We had a tornado rip through Middle Tennessee a few weeks ago. Just a block from our home it uprooted several mature trees in the commons area so they lay like Lincoln logs scattered about. Even after the cleanup, large root balls still remain.
As I read my morning devotional, my thoughts honed in on the tree in Psalm 1:
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. Psalm 1:3 (NASB)
I chewed on the verse. Instead of answers I had only questions: “What would someone look like who is firmly planted? How does one get that way? How do I know I am firmly planted?”
The Psalmist offered two directions for the traveler. The path you take determines the destination. The one firmly planted is happy and the Lord watches over her. The other path is a slippery slope to ruin. Eugene Peterson calls the later “Skid Row” in The Message.
Those who lurk around Skid Row keep company with others who do what is right in their own eyes. They are swayed by the winds of change and grab onto the next new thing. Jesus wrote a parable about these people. When they came across God’s word (the seed) they let it get choked out by the busyness of life or the seduction of the world. Some didn’t spend time to understand it and the seed was snatched away. Others received the seed with joy at first, but it never took root.
The one who meditates on God’s word, delights in it, and bears fruit, though, is the one who allows the seed to be firmly planted. This is the path we want to tread on as those who follow Jesus.
Chew on it. My pastor in Houston said we should chew on the words of the Bible like a cow chews cud. Did you know a cow has four stomachs? The food has to go through all four stomachs to be processed. We, too, want to slowly chew God’s word so it sinks in and becomes part of the daily rhythms of our life. Reading long passages in your Bible is good, but chewing on a verse or phrase is like mining for gold.
Delight in it. We can delight in God’s word because it is His way of communicating to us. When you sit down to read your Bible, think of it as time where God is speaking directly to you. This shift in perspective will change the way you view His word. Consider praying before you start: “Lord, delight me with your word today! Thrill me! Surprise me! Comfort me. Convict Me.” Then begin reading with great anticipation.
Bear fruit through it. The Psalmist said that the tree firmly planted will bear fruit in season. Reading God’s word should change us. Even reading one passage today can change a person. If we are not seeing the fruit of reading God’s word, then we are not actually following Jesus. In order to follow Jesus, we must not only read the Bible but do what it says! This is where the soles of our spiritual shoes will begin to wear and tear. We will know we are following Jesus when we experience the fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
Some of you may be thinking, “But you don’t know my life! It is hard!” Paul’s life was hard. So were the lives of Abraham, Moses, and Peter, and today Billy Graham and Joni Eareckson Tada. No one escapes trials while walking this sod we call earth. Rather, the tree that is firmly planted will survive and can even thrive through the difficult times.
The library near our home used to have a huge live oak that was estimated between 330-380 years old. Then the tree started losing branches. Arborists wrapped chains around it to keep it together, but nature won the battle. For over 300 years, though, this tree stood firmly planted.
Another less mature tree in our backyard, started losing bark from its base. When spring arrived the tree barely leafed. It looked like a tree and was identified as an elm. Yet, inside it was diseased and crumbling to pieces. The same is true for us. We can look like we are following Jesus: go to church, read our Bible, and sing the hymns. Yet, the soles of our Jesus-following sandals look brand new. We haven’t followed Jesus at all. We’ve read about Him maybe even admired Him, but we still are complaining about the same things. Worrying about the same things. Spending money on the same things. Doing the same things.
But the one who has been chewing, delighting and bearing fruit in the word is the one who is firmly planted no matter what season of life she is in. She’s content in the lazy days of summer. Fall comes, she bears fruit for all to see, and it is a glorious sight. The frigid winter seeps in and the dark season painfully lingers on. Then spring arrives and a growth spurt occurs. The one who is firmly planted will faithfully walk through each of these, moving forwards following Jesus, even when life catches her like a high heel on a metal grate.
I wrote a note in my Bible at the top of this Psalm (probably from my pastor): “The survival of the plant is determined by the depth of the seed.” Let’s follow the path that allows the seed of God’s word to dwell richly and deeply in us. When we do, we will be firmly planted and ready for whatever life throws our way.