The Tree of Life: thoughts on discipleship and roots

 

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The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor – God’s kingdom has arrived and it is a mustard seed.

As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand, and experience the embodied truth.

One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors – trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in scripture.)

God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Gen. 2:11). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Rev. 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God himself are described as trees (Ps. 52:8, Hos. 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Ps. 1, Jer. 17). Those who love, trust, and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in him (Col. 2).

Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.

Discipleship can be visualized in countless helpful ways: four chairs, a wheel, a directional triangle, a roadmap, and more.

In my new discipleship job with Young Life, I recently worked with some people to create a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality.

YL Rooted in Christ

(Downloadable PDF: Rooted in Christ 2.0)

The image can guide every follower of Jesus as we:

  • carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways
  • honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship
  • prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries, our families, our small groups, and any other community of believers.

Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:

  • How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?
    • roots – which are “time in scripture, time in prayer,” etc.
    • trunk – which is a strong core of love, trust, etc.;
    • branches – which are expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout scripture
  • In your current season of life, how do engage in, experience, or express each of the different elements in the tree?
  • What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance, or challenge?
  • How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?
  • What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?
  • For those involved in Young Life or youth ministry, think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific sub-cultures, socio-economics, etc.). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your 7th grade WyldLife Campaigner guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.
  • How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?

(A version of this article originally appeared here.)