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Trees and streams

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I’ve never worked on a farm or in agriculture, but I know the key principle of the industry: everything needs water to grow. Very little thrives without it – plants, trees, even humans.

I’m often asked what people need to grow spiritually or make progress in their walk with Christ. But some grace-filled people don’t like the word “progress” – it sounds too much like work and doesn’t fit with the idea of “justification by faith alone.”

Sometimes we equate effort with earning. Dallas Willard once said in an interview, “People need to see that action is a receptacle for grace, not a substitute for it. Grace is God acting in our lives to do things we can’t do on our own. Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning.”

This is what draws me to the metaphors of Psalm 1. They describe a certain kind of person. Someone who walks the right path. Who wisely chooses what influences them. Someone strong, fruitful, and resilient.

That kind of life is appealing. But how do we become like that person described in the psalm? It’s tempting to believe we’re “born this way” or that a supernatural experience will magically turn us into all God envisions. Of course, the gospel transforms our hearts and is the only foundation for true change. But Psalm 1 reminds us that ongoing spiritual formation matters. “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither – whatever they do prospers” (vs. 3).

Finding a stream

Trees and streams. They go together. Healthy trees usually aren’t far from a life source.

How would a fruit-bearing tree grow strong and fruitful in the ancient world? Not much has changed. A source of water would be essential. What would you do if water weren’t close by? No sprinklers around. You’d build an irrigation system to allow water to flow near the trees.

Imagine the effort it took, thousands of years ago, to dig trenches from a body of water to where the trees were planted. Or to build channels with the right angle for rainwater to irrigate the crop. It required effort.

The person in Psalm 1 didn’t become fruitful, strong, and resilient instantaneously – that kind of life doesn’t happen by accident. We must intentionally direct streams into our lives that will help us become the kind of people God longs for us to be – intentional irrigation systems to keep us nourished, growing, and fruitful. We must draw the source close enough so we can feed off it.

For the psalmist, there was no greater source than God, and no greater goal than a God-drenched life.

Communion with God

What hydrates our relationship with God? Do we enjoy a constant stream of time with God? Scripture reading and prayer are an obvious start. For centuries, Christ-followers have become like that “tree planted by streams of water” through meditating on God’s law and praying.

One of my “streams” is spending time with God while walking. I admit that means my communion with God is better in the summer. I thrive on prayer walks, but Montreal’s winter slush isn’t exactly fun to navigate.

Community with Christ followers

Hebrews 10:25 says “meeting together” is another stream that will help us become the people God envisions us to be. You and I can’t grow alone – spiritual community in some form is essential.

This means partnering with a local church and bonding together with a handful of believers. It’s about creating the kind of relationships that allow others to speak into our lives, pray for us, and hear our honest confessions. I’ve seen people slowly change when others walk alongside them. They’re the ones who bear fruit and are more resilient to the obstacles life brings.

What streams are watering your life? All take effort, time, and consistency. Their effects are cumulative, and God uses them to shape us as time goes on. However, the streams are not the goal. The goal is a transformed, fruitful life with God.

—David Manafo is pastor of the Westside Gathering (MB church) in Montreal. He blogs at www.manafo.blogspot.com.

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