Trees, A River, and Radical Dependency

[God’s people] delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. –Psalm 1:2,3 (NLT)

After warning about the danger of influencers (see Are You Being Influenced?), the Psalmist points us to the ultimate Influencer, the Lord God.

Take a good look at this photo. The image the psalmist uses is one I’m sure you’ve seen at some point in your life. A river surrounded by flourishing trees. It’s a beautiful sight. Even here in the desert, if you go up in the air, you’ll see meandering groves of trees that follow the courses of our desert arroyos, because when they flood during the monsoons, the trees benefit.

Like trees, we have roots, spiritual roots, emotional roots, social roots, and those roots crave water. If we sink our roots deep into God’s life, God’s Word, God’s Spirit, we’ll thrive. We’ll bear fruit that supports and nourishes others, we’ll grow leaves that provide shade and comfort to others, we’ll grow strong and healthy so that we can resist life’s storms.

If we live along God’s riverbank, he says we’ll experience:

  1. Delight as we read and live out his Word;
  2. A rich life where our souls are refreshed by his living water;
  3. A fruitful life where we comfort others and experience God’s blessings.

There are only two roads, the Psalmist says: one that nourishes, another that kills. Which one are you on?

I heard a friend say:

God calls us to a radical dependency, but we prefer independence.

And he’s right. I really want to be a tree on the move. I want to be a tree that makes its own decisions about where to put down roots. I want to be independent. Independence is an instinct that runs powerfully through my veins – I don’t like depending on people, or on God. And that instinct for independence often gets me in trouble.

A few years ago at work I needed to go up on the roof of one of our buildings to adjust a piece of networking equipment. It was a simple job and as a capable adult I knew I was fully able to do what needed to be done all by myself. So I put up a ladder and climbed to the rooftop. But just as I was stepping over the top, the ladder slipped sideways and fell. And, gravity being gravity, I fell, too, about 15 feet onto a concrete sidewalk. No one saw me fall, which was a problem because after a few minutes of lying on the ground in great pain, I discovered that I couldn’t move.

Fortunately, my cellphone had survived, so I called 911, described where I was, and within a few minutes the EMTs were there to take me to the hospital. My independence that day earned me a broken hip.

We can get away with declaring independence from God for a time. We can survive for a while without putting our roots into that river of living water. But it’s a very thirsty way to live.

We really are like trees. Our heavenly Father wants us to live in radical dependence on him, not digging our own wells, but drinking deeply from his good river of life.

If we sink our roots deep into his good earth, we’ll have the strength to resist the influencers, the mockers, and the self-promoters who want to use us to advance their own agendas. And we’ll thrive.

Psalm 1 ends this way:

For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. –Psalm 1:6 (NLT)

This world we live in is a dangerous place. There are traps and pitfalls. There are people who are vying for our hearts and minds.

But God watches over us. God has your back. Take another look at that photo. Trees growing along a riverbank are not alone. They’re part of a great crowd, a great forest of trees, all growing side by side, all drinking the good water of the river.

And so are we. So are you. The Church is a community of trees planted by Master Gardener, pruned by the Master Gardner, nourished by the Master Gardener, all of us bearing fruit that becomes a blessing to the people we meet, not only those who are growing along the riverbank, but a blessing to those who are wandering in search of a better place to put down roots. If you’re rooted in God’s river, your life automatically becomes a blessing to his creation.

So Psalm 1 gives us a challenge. Pay attention to the influencers. Examine what they’re saying. Examine the things you hold dear. Examine the things you believe are true. Examine what you value and the road you’re on.

Psalm 1 lays out a promise and a hope, that God has a river of living water, nourishing water, cool water, with plenty of room on the riverbank for each one of us.

Blessed are the people of God who delight in his word and find life in the rich, moist soil along his river of life.

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