My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
– Psalm 62:7, NIV
As Christians we tend to talk a lot about being rooted in God and having Him as the foundation to life. It is a lovely image: the roots of a tree go deep into the soil and make the tree healthy and strong – and our lives should reflect that. But what does it look like in everyday life?
I have become increasingly discouraged over the years with the apparently shallow nature of modern Western society. We live in a culture that promotes a lifestyle in which people have everything they could ever need or want instantly in their hand, quick and easy with no trouble and no waiting. This is what we are encouraged to expect and strive towards. This mentality is reflected in the rapid decline of letter writing in preference of instant emails and social media; the expectation that every adult should drive a car because walking or using public transport takes too long; the online market that eliminates the need to go out to physical shops… Perhaps this is why things like taking time out of each day to pray, read the Bible or worship God seem like too much to expect of most Christians: time is precious, and why waste it on doing something that does not promise instant results?
I personally would much rather commit the time and energy to growing into a strong tree, rooted and grounded in God Himself, than a shallow one rooted only in the norms of society and my own laziness or impatience or selfish expectations. A strong tree would be one that consistently takes its sustenance from God, and seeks out that nourishment no matter how hard or how much it has to strain to reach it. I recognise that for many people time is seemingly hard to come by – especially those balancing full-time jobs and caring for small children, among other commitments. And I recognise, too, that committing time to seek God can feel like an even more costly sacrifice in the times when He seems distant and unresponsive. Perhaps those are the times that our roots will grow the most, if we actively pursue Him regardless of our time restrictions and our frustrations. A strong and deeply rooted tree is one that has had to strain and search for water when there appears to be none close-by.
Many Christians speak of the ‘wall’, or the ‘desert’ or similar metaphors referring to a particular time in the Christian journey when God seems uncharacteristically distant; when seeking Him feels like torture; when even talking about faith with other believers is sickeningly painful. We are aware that this journey is not always easy, and that although God Himself never changes, the ways in which He communicates with each of us may vary from time to time depending on what He may wish to do in and through our lives. Indeed, if God were to make relationship with Him consistently simple and easy, there would be little need for faith or any deep level of trust. If He were to answer every prayer straight away in the ways that we want and expect, and if every day we find it exciting and fulfilling to pray, and if every time we open the Bible we find it full of encouragement and truth to apply to our everyday lives, and if we were to find it easy and even enjoyable to completely give up sin – then it would cost us no effort whatsoever to receive the nourishment that we need to grow. Our ‘roots’ would have no need of further growth. Of course, the times of excitement and wonder in His presence are an amazing and valuable part of the Christian life – but I believe it is not healthy or balanced to live that way 100% of the time.
Sometimes in our own lives we may notice after a time of difficulty that God has used it to make us stronger in our faith, even though we may not have noticed during the time of difficulty itself. We may find it comforting to know that God somehow managed to bring good from it – but I wonder, is there some way that we can actively put into practice all those Bible passages that speak of having our lives built on Christ and letting our roots grow deep into Him…?
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
– Colossians 2:6-7, NIV
When challenges arise, such as finding it difficult to talk with God, or being upset about a situation in life, or finding it hard to connect with Scripture, or a number of other things – we have a choice to make. We can either say “This is too difficult, I can’t cope with relationship with God” and thus draw away from Him, or we can say, “This is a challenge that is worth pushing through – I choose to commit to sticking by Him and growing closer to Him, even though it’s a struggle”. The first option makes our already relatively frail tree of life become even weaker; while the second – even the very process of making that choice – makes us stronger as we choose to come closer to God and plant ourselves in Him.
How do we do this, draw closer to God when life isn’t making it easy? Maybe we feel dry and empty when we try to pray – so how can we possibly let our roots grow deeper into Him then? I believe that in times such as this it is absolutely vital to let go of our pride and admit defeat: admit that we cannot do it alone. We must surrender to God and let Him show us the way through – we must recognise that we are His and that we need Him. We must throw ourselves at Him and keep on releasing our lives and our prayers and our whole selves into His hands, knowing that alone we are incapable.
Candi Staton put it quite well, I think:
Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air
But I know I can count on you
Sometimes I feel like saying, ‘Lord I just don’t care’
But you’ve got the love I need to see me through
Sometimes it seems the going is just too rough
And things go wrong no matter what I do
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you’ve got the love I need to see me through
Isn’t it amazing that His love can carry us through even the most horrific of times in our lives? We can rant at Him – He is big enough to take it and He wants us to be honest with Him rather than trying to hide it or pretend that everything is OK. Other Christians may find it hard to respond helpfully if we are open with them about our struggles, but God is bigger and more able than they are. We can admit to Him when we are feeling overwhelmed with life and unable to cope, and yield to Him all our thoughts and feelings and fears and struggles, and He can carry us through, even when He seems distant. May we learn to surrender ourselves to God so that He can strengthen our roots and build in us a strong foundation in the times when we need Him the most. As we surrender, may He give us that little ounce of faith that we need to keep clinging to Him when we are tempted to give in and renounce it all. As we surrender, may He prepare us for those times in our lives. They will come. This is when deep roots in Him and a firm foundation of faith will be most needed.
