Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Roots and Fruits

The survivors of Judah’s family who have escaped will put down roots and bear fruit above. 
        Isaiah 37:31

Fruit does not come without good roots. The outward signs of discipleship result from putting down good roots in the love of Christ as Paul says in Ephesians 3:17-19:  I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

If you have ever had a potted plant, whether a houseplant or a potted flower, vegetable or herb for your garden, you are familiar with root bound plants. When a plant cannot spread its roots because it is confined to a pot too small for it, the roots will grow more and more entangled. If the plant gets too root bound, it dies. Even if a root bound plant is planted where the roots can spread, the damage may already be too great to reverse. I have pulled up dead plants in my garden only to discover that the roots had never recovered from being root bound.  The problem with a root bound plant is that the damage is not visible from looking at the plant.

In the church, we often put more emphasis on the fruit than the roots. We encourage service, generosity and hospitality. We send people on mission trips and recruit greeters and feed and clothe the poor in our communities. We serve on church committees and teach Sunday school and sing in the choir. All these are fruits. But without a good root system, the fruits dry up due to burnout, or lose their sweetness due to resentment or become diseased and poisonous due to lack of faith. With little attention given to the roots, the fruits are no longer beneficial. Like a root bound plant, the damage may not be visible to the casual observer.

How much time do you give to reading the Word, praying the Word and living the Word? Does study of scripture and sacred texts happen for you on a daily basis at a regular time and place? Do you give your best attention each day to growing in intimacy with God, or is your attention haphazard and irregular?

When I hear people talk of being burned out on “church work,” I know that they have failed to attend to the roots. When I hear someone mispronounce a common Biblical name, it saddens me because they are missing out on the joys of familiarity with God through the scripture. When I see church leaders anxious and fearful, I sense that their roots are shallow and weak.

In many churches, much time is spent talking about how to increase numbers of members and contributions. We look at fruit, but we fail to devote attention to the roots. We talk more about evangelism and relevance than we do about spiritual formation, which is how our roots are made strong. We give our attention to doing rather than being, falling headlong into our Western belief that productivity is king.

The church will continue to suffer as long as its members focus only on fruit. Passion for God can be ignited through service, but it cannot survive without becoming rooted, which is the work of spiritual formation. It is the heart, our passion for Christ, which produces healthy, fruitful service. When Christ is everything to us, then fruit cannot be restrained.

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