God allows tribulations to come into our lives for a very important purpose, but what can we do to prepare for these moments beforehand?
The pear tree outside my childhood bedroom window was a pretty thing, if somewhat pathetic.
It had the misfortune of an unusually small root-ball when my family bought it. One morning, I opened my curtains to discover I could see nothing but a dancing maze of green and shadows.
The tree had grown big enough that it had torn up the landscaping stakes holding it in the wind, and now it rested like someone’s forgotten walking cane against the side of the house. Disgusted, my father called my grandfather. Together they pulled the tree upright with a tractor. Then they pounded a 10-foot fencing pole into the ground so deep that only a third of it showed and rigged the tree to it with a rope as thick as my thumb.
“Won’t it fall again?” I asked my dad, staring uneasily at the tree’s lone anchor.
“If we always secure it with lots of stakes, the roots won’t develop enough for it stay upright on its own. One day, it’ll be too big for anything to support it. Then it will fall and cause real damage. It has to be pushed around by the wind to grow deep roots.”
During storms, I would sit in the window and watch with mesmerized horror as the ground around the base of this tree heaved and rippled like water.
The pear tree didn’t fall again, though, and eventually its roots grew deep enough that we took out the fencing pole. Then it gained height and width, filling out with a burly health that it hadn’t had in its earlier years. Now it explodes with tiny white blossoms that smell of honey in the spring and its broad branches shade that part of the house all summer.
A Tree With Fruits of Joy and Peace
Everyone would like to be happy. Better yet, we would like to have the unquenchable peace and joy that the Bible discusses. Who would say no to those?
Pastor Claude Houde, a World Challenge board member, pondered the promises of happiness to believers in the first Psalm. “We look at Psalm 1 in the pursuit of true happiness or happiness according to God. Blessed, happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.
“He delights in the law of the Lord. Then he shall be — here's the contrast — like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaves shall not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but they are like chaff, which the wind drives away.
“Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand into judgment or sinners in a congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
“He [the psalmist, David] begins by saying ‘blessed is the man.’ The Hebrew word speaks of being happy, joyful, peaceful but also being fully developed. ‘I've accomplished what I was to accomplish. I'm fulfilled, developed, satisfied.’”
How could David, of all people, say this about himself? His life was a rollercoaster of problems and struggle.
David was told that he would be king, but he spent years serving a petty tyrant who resented his talents and attempted to kill him several times. He fled through the wilderness, cut off from his family and even his first wife, with a ragtag band of men who occasionally turned on him because they were dissatisfied.
Even once he became king, he was constantly either fighting the Philistines or dealing with people who were jockeying for power and favor. One of his sons raped one of his daughters. Some of his children killed each other. One tried to kill him to take the throne.
Nothing about David’s life looks like the recipe for happiness.
The Root of the Righteous Ones
How could the same man say in one psalm “I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled” (Psalm 6:2-3, ESV) and also write Psalm 1, claiming enduring joy and peace?
A major part of the problem is actually our modern perspective as we read David’s story and journey. Meditated on the words of Proverbs 12:12, “The root of the righteous yieldeth fruit,” A. W. Tozer wrote in his book The Root of the Righteous, “Our fathers looked well to the root of the tree and were willing to wait with patience for the fruit to appear.
“We demand the fruit immediately even though the root may be weak and knobby or missing altogether. Impatient Christians today explain away the simple beliefs of the saints of other days and smile off their serious-minded approach to God and sacred things.”
Tozer stated that many modern believers’ patronizing view of past church leaders like Augustine, Luther, Wesley or even biblical figures like David comes from the misconception that “They were victims of their own limited religious outlook, but great and sturdy souls withal who managed to achieve a satisfying spiritual experience and do a lot of good in the world in spite of their handicaps.
“So we’ll imitate their fruit without accepting their theology or inconveniencing ourselves too greatly by adopting their all-or-nothing attitude toward religion.”
The moral fiber and person strength of people like Augustine, Luther, Wesley, King David and many more was probably not much more than ours because we’re all a broken, sorry lot without God.
The difference is between those who throw themselves at the Lord’s feet without reservation and acknowledge their helplessness without embarrassment and those of us who reserve ourselves with some mistrust of God’s goodness and the pitiful illusion of our own competency.
Putting ourselves so completely into trust and awe of God feels foolish, and frankly, it’s inconvenient. We would like the fruits of ceaseless joy and steadfast peace but not the root of humility, childish faith and endurance through suffering.
When the Winter Storms Arrive
The storms of life are intended to disabuse us of any ideas of self-empowerment and make us put down deeper roots in God.
Some of us continue to put in stakes to support ourselves rather than digging into the Holy Spirit’s presence and provision. “This safeguard and savings plan will provide for me. This foresight and that decision or this person will avert disaster. This emergency prearrangement will keep us all afloat until we’re out of the bad situation. Now as long as God doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into anything, we’ll all be fine.”
Nothing is wrong with a good stake to help a tree, at least until it starts to become a stand-in for a good root system. The tree will inevitably face winds that are too strong for its stakes, which were never meant to hold up a grown tree in the first place. When that happens, it will fall, snapping the stakes and tearing through other trees and crashing into houses around it.
Only the tree’s roots, growing into God’s good earth silently and unseen in warm weather will hold it fast when the howling winter storm arrives.
We admire great men and women of the faith because they endured horrible trials without giving up, not because they led easy lives. We want that fortitude and faith, but are we willing to humble ourselves and do the unglamorous and time-consuming work of tending to our identity in Christ, our knowledge of God’s character, our meditations on his promises to his people?
Storms are coming, if they’re not already here in our lives. The difference will be if they knock us down or strengthen our roots.