The Tree of Spiritual Growth

What does Christian life look like?

How have you tried to answer this question? I remember how I tried to answer this question in high school.

I believed Christian life was all about following the rules – not sinning. I think I got this idea from Benjamin Franklin, but I thought every Christian should naturally have a sin calendar. The days of the week lined the top. On the left I wrote various sins I noticed within myself. Lust. Lying. Greed. Pride. Etc. (that last one’s the worst)

I took one sin at a time, marking down each day how many times I sinned in that category. Five lusts on Sunday. Three on Monday. Six on Tuesday (everything’s always worse on Tuesday).

I discovered I could virtually eliminate any sin within a week or two. So then I could move on to the next one. Four greeds on Sunday. Two on Monday. Seven on Tuesday. And on it went.

There are two major problems with this approach. #1: after I “moved on” from a sin it always came back to fill the void left by focusing on another sin. #2: this is totally NOT what Christian life is about.

How have you defined the Christian life?

The early Christians understandably had to make things up as they went (with a healthy dose of Jewish tradition to help them out). Their first attempt at this new way of living is documented in Acts 2:42-47.

Acts 2:42-47 – 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

According to this passage, what does the Christian life look like? Take a minute to write down what you see. For example, v42 lifts up learning and relationships.

Spiritual Growth as a Tree

Tree drawn by Judy Larson

What does Christian life look like? Picture a tree.

v46 says “they spent much time together in the temple.” Since the temple is where they worshipped, the soil for the tree is worship. The soil grounds the tree, it provides nutrients for the tree, but it isn’t a tree. Worship is foundational, but it isn’t enough.

v44 mentions “all who believed.” At some point your soil must harbor a seed of commitment to Christ. This is the moment when you are willing to trust Jesus with your life.

v42 and v46 lift up fellowship and spending time together. Your tree’s roots are formed from relationships. Tell me, how useful is a tree if it’s only a bunch of roots? You aren’t a full tree if you just have soil and roots (worship and relationships). All the best stuff is yet to come.

v42 says “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…and the prayers.” Your tree’s trunk is built through spiritual disciplines. Two of the most powerful spiritual disciplines are reflecting on Scripture and praying for guidance. On top of these you can find all kinds of disciplines like fasting, silence, etc.

v43, v44, and v46 highlight “wonders and signs,” “all things in common,” and “distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Your tree branches out in ministry. Branches are useful for shade. They are useful for harboring birds and squirrels and other creatures. Branches support the fruit (don’t worry, that’s next). Branches are useful.

Finally, v47 reminds us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”Sharing Christ with your friends is showing fruit. Ask yourself this, though: who receives nourishment from fruit? The tree or others? Also, think about how fruit spreads far enough away from the tree. Fruit can be carried by birds and squirrels and other creatures (thanks, branches). Fruit can also be carried by the wind (thanks, Holy Spirit).

At the end of the day, however, remember that your tree isn’t really about the soil, the roots, the trunk, the branches, or the fruit. Your tree is all about the One who is the original tree.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 (ESV)

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