The most extraordinary thing about the tea plant is how extremely ordinary it appears. It is a variation of the common camellia and looks like nothing more than a common bush.
One’s first reaction upon seeing it is to think, “Really? That’s it?”
There are no distinguishing features, no gorgeous flowers, just a jumble of haphazard branches and a bunch of green leaves. What makes the tea plant special is the fact that the entire plant is permeated with caffeine—especially the leaves.
Caffeine acts as a natural insecticide to make the tea plant resistant to virtually everything that is typically harmful to other plants. Insects obviously stay clear, but so do fungi. Even animals dislike the bitter taste. Deer and rabbits, so harmful to other crops, will eat the weeds all around a tea plant, but leave it undisturbed, thus acting as natural gardeners instead!
The net result is that tea plants can be healthy and productive for hundreds of years (some 600 year old plants are still producing) without the use of external pesticides of any sort.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
That isn’t to say tea plants don’t require care. They do. Left to themselves, they will grow tall and wild, reaching heights of over fifteen feet with leaves that are high and out of reach.
To be useful, they must be pruned regularly—as often as every three weeks—for their entire lives. They require lots of sunshine, but also lots of rain.
The roots, however, are the key.
New plants are cultivated using cuttings from old plants. These cuttings are placed in soil that is saturated with water and contains a root stimulator. Once the roots have begun to grow, the water supply is temporarily cut off.
As the soil dries out, the roots begin to spread deeper and wider, searching for moisture. Then, just before the plant begins to wilt, the master gardener will add a little water, but only enough to keep the plant alive.
This cycle is repeated until the roots are strong and robust. Only when the roots are fully formed can the plant be moved from the greenhouse and placed in the ground. Even then, the tea plant will require three or four years of maturation before harvesting of the leaves can begin.
- Paul speaks of being “firmly rooted” in Colossians 2:6-15. What does that mean for the Christian?
- What typically happens to plants whose root systems are not firmly established?
- What are some things that might prevent a plant’s roots from growing properly?
Typically, the idea of firm roots falls into two broad categories: doctrinally firm and experientially firm.
Being doctrinally firm means having a solid understanding of the basic tenets of Christianity. Being experientially firm means that those basic tenets have been tested personally and have held up under the trials and challenges of life.
- Which does Paul seem to be emphasizing in Colossians 2:6-15—doctrinal or experiential firmness?
- Which does James emphasize in James 1:2-5?
- Do some denominations focus on one idea more than the other?
- Do we focus on one idea more than the other in our own lives?
- Are both ideas equally important? Why or why not?
- What are the pitfalls of becoming too focused on only one of these aspects of faith?
- How does the development of doctrinal roots affect or differ from the development of experiential roots? Can you think of ways you might deepen and encourage the development of both?
When we look at the experiential side of being firmly rooted in our faith, the idea of trials and tribulations seems to be a recurring theme in scripture.
- Are trials and tribulations an important part of growing in the faith? Are they a necessary part?
- Like the tea plant above, have you ever experienced “dry spells” in your walk with God? Can you share an example?
- Did God, the Master Gardener, use those times to draw you closer to Him? Did you, in fact, become more firmly rooted in your faith as a result?
- Did you “rejoice” during that time? Can you rejoice now, looking back? Can you imagine a time when you will rejoice at the beginning of a tribulation rather than at the end?
- If larger tribulations deepen our roots, might the smaller trials in life be part of the pruning process? Is frequent pruning necessary or beneficial in the life of a Christian? Why or why not?
- Is it harder or easier to see God at work in these less dramatic trials as compared to the larger tribulations? Should we rejoice, nonetheless?
When we look at the doctrinal side of being firmly rooted in our faith, grace is the recurring theme of Scripture:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Christ and His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is the deep taproot of the doctrine of our faith.
All other philosophies wither and shrivel before the awesome radiance of God because they do not have this strong taproot at their core. Yet for those of us firmly rooted in the forgiveness and mercy of Christ, we bask in that light and flourish under its warm and loving glow.
We bask in that light and flourish under its warm and loving glow.
Some things live best in the darkness. We have all heard about pale fish with blind eyes swimming in the depths of the abyss, as well as mushrooms and fungi feeding on the death and rot of the forest floor.
Tea plants, however, are not such creatures; they love the light. Shade is harmful to them and stunts their productivity. They yearn for rays of sunshine instead. (See John 3:19-20)
- Are we basking and flourishing in the sunshine of God’s presence? Do we yearn for it, “as the deer pants for streams of water?” (See Psalm 42:1)
- If we find that we are wilting, could it be that we have placed our faith in something other than Christ—perhaps even unconsciously—such as our own strengths and abilities? Is it time to reach deeper, by reaching out to Him?
- On the other hand, if we find that our growth in Christ is stunted, could it be that we are living too much in the shadow of sin?
- Are we willing to come out from under that shadow, or do we find the shade comfortable?
- Perhaps it is merely a little rest or diversion from the work God has called us to do—sins of omission rather than commission? Can neglecting to do the things we should do damage our spiritual health and growth as much as doing things we shouldn’t? (see Romans 7:18-19)
- It doesn’t require a big towering tree to cast shade in our lives. Are there smaller things that are casting a bit of shade in a corner of your life? Are tiny little weeds, with just a few scraggly leaves, stunting you? Is it time to pull those weeds, so that you may flourish as God intends?
- Passages such as Galatians 5:19-23 and Ephesians 4:31-32 list some things God would consider weeds and others He’d consider good fruit. Can you think of additional attitudes or actions that belong on either list?
Jesus also used the analogy of roots when He told the parable of the sower in Luke 8:5-15.
- New believers are usually excited about their faith. Because of their enthusiasm, and because of their more recent and direct contact with “the world,” we often look to them to lead the charge in evangelism. Is this the best strategy, given what we know about firm roots?
- Who then should be leading out in evangelism? Is this what we actually see taking place within the Church?
- Have we become “choked with worries and riches and pleasures?” Those things can affect our fruit bearing in more than one way. How so?
- If this is the case, how can we fix it? Are we willing to set aside these things to pursue Him? Are we willing to “produce a crop a hundred times as great?”
God is the Master Gardener.
He is constantly at work cultivating, nurturing, pruning, and harvesting. May we become firmly planted in Him with deep roots both within our minds and within our hearts.
NOTE: This post is adapted from my Life’s Big Questions Series, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture.
Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.