Rooted In The Lord

After finishing last week’s Bible study, I opened my Bible at random and found myself in Jeremiah 17. Usually when I’m in this section of scripture it’s to quote verse 5 — “Cursed is the man who trusts in man” — or verses 9 and 10 — “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” But this time a different verse caught my eye.

Nestled in between these warnings against trusting in ourselves or other people is a lovely picture of what it looks like to trust in God.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8)

This word translated “blessed” is baruch, the same word I wrote about in connection with the phrase “Baruch Hashem” — “bless the name [of the Lord].” In this context, it means to receive a blessing from God. The nature of this blessing is explained in verse 8, but first there are two prerequisites.

Trust and Hope

The verses we’re talking about start out by saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” The Psalms also have quite a lot to say about this idea —  both the necessity of trusting in God and the fact that He doesn’t disappoint those who do trust in Him.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. (Ps. 125:1-2)

This verse uses the example of Jerusalem to show how God protects His people. But Jerusalem has been a war-zone off-and-on for hundreds of years — what sort of protection is this?

God does not promise to shield us from every harm. We are in a battle, and “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Trusting in God doesn’t mean we won’t have to battle. It means we have a hope of winning the battle using His strength and His armor (Eph. 6:10-18).

Speaking of hope, the next part of the verse in Jeremiah reads, “and whose hope is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). Hope is an integral part of being a Christian. It’s listed with faith and love in 1 Corinthians 13:13. It’s connected with Christ’s indweling presence in Colossians 1:27. Hebrews 6:18-19 calls our hope “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Rom. 8:24-25)

Hope’s even a part of our salvation process, described here in Romans much the same way faith is described in Hebrews 11:1. “Hope” in the Greek is elpis, (G1680), and it means “desire of some good will with expectation of attaining it.” That definition brings us right back to the idea of trust. We trust in God because we believe and have hope that He will be with us, and our sure expectation of that hope increases our trust.

Planted by the Water

Even before getting to a more thorough description of this person who is blessed by God, the words “trust” and “hope” are already giving us an idea of someone being firmly attached to God. They imply a focus on God, and an act of clinging fast to Him. Fittingly, the next phrase is, “he shall be like a tree planted by the waters.”

First, note that this person is “planted,” not growing there naturally or by chance. All of us who hope and trust in God have been personally selected by Him and purposefully “planted” into His family beside “the waters.” This isn’t physical water we’re talking about, any more than it’s a literal tree. This is what Jesus described as “living water” (John 4:10).

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

God is the source of the living, life-giving water that we need to flourish where He has planted us. If we forsake “the fountain of living waters,” we end up in a state opposite that of blessedness (Jer. 2:13). But if we stay close to Him, we will grow and thrive.

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses. (Is. 44:3-4)

Willow trees have strong, fast-growing root systems that love water. When planted by a water source, the roots grow so quickly and densely that they actually help hold the banks of a stream or pond in place. That’s how firmly we must be attached to the source of Living Water. That’s also the next thing mentioned in Jeremiah, as the blessed person is compared to a tree that “spreads out its roots by the river” (Jer. 17:8).

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,  rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7)

When Heat Comes

This tree, firmly rooted by the Living Water, is next described as having no “fear when heat comes, but its leaf will be green.” When I think of “heat” in the Bible, my mind usually goes to the idea of fiery trials. We’re going through a refining process that involves heating us up and seeing how we react so bad things can be purged away and we can become pure.

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:12-13)

Walking through metaphorical fire is an inescapable aspect of being Christian (1 Pet. 4:12-13). If we’re firmly founded — or rooted — on Jesus Christ, though, passing through fire is not disastrous for us. In fact, it can draw us closer to Him and refine us to be more like He is. He doesn’t just abandon us “when heat comes.” He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you … when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you” (Is. 43:1, 2). Like the bush God spoke to Moses in, we can be in the midst of fire and still be green and flourishing because the Lord is in us (Ex. 3:2).

Yielding Fruit

The phrase “will not be anxious in the year of drought” had me a bit puzzled (Jer. 17:8). Drought means a lack of water, which in this analogy we’ve been describing as the Holy Spirit poured out through Jesus Christ. So, does the mention of “drought” mean that something is going to happen that makes God’s Spirit generally unavailable, but will not affect those who are already firmly rooted in God?

