5 Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
This text has grown into my favorite biblical image for thinking theologically about our work with youth. Jeremiah’s words and metaphors offer us a realistic, faithful and sustainable way of envisioning our ministry with young people.
At first glance, one might easily read the prosperity gospel into this text. – Those who are faithful receive blessing and abundance while the faithless receive nothing and are left alone to die in the wilderness. – However, we know this is not true. That just simply is not how God’s story works. A closer reading of the text uncovers the complexities of our reality.
Those of us who are shrubs in the desert (And I would argue that we all spend our days as both shrubs and trees – simul arboreus et frutex!) do not receive our location as punishment for our faithlessness. The desert is not the divine time-out chair. Instead, we find that our fervent efforts to trust ourselves alone (and not God) leave us wanting – even when relief comes (and it will come – v. 6). When it does come, we can’t even see it. We leave ourselves stranded in the desert.
Meanwhile, back at the oasis . . . Those of us who are trees are not kicking back enjoying the easy life. Heat and drought are inevitable (and they will come – v. 8), but we do not grow anxious because our roots are tapped into something beyond ourselves – living water. Faith in Christ does not protect us from tragedy, but allows us to be free from anxiety and fear when the heat is on and there is no relief in sight. God’s living water flows to us, from somewhere else and towards another somewhere else. Sorry Tom Petty, the trusting – not the waiting – is the hardest part.
How then shall we be engaged in ministry with our young people when the current state of our youth (see previous post) seems to be defined by anxiety? It is full of anxiety, it is a product of anxiety and it creates more anxiety and not much hope.
How can this image of reality inform our ministry with young people? What are the appropriate practices, the necessary skill set, the conceptual frameworks that will enable us to help our youth (and ourselves) sink their roots deeply into God’s living water – even in the midst of drought? Have these things yet been identified? Have they changed?
How do you see this happening? You can bet that I’ll share my thoughts in future posts (that is the point of this blog), but I do want to hear your thoughts. Please comment, and please check back.