He shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
Here united in the child of God are two contrasting characters. Above ground, as it were, is the simple unsophisticated life of trust and faith represented by the lily of God’s planting. That is what men see. Yet buried deep down out of sight, giving to this frail plant a wholly unsuspected strength, are the massive roots of the cedar. Here surely is the paradox of a life in which the Cross is known. Outwardly it is fragile as the lily blooming on the earth, but secretly there is a hundred times more below ground.
This is the test. How much of my life is seen? When men look on the surface, have they seen the whole, or is there something more? Have I in the unseen a secret history with God? Men take account on,y of the lily blooming in its weakness. God is concerned with the roots, that they shall be cedar like in strength.
Plants with shallow root systems are intensely subject to their environment. It doesn’t take much heat from the sun to cause them to wither away. It doesn’t take very strong winds to pluck them up and toss them about. Shallow roots resist being pulled up minimally, only a little tug is necessary. On the other hand plants with deep root systems while affected by their environment withstand its ebbs and flows and they continue to flourish. In dry seasons, because their roots have grown deep in the ground, they tap into the life giving water trapped far beneath the dried topsoil. In stormy seasons, as the fierce winds blow, they bend, sometimes loose leaves and branches but aren’t destroyed. If you’ve ever tried to pull up a plant with a deep root system, you know that it takes more than a tug to uproot them.
We also know that what is visible on the surface of an iceberg is only a fraction of the whole. Deep under the surface there lies the greatest portion of what makes up the iceberg and gives it its strength and power. Many ships have been struck by what appeared to be a small piece of ice and suffered great damage from that unseen portion.
Both of these two examples in nature point to a deep spiritual truth. The depth of our lives rooted in God will be seen above the surface in how our environment affects our conduct, actions, and words. The apostle Peter had two names. His first name, Simon, which means “reed” indicated someone who could be easily persuaded to go with the flow. At that point in his life, he was so shallow that his environment almost immediately changed what surfaced. Scripture tells of of a man that seemed to be two different people at times. We read that as he shifted his focus(like the reed in the wind) he waffled between being a person influenced by God one minute and his surroundings the next. He is not alone in this. Many are there who become adapted to their environment. Almost like chameleons they blend into their surroundings for the winds of their surroundings bend them. In Peter’s case, we discover that one moment he is walking on the water and the next he’s drowning in that water. One moment he is speaking revelation as given by the Father and the next he is speaking on behalf of the devil. One moment he is declaring his undying commitment to Christ and follows it up by drawing his sword to defend Him and the next moment he is cursing and denying that he even knows Christ. Underdeveloped root systems are never revealed in greenhouse environments but they become obvious in the adversities of life. It’s easy to talk about having faith while we sit securely with fellow believers in the safety of the sanctuary. It’s another matter altogether to stand firm in our faith and hold tight to our values when those things might cost us suffering. Many have scoffed at Peter for his wish-washy ways but the truth is that we all in our selves are nothing more than “reeds” subject to the shifting of our environment. Becoming a Peter-Petros the Rock isn’t mustering up false courage or strong self will. Nothing human can ever give us strength to be this. You can see in Peter’s story that there were times when he boldly declared his intentions- “I will never deny you, you can always count on me.” But in the crisis of testing, his shallow root system gave way and the reed shifted.
Enter that Root of David- Christ into Peter’s life for before the test, Jesus said something to Peter that we need to hear:
“Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! Satan has demanded to sift [all of] you like grain; but I have prayed [especially] for you [Peter], that your faith [and confidence in Me] may not fail; and you, once you have turned back again [to Me], strengthen support your brothers [in the faith].”
Luke 22: 31-32
Yes, Peter failed that test and could have easily been blown away but for the fact that Christ who was rooted deep interceded for him. Peter’s story doesn’t end in failure. As he returns to Christ, as he receives the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, his roots grow deep by the power of God. The next time he faces a choice, his reed-shifting days are gone and out of his roots anchored deep in God he proclaims rather than deny that Christ is truly the Son of God and the way to salvation. When he faces the austere governing body of the Sanhedrin, gone is the fearful disciple who was intimidated by even a little servant girl and in its stead stands a man boldly declaring that the very Christ they had crucified was indeed the Son of God. No threats, no prisons, and no environment would move him again. Did he struggle or question? Yes! But those roots anchored deep in God would give him strength to stand.
Quite often we judge ourselves and others by what is seen on the surface, perhaps in a momentary glimpse. But God looks deep to where our roots are. Flowers bloom and fade away. Plants go through seasons of blooming and producing fruit and being dormant as far as can be seen on the surface, but the roots continue to grow, either pushing down deep into the soil or just spreading out just underneath the surface. Those who choose the easier path of shallowness because it requires little effort and after all, they think it’s what that is visible on the surface that matters the most, may appear, at least initially, to be impressive. For a season their actions like flowers in full bloom attract lots of attention but as soon as the hot winds of adversity blow, they wither away. Like hothouse flowers, as soon as the environment changes back to comfort, they blossom again but there is no depth that can be trusted.
Developing a deep root system is difficult, often painful, and pushes us to the limits. I’m told that the mighty tree that stands in the storm can do so because it’s roots have been anchored deep and every wind that has blown has strengthened it as its fibers have been stretched again and again.
“His voice shook the earth [at Mount Sinai] then, but now He has given a promise, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the [starry] heaven.” Now this [expression], “Yet once more,” indicates the removal and final transformation of all those things which can be shaken—that is, of that which has been created—so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, and offer to God pleasing service and acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for our God is [indeed] a consuming fire.”
Our world, the church, our families and ourselves are experiencing a great shaking in these days. War, violence, economic calamity, inflation, conflict, confusion, the questions of the authority and authenticity of the Bible, family and church division, not to mention personal struggles dominate the news. Much of what we thought we could count on has not measured up. Sometimes those we have trusted have betrayed or disappointed us. Countless meetings called to discover solutions have ended without any resolution. There is indeed a whole lot of shaking going on. The obvious question is: How shall we stand in this time of shaking? Hebrews gives us the answer of hope. First, we ought not be surprised when we experience shaking. But the most important answer is that our roots aren’t anchored in the systems of this world but in the “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” We aren’t anchored to a pebble that can be blown about by every wind, but to the Rock- Christ Jesus. And if our roots have grown into and wrapped around the Rock, nothing can shake us loose.
Grow deep at every opportunity. Make it your priority and purpose to sink your roots deep in Christ! How? By seeking His face in prayer. By seeking His presence in worship. By seeking His way in every decision. And by seeking His direction in every aspect of your life. Make developing your relationship with God your focus.
Jesus said something that we ought to pay attention to:
“But when you pray, go into your most private room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.”
It’s not the flowers seen nor the fruit plucked nor even the green leaves that are visible that is the strength of the tree. But it is the roots hidden from view that are the secret of its strength. In the same manner it’s not what is visible to others but the unseen that is visible to God that gives us strength. A deeply developed secret life with God will be seen in the visible through our words, conduct, and actions especially in times of distress. A shallow life will manifest itself the same way. In the time of testing, what does the surface reaction say about your roots?
Dr. John Thompson