A certain tree has become a source of inspiration to me.
Somehow the tree keeps popping up in everything I do. I’ve spoken about it in concerts and to student groups.
I even used it as an illustration in one of my previous books, Your Own Jesus.
Now my student ministry is called Thrive. This book is called Thrive. Casting Crowns’ latest album is called Thrive. And that album includes a song called “Thrive.”
The tree is located at a spot in Geneva, Alabama, named The Junction because it sits at the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and the Pea River. I was on staff at nearby First Baptist Church of Samson early in my career as a youth pastor. For most of the last decade, I have served as co-student pastor with Reagan Farris at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia. Reagan was one of the students in my youth group at Samson. Several years ago, Reagan and I took our Eagle’s Landing student group back home to Samson on a ministry tour. I wanted everyone to see The Tree.
When we were growing up in South Alabama, we always called it The Tree. You know it must be special when a tree gets a name — and that name is just The Tree. In that region, if you ever said, “Hey, we’re going to The Tree,” everybody knew what you meant. The mammoth oak tree is more than three hundred years old. It’s been around longer than the United States of America.
The Tree sits on the banks of The Junction, so the rivers have always watered it. We asked some of our students to stretch out their arms, join hands, and make a circle around The Tree. It took eight or nine guys to do it. In California, this wouldn’t be a big deal; the redwoods out there are gargantuan. But in Alabama, The Tree is a tourist attraction. We had our tall pine trees and the occasional thick oak, but it’s odd to see a tree of this enormity. Its main limbs are bigger than most trees in my neighborhood. One person can’t reach all the way around many of its limbs and some of them are so heavy they bend almost to the ground.
We had sixty students on the trip, and all of us climbed into The Tree at one time to sit or stand on the branches for a photo. No one was standing on the ground.
About every ten years, the two rivers flood the area. So there are mud lines on that tree. There’s a bike up in that tree. The water has risen many times and taken just about everything away — everything except that tree.
I believe we can find a lesson in there somewhere.
An old farmer in overalls joined us at The Tree. He talked like a Southern version of Morgan Freeman. His voice alone made me believe everything he said.
“You know, the reason these kinds of trees are so strong is, not only are they planted by the water, but they have just as much going on under the ground as they do above the ground,” he said.
“If you wiped all of the dirt out of here, you’d basically see this.” He held up one hand on top of the other, palms facing us and fingers spread wide. He wanted us to see how the tree’s roots had spread underground just as wide as the branches had spread above ground.
A little later, Psalm 1 came to my mind, and I read it to our group.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. — Psalm 1:1–3
I call these the Thrive Verses. They portray what happens when we dig our roots deep.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my life’s ministry originated out of this simple idea for a devotional moment alongside a giant tree. It dawned on me that, like the big oak tree, growth as a believer requires two parts. We have to dig our roots deep. And when we do, we naturally will reach out.
When we grow roots, we dive into God’s Word and prayer and learn from other believers. As we reach out, we show Jesus to people and tell them about Him.
A balanced believer is supposed to do both. Still, it’s easy to pick one side or the other and get comfortable, resigning ourselves to the thought that some people are “roots” people and some are “reach” people.
I’m more of a roots person by nature. The personalities and interests of roots people bend toward the serious side. We understand the importance of Bible study and theology, and we like to go deep. Too often, however, we keep it all tucked under the surface. When we get around people, it’s like they’re in our way until we can get to the next Bible study. We have great discipline, but sometimes we’re useless to everyone around us.
At too many other times, I’ve seen people who concentrate solely on reaching out. They want to serve everybody and feed everybody and hang out with everybody and change everybody.
But a lot of times, their roots are shallow. They’re never in the Word for themselves, and they’re all about doing rather than being. They’re out trying to save the world, and when the first storm blows in, what happens? They’re like tumbleweeds that topple over and roll along because they have no roots.
It’s a simple concept. To thrive, we must:
- Dig deep into the roots of our relationship with Jesus. This helps us understand who God is and who we are in Him. We dig in to know God.
- Reach out to others. This helps us to show the world that we belong to Jesus and that Jesus is God. We reach out to make God known.
Inspired by the giant oak tree in Alabama, I sketched a logo for our student ministry at Eagle’s Landing. It depicts a healthy believer who has both roots and reach.
The empty promises of the world define success and contentment in terms of money, possessions, prestige, and power. The Bible’s definition of the word thrive means digging deep into a personal relationship with Jesus and reaching out to others with His truth and love — to know God and to make Him known.
May these words from my song “Thrive” be the marching cadence for us all:
Into your Word we’re digging deep
To know the Father’s heart.
Into the world we’re reaching out
To show them who you are.
Point to Remember: Balanced believers dig their roots deep and reach out to others.
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Which are you most like naturally, a “roots” person or a “reach” person? What do you need to put into practice to balance both? Come join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily