Jesus often used images of plants, vegetables, and trees to teach His disciples. He did not invent this practice. In fact, the prophets and the psalm writers also liked their fruits and veggies. Jesus and the teachers before Him recognized that, like vegetation, humans have specific needs to thrive, to be healthy, and grow.
One common theme in these agricultrual teachings is the importance of roots, that connection to something more firm than one’s self is essential to well-being. For plants, this connection is to healthy soil, to the earth which will hold a tree upright against great winds, extensive drought, or a lack of nourishment. Just like plants, humans need to be rooted to something more substantial than ourselves to thrive.
Most importantly, we must be rooted to Jesus to thrive and grow (John 15). We also must be connected to God’s words (Psalm 1) and connected to the family of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Dependent connection to something greater than oneself is essential to human flourishing. This understanding is foundational to the next few blog posts I will write called “Slow and Steady.” The basic purpose of those posts will be to reflect on a basic principle we see taught by Jesus; that the best growth, growth of the Kingdom of God, is slow and steady. Consider this teaching Jesus gives:
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
I am going to be reflecting for some weeks on this slow and steady reality. But first, let’s talk about the importance of roots for this slow and steady reality to come to fruition. Roots are the foundation on which trees grow large over time, slow and steady. Roots are also what it makes it possible for humans to mature over time.
Recently, the north side of Chicago had some major storms and many trees became uprooted. Every great tree that went down, an incredible root system that sustained that tree for some time became revealed. When a tree becomes uprooted, that tree can no longer survive and much damage is done to the ground around it. Again, so it is with us.
There are many ways for us to be rooted, but one particular often overlooked by believers. In the United States, people are constantly moving from one place to the next. Many people under 25 will stay for some time in a place where they receive their degree and then move often from place to place well into their late 30’s. This lack of rootedness to place and people has all sorts of negative repercussions for individuals and the church.
When we are not rooted to a place and people many things happen:
We are not known, and we do not deeply know others. We are tentative to invest time and energy into others and we have hardly anyone invest in us. We neither learn to respect the places we live, nor learn how we can make them a better place. Our lack of rootedness in place and with people makes the slow and steady principle Jesus taught hard to realize because we are hardly able to pause long enough to see the Kingdom of God’s expansion into our lives and world.
Like a tree needs land, a specific place, so I think, contrary to modern opinions, for us to be healthy, we need a place, and we need people. I am neither talking about saying you cannot be healthy if you do not own property, nor am I suggesting God does not have authority to uproot us. There are also some people who will honor God well by moving from place to place. But I want to suggest that the norm is that we experience, growth, health, and joy as we commit to a place and people for an extended period of time.
Agapé Chicago, I would love to interact with you on this idea. Please ask questions and add thoughts as well. Since dependent connection to something greater than oneself is essential to human flourishing, and obviously God is the greatest person to which we can be connected, He is alone absolutely necessary. However, I contend that God has made us, like trees, to often grow in very specific ways.
Look forward to some dialogue about this idea for I know it is controversial.