Someone asked me yesterday how to get through ‘the wall’: how to cope with the times when God seems far off, and how to come through the other side stronger. I’m not sure there is any one adequate answer to that question. My response is to surrender it to God. To keep clinging to Him with whatever tiny ounce of faith and stubbornness and determination is left. And to not give up on trying to pray for people and for situations, trying to read the Bible, and trying to spend time with other Christians – even though it may seem frustratingly dry and empty. These ‘spiritual disciplines’ can feed the faith and keep the doors open for God to teach us and speak to us even in the darkest of times.
Richard Foster wrote (in Celebration of Discipline), “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit…By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done”. This concept of discipline puts a lot of people off in today’s shallow culture of “we get what we want, when we want it”. God does not despise us if we do not read the Bible or if we do not pray in a while, but I believe He gets very excited when we do – especially when it is costly or difficult for us to do so. In the times when life is painful or when God seems far away we can still surrender to God and choose to keep praying and seeking Him, out of love for Him and longing to come closer to Him, and let our roots grow deeper into Him. I believe He finds this tremendously exciting, and is hugely proud of us whenever we make that choice.
In her article Arranging Our Lives For Spiritual Transformation, R. H. Barton wrote about how she became avidly interested in watching the sunset from the beach each evening, and how that became a priority in her life. Comparing it to relationship with God, she wrote, “I began to bring to sunsets a kind of urgency and intentionality that had nothing to do with duty and everything to do with desire. I didn’t have to arrange my life to see sunsets; I wanted to. This rhythm of nature that happened every single day was so rich and compelling that I didn’t want to miss it.” It was that simple: she was not morally obliged to go and watch the sunsets – she loved them so much that she longed to see them, so much that she planned her life around it. Out of love for God we can make time and space to be with Him and develop relationship with Him, letting Him strengthen the roots of our faith. May we surrender to Him, and allow Him to instill in us that kind of intentional love.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
– 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NIV
Barton goes on to describe spiritual disciplines as “a way of ordering our lives around the values, practices, and relationships that keep us open and available for God’s mysterious work of transformation in our lives. A rule of life provides structure and space for our growing.” Just as the physical body has necessities such as breathing, or the heartbeat, “certain rhythms are so essential to the spiritual life that when they stop, we become spiritually deadened and lifeless.” What do we prioritise in life? Do we choose, out of love for God and desire for closer relationship with Him, to form our lives around getting to know Him – to discipline ourselves in the things necessary for our growth, even if at times they might be very difficult for us? I believe that this is part of what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of building our lives on the solid rock, the firm foundation. So may we surrender to God our feet and let Him place them on the solid rock. May we let Him teach us how to prioritise what is healthy for our spiritual life and growth, and let our roots grow down deep into His love to keep us strong (Ephesians 3:17).
He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.
– Isaiah 33:6, NIV
I believe that building one’s life on the foundation of Christ means having your life completely revolving around Him. When training for the Olympics, an athlete’s whole life will be ordered around his or her training – the person’s life’s goal at that time is to win a medal, and so everything else is second to that or points towards it. Building our life on the foundation of Almighty God means that everything in life is for Him. He is the motive for getting up in the morning. It is for His glory that we go to work. Our thoughts and attitudes as we go throughout each day are all to please Him and in the awareness of His company at every moment. We resist temptation because our life’s purpose is in the hands of God – HE is the One we live for. As 2 Timothy 2:19 (NIV) says, “God’s solid foundation stands firm.”
This applies not only to individuals as God’s people but as the Church too. St Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:19-21, NIV): “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord”. As a Community, a people, we as God’s children are a holy temple for God, with the purpose of knowing Him and bringing Him glory. So the foundation and the basis for all we do as a Church – the “cornerstone” – is Christ. Everything else is built up from there. The Church is not a business, built on the motive and “cornerstone” of finance and productivity, but a living organism existing for the glory of God, in growing relationship with Him.
What’s more, when our foundation is Christ, the rest of the “house” of our lives cannot be built of any other material – every part of us must be surrendered to Christ, our motive for everything being to get to know Him better and make Him known to others, because we belong to Him. 1 Corinthians 3:10-13 (NIV) says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.” If we claim to have the Lord as our foundation to life but then live in sin, or have other motives and priorities that are more important to us than Him, then our “house” of life is not firm.
So may we surrender to God our feet, and on whose ground we stand. May we let Christ be the foundation of our lives, knowing that He will never leave us, will always love us, and is always the same no matter what we’re going through. May we allow Him to shape us so that everything we do, say and think, and every motive, is as a result of living a life rooted and grounded in Him. May our whole life be centred around Him, and may our roots grow deeper into Him and keep us strong throughout every situation.
God my Rock,
Thank You for showing us that we can build our lives on You.
Thank You that You are a firm foundation when life is full of uncertainty.
Please teach me to centre my life completely around You.
I surrender to You my feet – please be my Rock, my life’s foundation.
Help me to grow closer to You in every circumstance – I want to be rooted and grounded in You!
I give You the way I live as a result of being built on the Rock.
Please teach me Your ways: I want to live completely for You.
May I live in Your ways, with Your Kingdom as my motive rather than myself.