February 13, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 92:12-13 (NRSV)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
If a tree is going to flourish, it needs a strong, healthy root system. The same is true for us. If we’re going to “flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” then we must have good roots (Psalm 92:12). If you think of yourself as a tree, what is the condition of your root system? Where are you planted? How well are your roots enabling you to be fruitful in life?
Today’s devotion is part of the series Invitation to a Flourishing Life
In last Wednesday’s devotion, I suggested that California’s redwood trees paint a marvelous picture of biblical flourishing. Whether we’re talking about the coast redwoods or the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada, redwood trees flourish in size and strength, sometimes growing for thousands of years.
When you first visit the redwoods, many of which are more than 200 feet tall, you might imagine they have equally deep taproots. Pine trees, for example, can have taproots twice as deep as the height of the tree. But redwoods, surprisingly enough, have relatively shallow roots systems. The roots grow out far from the trees, however, which enables redwoods to get the water and nutrition they need. Because the roots systems of these giant trees are so shallow, however, redwoods are vulnerable to damage from things like human foot traffic. A redwood might survive the worst of forest fires but die because the soil around the tree was compacted for decades by tourists.
If we are going to flourish in life, like the redwoods, we need strong root systems. This is implied in Psalm 92:12-13, though not stated outright. If the righteous flourish like a palm tree or a cedar of Lebanon, then they must have healthy, resilient roots, roots that supply a tree with the water and nutrition it needs to thrive.
What is implied in Psalm 92 is explicit in Jeremiah 17. There we read, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8). A tree with robust roots will survive even in a whole year of drought, and it will not cease to bear fruit. Fruitfulness, you may recall, is essential to biblical flourishing. A person who flourishes will be fruitful throughout life, even into old age (Psalm 92:14).
In future devotions, I want to think with you about where and how we might grow our personal root systems to flourish in life. For now, however, I’d like to reflect on one implication of the connection between roots and flourishing. I realize this might be rather obvious, but it seems worth noting, nevertheless. Here’s the thought: trees don’t produce fruit from their own resources. Rather, trees are fruitful by drawing resources from the soil and then transforming them into fruit. We have in our backyard an extraordinarily fruitful lemon tree. If I were to remove this tree from the soil and leave it hanging in the air, however, it would stop bearing so much fruit. In fact, it would quickly die. This marvelous tree is not self-producing. It depends on resources found in the ground and accessed by way of roots.
Why do I think this obvious observation is worth mentioning? Because I believe we can sometimes try to be self-producing trees. We work and work and work, attempting to be über-productive as if the fruit of our lives comes from our own efforts. Sometimes we work so hard and so long that we don’t have time or energy to grow in our relationship with the Lord. Ironically, and sadly, our effort to be fruitful cuts us off from the very source of our flourishing.
If you can relate at all to what I’ve just said, then you may want to think more about growing healthy roots and, for a season, think less about producing lots of fruit. We’ll keep this conversation going in the days to come. For now, I’d urge you to consider the following questions.
Are you ever tempted to think that your fruitfulness in life is mostly a matter of your hard work? If so, why do you think this way? If not, why not?
If you were to think about yourself as a tree, what kind of tree do you picture? Why do you prefer this kind of tree?
Continuing with the thought of yourself as a tree, what is your root system like? Into what sort of soil do your roots grow? How healthy and effective is your root system?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about the state of your “roots.” Listen to how others describe their rootedness. See what this exercise reveals about your life.
Gracious God, thank you for the promise that the righteous will flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Lord, I would like to be such a tree!
I recognize that a flourishing tree doesn’t produce leaves and fruit all by itself. It needs the resources of the soil. Thus a healthy, effective roots system is necessary.
Help me, Lord, to reflect wisely on my own life and the state of my “root system.” Help me to put more energy into growing healthy roots and less energy into a frantic effort to be productive.
O Lord, may I be like the tree depicted in Jeremiah 17: trusting in you, with my roots growing deeply into your “water.” May I be resilient in seasons of drought and always fruitful. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Work Within a Balanced Life (Jeremiah 17)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.