I’m not much of a strategic person, at least not naturally. I sure appreciate those who are, though. On that continuum, I probably tend more toward the “see problem, fix problem” rather than “anticipate problem and prevent it” end of the scale.
One indisputable characteristic about the Old Testament prophets—they were weird. I don’t say that disparagingly, but c’mon, they were not always the kind of people you’d invite to a office picnic. Calling down fire from heaven, tying themselves in knots, and all that.
Of course, they were good to have around when something needed fixed.
Case in point, the prophet Elisha has been persuaded to come with some of his students to build a new meeting place. In the course of events, there was a problem:
My patio is old. But then, so is my whole house. If new houses need maintenance, old ones need ten times more, or maybe it just seems that way. Now, I love my patio because it’s old. It’s one of those inlaid irregular stone jobs that was most likely done when the sycamore tree right next to it was merely a sapling, or maybe only a seed. Well, the sapling grew up, and the roots not only went deep, they are also playing havoc with my patio, making the inlaid stones even more irregular than originally intended. Before I began working with it, the stone walkway looked more like a stone carving of a seismic ocean wave than a place to gather in the backyard. It was also a little dangerous, or at least not as functional as it was first made to be; that is, it appeared to be a little easier to twist one’s ankle if wearing something other than tennis shoes or Cabela’s high-top hiking boots.
There was only one thing to be done: dig up the stones and get the dirt out that was being pushed up by the roots of the tree. Some minor root trimming was also needed in the process, with no residual harm to the towering sycamore, before the stones could be refitted back into their proper place. This was, and continues to be, a sweaty, dirty, mess of a job, but the patio looks so much better, is more functional, and is indeed, safer. I also love the shade and the beauty of this aged sycamore, but its expanding root system also provides opportunity for some muscle building, back-wrenching toil. As the patio stones and the tree roots try to prove what is metaphysically impossible—to occupy the same space at the same time—I play referee between the two, balancing their competition with cooperation and compromise. In all, best to not hold a bar-b-que until the patio is transformed from a gale to a ripple.
Despite the inconvenience (and extra work), expanding roots do indicate growth. And growth helps to define life. A few thoughts present themselves:
As growth in Christ begins and continues to take place, I can expect more than a little dirt to be pushed up to the surface of my life. As His heavenly roots invade my otherwise undisturbed soil, there will be displacement. Not so surprisingly, the dirt becomes more apparent and more accessible than ever before. Old habits of thinking, feeling, speaking, and doing compete with the Christlikeness that continues to grow inside of me. Needless to say, this process can create havoc with my inward patio, the place where fun and relaxation are supposed to take place. (1)
Our life stones, those places that were once so convenient, can become now dangerous and disruptive, not only to myself, but to anyone else I invite onto my patio. Once I commit to the discipleship process, to truly “follow in His steps” (2), I suddenly have the potential to be a stumbling stone to fellow Christians around me. Like it or not, we all possess what can be termed a “hidden congregation”, certain people, or groups of people, that are eyeing our lives for direction and encouragement, people into whose lives we have influence. While it may be more comfortable to emotionally relegate this responsibility to “the pastor”, real life just doesn’t work that way. Therefore, it is necessary, albeit sweaty, dirty work, to allow Christ to pull up those stones and clean underneath. Only then can He replace the stones to make it a better, safer fit.
A last thought on the discomfort of this process. Analogies only go so far, and this one is no exception. Whereas I try to affect a balance between the burgeoning tree roots and the stone rocks, and this with my limited strength and vision, there is no such moral compromise with a Holy God. His roots cannot be cut asunder, and His vision for us never changes. Even though this may sound harsh, (and in our culture of pseudo-tolerance, over-indulgence, and self-defined entitlement, it most likely does), it is this root of God’s love that is alive and active in us. The stones are dead things and can be displaced to the benefit of the patio: jealousy, envy, unforgiveness, self-pity, to name a few. So as frustratingly painful as this root expanding process continues, it is a definite sign of life, and something to be joyfully and patiently embraced. Besides, the pain is, after all, only temporary. (3)