“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 fear of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to beat fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)
Driving through the countryside in North Dakota, as my parents, brothers, and I did many times on route to the family farm, I was always struck by the vast, treeless prairie. However, there were exceptions. Occasionally, you could see a line of trees zig zagging across the landscape. There were trees there because they were planted on the banks of a river or stream. The roots of the trees stretched into the source of water and, as long as the water flowed, the trees were healthy and stood tall above the flat land.
The prophet Jeremiah used this type of image as a metaphor for the people of God when the faith of their hearts are firmly fixed on the presence of God. Looking at this from a Christian perspective, that means putting our faith in Jesus Christ as he has made himself present in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What I love about this image is that it gives us a great perspective on what it takes to become and remain spiritually healthy people. Just as the roots of a healthy tree need to have a source of water in order to grow into the tree it was meant to be, and bear fruit, just so, we, as people created in the image of God, need to draw our spiritual nourishment from the Spirit – the grace of God – in order to become the people we were meant to be.
We were not created to be overcome by the negatives of life in this world: “the fear of drought” in Jeremiah’s image. There are many things that we will go through in a world where there are so many uncertainties with respect to physical health, economic conditions, relationship issues, the loss of loved ones, and social conflicts. When something happens that makes us feel like the things we count on are failing, we become anxious and worry about the future. When our plans don’t work out, we are subject to deep disappointment. When the challenge in front of us seems too much to handle, we feel weak and ineffective. Sometimes, we are even tempted to despair and loose hope.
Droughts are a common place over time. But when our hearts are firmly fixed on the presence and love of God in Jesus Christ, then we will receive the spiritual nourishment that enables our hearts to bear the fruit they were meant to bear: the fruit that is in our spiritual DNA as people created in God’s image.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an event that shows us the spiritual power that comes from him. His presence and love in our hearts is like the water for the roots of the tree. Through faith in him, our hearts bear the fruit of strength, perseverance, healing from the wounds of the past, generosity, hope, love, and new life. These things are the fruit of spiritual health, and these things are what our hearts are intended to produce, so long as we have the love and grace of God in us through the gift of the spirit.
We can cultivate God’s love in our hearts through prayer, worship, the word, and Christian service. Through these means, Christ makes himself present so that He can be our love, our life, and our eternal future.
Dear Lord Jesus Christ, be present with us always with your gift of grace.