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it. “In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13)

This is the first scripture that finally came to mind for this idea of drought. In the United States, we’re used to living in a country where we can pick up a Bible in most stores, search translations and commentary online, and find a plethora of Christian churches to visit. But that hasn’t been the norm for most of history, or most of the world, and it might not stay that way here. And even if the words are available, they won’t make any sense unless God gives His Spirit of understanding. That’s why we need to seize every chance we have to draw closer to God, and be tapped into the source of Living Water.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Is. 58:11)

And when this happens, we can not only be unworried by drought, but also not “cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8). Being fruitful is the subject of the opening verses in John 15. Here, Jesus describes Himself as “the true vine,” and tells us the only way to bear fruit is to be connected to Him.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit …

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. …

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-2, 4-5, 7)

If we’re securely attached to Christ, our lives will yield fruit that reflects that relationship. We’ll be demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and walking “in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). And then not only will we be blessed, but we’ll be a blessing to others. Not only will we have access to living water, but rivers of God’s Spirit will flow out from us as well (John 7:37-38). Blessings from God affect us wondrously, but they don’t stop with us — they’re designed to overflow us and spill out to bless others, and show that we are indeed Christ’s disciples.

 

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Earthen Vessels

"Earthen Vessels" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.com
These pots are from my first ceramics assignment.

Have you ever taken a pottery or ceramics class? In my hand-formed ceramics course that I took in college, the first assignment was to make a collection of small vessels — pots, vases, bowls, things like that. The first attempts were lumpy, unusable things. One collapsed in on itself, but it looked like a cat with a squished-in nose so I drew whiskers and eyes on the clay and kept it. Some that I thought were good enough broke in the firing. By the time I was finished, I had a small collection of “earthen vessels” that could be used to hold something, but were not much to look at on their own. It is these oddly shaped pots that I thought of when reading this verse:

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Cor. 4:6-7)

We are not fit to hold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But our very inadequacy serves as a helpful reminder that this glory does not belong to us, and that we need to be re-made by Him. Thankfully, God is a much better potter than I am. He isn’t limited by the fact that clay pots can’t be reformed after firing. We can be fired and re-molded multiple time, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6)

Trusting The Potter

At a certain level, we are literally made of earth. The clay and potter analogy extends farther than the verses that plainly describe God as our potter.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7)

Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again? (Job 10:9)

He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:14)

We are earthen vessels that God is sculpting in His own image. We are being made and remade to be fit vessels for holding God’s Holy Spirit and the very mind of Jesus Christ.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. (Is. 64:8)

image from amchurch.net

Sculpting can be a painful process. In my ceramics class, we made hand-thrown tiles. When making tile this way, you take a lump of clay and drop or throw it onto a flat surface, pounding it until it flattens itself out enough that you can pat or roll it smooth and cut it into tiles. If the clay was animate, I suppose it would have thought this was torture, but it is a necessary step to make usable tiles. If something goes wrong, you squish the clay back up in a lump and start throwing it all over again.

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! (Jer. 18:3-6)

Sometimes, we might think we don’t like what God is turning us into or we find the sculpting process too painful. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on the goal, and remember Paul’s assurance “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? (Is. 45:9)

Antidote to Pride

"Earthen Vessels" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comPaul said God has shone His light into our hearts, through we are only imperfect earthen vessels, so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” God has chosen to share His mind and presence with His called-out people. That incredible gift could either puff us up — “God chose me because I’m something special” — or inspire humility — “if I’m special, it is only because God made me so by choosing me.”

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 27-29)

Pride is one of the things God hates. I doubt very much that He would indwell a person whose habitual attitude is one of arrogance. In Proverbs 6, the list of things “the Lord hates” begins with “a proud look” (Prov. 6:16-17). In Psalms, God says, “The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, Him I will not endure” (Ps. 101:5). We certainly do not want to foster an attitude that is unendurable to God.

Christ assured Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). I wonder if the flip-side is true as well, that Christ’s strength cannot be “made perfect” in someone who thinks they do not need Him. The rest of the verse would seem to bear this out: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We may be tiny vessels made of clay, but we need not be ashamed of our weakness because it allows Christ to live and work in us.