As we sit inside today, bracing for the coming of Hurricane Ophelia, I ran across Psalm 92. Verse 12 makes reference to the righteous man growing “like a cedar of Lebanon”. Now, I’ve never been to Lebanon, but I have spent time in the giant sequoias of California. These redwoods are certainly giant, living up to their name. They have limbs that sprout off the main trunk that are themselves larger than many trees you’d see. They stand tall and broad, impervious to weather and fire. Even long-dead branches lying on the ground show little sign of rot or decay. If cedars of Lebanon are anything like the giant sequoias, this is a powerful simile with regard to the way God nurtures and supports His people.
Something came to mind when thinking all of this through however. One of the few things that can kill a giant sequoia is both rare and dramatic. When a tree’s root system fails, these huge trees can come crashing down, shaking the earth and leaving the tree with no way to feed itself. How fitting in the lives of Christians as well! If a disciple of Jesus is not properly rooted in the Word, not nourishing his or her relationship with God in prayer and fellowship with other believers, the results can be equally catastrophic. Remember – a tree with compromised roots may have strong branches, green leaves, and every appearance of health. As the old saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. How often have we seen a Christian leader get caught up in sin with earth-shaking consequences?
The thing is, it’s not just the big “trees” who have to stay rooted in the Lord. And while the results of “small” sin in the lives of “small” people may not always seem disastrous, sin is always a symptom of a life not lived in fellowship with God in the moment. So the presence of sin – even sin we might consider insignificant – should drive us to prayer, to repentance, and to restoration of that live-giving connection with the all-sustaining God of eternity. As James says it,
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15 [ESV]
This speaks clearly. The desires of our flesh – which have sometimes been characterized broadly as the pursuit of fame, fortune, power, or pleasure – separate us from the One who gives life. That’s pretty serious! But we need to remember that sin in the life of the believer is a result of giving ourselves over not to a sanctifying God but to our own desires. This brings me to something Paul wrote:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 [ESV]
If the desires of the flesh lead us to calamitous ends, the antidote to this is not more willpower or fortitude. It is the very presence of God in our daily lives, being rooted and filled by the Holy Spirit. This is a root system that will not fail, though the earth around us may give way. Through the storm, God is able to sustain His people. May we all nurture the roots!