don’t know a lot about trees, but I’ve seen what happens when storms and dangerous winds hit big, pretty trees with shallow roots. They get uprooted, they get toppled, and they die; sometimes they do significant collateral damage to the objects and/or people they “fall” upon. In either event, the outcome is never pretty. Some of the things I read about shallow (flat) root trees are that some varieties are quick growing because the root systems, although shallow, are quick to grow and spread. They cover a lot of ground and feed the early stage growth of the tree to the point that it is capable of producing early fruit. I think some Christians are like this too, getting a lot of pertinent and necessary information capable of producing some fruit, but maybe not enough to produce a lasting harvest (of thirty, sixty, or one hundred fold). Sadly, because a deep root has not been formed, these early blooming shallow root “trees” often tragically fail the testing of their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
It takes discipline and determination to push into the hard soil of life and develop the deep tap root needed to persevere and endure the storms that will rail against our faith. When the soil of our life is dry, when the soil is hard, and when the nutrients needed for our survival do not seem like they are there…we must resist the temptation to look elsewhere or satisfy our need with something altogether different. True enough, it may satisfy for a season… but our roots continue to grow flat and remain shallow when we opt for this alternative. Instead, God’s Word draws us to burrow “deep” press down into the source of eternal water from the springs that never dry. It is here we find the life-giving nutrients for a tap root of our soul and our faith is anchored strongly. We produce seasons upon seasons of harvests. We produce shade for those in need of rest. We provide haven for creatures to take up safety and residence in our care. We become a tree of Life because we are grafted in to the deep tap root of Jesse, the Lord, our Messiah Jesus.
3-4 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.
5-6 Commit your way to the LORD; and He will do this—
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noon day sun.
7-8 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
—Do not fret…
—Do not fret…
18-19 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.
23-24 If the LORD delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble,
he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.
34 Wait for the LORD and keep His way;
put your hope in the LORD and travel steadily along His path. (Psalm 37)
“With the vastness of the heavenly invasion and the urgency of the faith decision rolling into our consciousness like thunder and lightning, we cannot stand around on Sunday morning filling the time with pretentious small talk on how bad the world is and how wonderful this new stewardship campaign is going to be…”
“I have been a pastor for thirty years to American Christians who do their best to fireproof themselves against crisis and urgency. Is there any way that I can live with these people and love them without being shaped by the golden-calf culture? How can I keep from settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers? How can I avoid a metamorphosis from the holy vocation of pastor into a promising career in religious sales? Here is a way: submit my imagination to St. John’s apocalypse–the crisis of the End combined with the urgencies of God–and let the ergies of the apocalyptic define and shape me as pastor. When I do that, my life as pastor simplifies into prayer, poetry, and patience.” Eugene Peterson; The Contemplative Pastor (pp. 39-42)
Praise God and Amen.