Living strong in the Lord
Chris Cartwright reflects on the scripture, “They shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.”
As autumn approaches we are getting ready at home for the leaves to fall.
We moved house a couple of years ago to a new-build, backing onto a small area of woodland. As I look out of my window I can see past our garden fence to towering oak trees strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds.
I have always loved the oak. Long established as a symbol of strength and endurance, the oak has been claimed by nations, kings and armies as an emblem to convey their aspiration for power and a sense of identity and achievement.
Last autumn, we moved from a distant appreciation of the beauty and majesty to an up-close encounter with its power and strength.
As the leaves began to fall, thousands of acorns came with them. Soon the grass was covered in a crunchy carpet. Over time they became compacted deep into the ground and found their way into every corner of the garden.
Our first attempt to gather them was backbreaking. Over the following weeks as we struggled to deal with the prolonged and unwelcome avalanche we vainly searched online for something like an acorn harvester.
I regularly thought of the English proverb 'mighty oaks from little acorns grow' as I found myself wistfully looking at a prophetic forest of future oaks in my own back garden.
My recent up-close encounters with the oak tree have in fact been hugely timely and significant for me personally.
As recent years have brought us right into the centre of a series of storms; from the unparalleled impact of a global pandemic to the cultural and spiritual storms which increasingly seem to rage around us.
But I believe that God is calling all of us who seek to serve and follow Christ as Lord to a new-found strength, stability and endurance that will enable us not just to survive the storms, but to thrive.
Take Jesus’ message in the synagogue at Nazareth when he announces, in the words from Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor... to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and open the prison to those who are bound."
In announcing his mission to bring new life to all who receive him, Jesus begins to speak of what that new life will look like.
Turning to the oak, the prophet Isaiah says: "They shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour."
As many of us look afresh at what it means to be devoted and mature disciples of Jesus, who live faithfully and fruitfully for him in and through every season of life, the great oak tree becomes a vivid picture of spiritual strength and maturity.
Whilst oaks are impressive above ground, the real story is found underground, in their extraordinarily complex and deep root system that can spread up to seven times the width of the crown.
Thousands of organisms live off its ecosystem. That root system is so strong and ingenious that it has been used as a model by engineers looking at how to build structures that can withstand hurricanes.
Like the great oak, the believer is planted by Christ in Him; living in relationship, growing in his Word, in worship, in prayer, and through serving in fellowship and community.
Way beyond a superficial connection or engagement with church and faith, which crumbles under the pressures of circumstance and inconvenience, the true disciple learns to endure, to go deeper, and to draw from the rich resources of God that are beneath the surface.
The more we grow into Him, the stronger our life and witness will become.
I have no doubt that one of the positive aspects of the church’s experience through the last 18 months is that we have been brought to a fresh dependence on the Lord, and that he has been calling us to root and ground our lives completely in him.
We are being invited again to live what Rich Villodas, Pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York, calls 'the deeply formed life'.
Rich humbly and helpfully lays out in the brilliant book of the same title, a road map of sorts to 'the richly rooted place we all yearn for: a place of communion with God, a place where we find our authentic purpose in chaotic times'.
First published in the October 2021 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.
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