It’s funny how some things look so much better on paper.
We say we want depth. This has become a cry for many Christians fed up with juvenile forms of Christianity. But what do we mean by “deep”? Pinned down for an answer, we might mention our Bible study–there should be lots of Greek, big theological terms, cross-referencing, insights from thick commentaries. Others of us weigh in: It should be applicable. Inspiring. Lively.
“Yes,” we say, “Deep is what we want.”
But if Jesus suddenly went deep with us, would we even like it? Typically, when He does, we panic. At that level, everything is unrecognizable, unpleasant. Please Jesus, get me out of this!
We apparently love deep studies but not deep living.
The shallows are much more preferable. That is the classic place of control, where we can plan for things, and, should something unwanted intrude, we can manage it away (with a little prayer, of course). Everything that happens on this level is line-of-sight. We easily see causes and effects, without the hassle of mystery.
Meanwhile, spiritual growth stalls.
But all is not lost. Jesus told this parable:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
The owner of the vineyard expected the tree to bear fruit, which was certainly a reasonable expectation. Even more reasonable was his patience, as he waited years for something, anything, to happen. Surface care that typically paid off, like watering, trimming branches, weeding, protection from birds and invasive insects, wasn’t working.
The vinedresser’s solution was to take the work to a deeper level, go below the surface of the ground, and fertilize it. He counseled breaking ground, digging around the tree, packing its roots with manure.
But what else can be done when, after years of deep studies, good living, and self-gratifying Christian life, no fruit of repentance is borne in a life? Jesus rolls up his sleeves, and begins packing our root systems with the power of His cross. It’s up close and personal.
During this time, like Paul, we will probably cry out for the thorn to be removed. God answers, “My grace is enough.” We want deliverance. He answers with promises of resurrection. We want something visible. He says, “Walk by faith.” We say, “Now.” He says, “Wait.”
At the end of a digging, dunging, and fruitful season, our attitudes change. Depth is no longer something to decorate a predictable, latte Christian life. We don’t appreciate it merely for the view, or because it makes us sound Yoda-like.
Though you’d never want to go through those things again, you were never closer to the vinedresser than in those moments when the world seemed upside down, and as Paul wrote, “we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). Those were days when the same hands that healed a leper, that cured a blind man, that raised the dead, handled your heart.