When I lived in Mexico, one of my favorite spots was a park with a long path lining several small lakes. The lush getaway was hidden amid the chaos of the city. A few older, gigantic trees lined the path, their roots partially exposed. People often climbed the banks and stopped for a picture with these beauties, marveling at the intricate, extensive roots.
Roots are arguably the most important feature of a tree. They carry water and nutrients to give the tree life, while reaching deep below the ground to stabilize the tree and make it stronger, more able to resist storms. The healthier the roots, the healthier the tree.
Just as deep roots are vital for a tree’s survival, so too are spiritual roots vital for a person’s spiritual flourishing. The Bible uses the image of a deeply rooted tree as a picture of someone who builds his or her life on a biblical foundation. The description, found in the book of Jeremiah, brings to life what it looks like when someone grounds him or her self in the truth of God’s Word: “They will be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8 NIV).
Consider Your Source of Nourishment
This passage has taught me the secret to prospering in every season—planting myself by the source of life (Jeremiah 17:7). Just as a tree cannot grow and thrive without water, neither can we grow and thrive without God’s Word in our lives. But boy oh boy, do we try. Over this past year, I’ve realized that I have been trying to nourish the roots of my life from the stream of what made me feel secure. The problem was that I was allowing popular culture instead of God’s Word to determine what would give me security. God showed me that I had been seeking security from things that claimed to guarantee physical safety and financial prosperity, and from relationships and a career.
About eight years ago, the “norms” in my life began to shift. I began to face constant change and transition. I had lived in the same small town for most of my life and then moved abroad to what seemed like a different world. Soon after, I got married. Suddenly my flaws were put on display. Then our home was burglarized and my physical security threatened. A few years later, my husband and I moved to the U.S. after navigating an unpredictable immigration journey. More recently, my career has taken some unexpected twists and turns. Talk about feeling insecure!
Looking back on it all now, I can see that God gradually started to take away things that had afforded me a sense of security. My resulting anxiety felt like a spiritual drought. I had trusted in Jesus since childhood. But despite what I had believed and professed for years, I found myself aimless, anxious, and frustrated. As my comfort was stripped away little by little, I started to hear God more clearly. I saw that the real problem was my source of nourishment. My roots were getting hydrated by the wrong stream—and when that stream dried up, it felt as if my life had, too.
Rooting Yourself Takes Time
It’s one thing to know that water is beneficial for a plant, but another thing to water the plant so that it continues to thrive. Similarly, you can know all the benefits of God’s Word in your life yet not regularly water your life with it, causing you to dry up spiritually.  For me, recognizing this first meant making more time in my schedule to engage God’s Word. I had to break free from the cultural values of achievement and busyness. I had to ask myself if all the activities on my schedule were things that help to nourish me holistically.
Once I had reduced the busyness in my life, God showed me a key idea that has unlocked a new level of spiritual vitality for me. Psalm 1 develops the tree metaphor we saw in Jeremiah: “Blessed is the one...whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Note that in order to be like the flourishing tree described in these passages, we have to think deeply and often on God’s Word. It’s not just about meeting with God once a day or going to church on Sundays (although that’s important). We must structure our days in a way that allows us to engage with Scripture so that our hearts and minds are completely nourished by it.
What does this look like practically? For me, it has meant cutting down on the distractions of television and social media. I’ve had to evaluate the extra—sometimes good—activities that are pulling me away from God. My husband and I are learning to be intentional about how and with whom we spend our time. We display Scripture in every room of our home to be constantly reminded of important truths, even when it means putting a big note card on our bathroom mirror to read while we brush our teeth or get ready in the morning. We set apart one day a week for reflection and Bible study as a family.
Transplanting After a Storm
It’s easy for a tree to remain deeply rooted when there are blue skies and calm breezes, but what happens when the weather turns bad? The original Hebrew word šā·ṯūl in Jeremiah 17:8 is often translated as “planted” in English, but it is actually derived from the verb “to transplant.” That verb—transplant—can be defined as taking something from one place and moving it to another. It can occur intentionally and slowly, but it can also occur quickly by force. Have you ever seen the aftermath of a strong tornado or hurricane? Often there are trees everywhere—smashed into homes, intertwined with power lines, blocking roads. Sometimes when a large storm or enough smaller storms pass through your life, they rip you from your foundation and throw you into a devastating situation. It’s easy to become disillusioned and discouraged in the aftermath.
But what if the storms that uprooted you are not the end? What if they are opportunities to be transplanted closer to the life-giving stream? When the things I depended on were removed, what initially replaced them was anxiety. Yet as I began taking small steps to saturate my mind in Scripture, I began to have a greater sense of security. I learned how to have less angst and greater faith—I know that my life has been transplanted closer to the only reliable source of nourishment, even when unfavorable conditions are occurring above the surface.
As I transplanted my own life from what popular culture defines as security to the security of God’s Word, I traded disillusionment for hope. I am now much more firmly rooted in the truth that if I seek God’s kingdom first, everything else will fall into place (Matthew 6:33). Some days I feel strong and ready to take on anything, and other days I have to repeat the truth of the Bible to myself out loud. When I do that, the roots of my life grow stronger. Not merely because the Bible offers me good advice for living, but because in the Bible I encounter the embodied Word of God—Jesus. As I spend time with him and in his Word, his Spirit begins to change me. Jesus referred to his Spirit as “living water” (see John 4:10-14 and John 3:37-39). Like water, his Spirit enables me to produce what the apostle Paul called “fruit”—the evidence of a heart changed by God (see Galatians 5:22-25). And just as those passing by the giant trees in Mexico were captivated by their incredible roots, my prayer is that people passing through my life will stop and be captivated by the glory of God whose constant stream of love, provision, and mercy provide the nourishment needed to help me weather any storm.
 Leibscher, Banning. Rooted. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2016.
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