Rolling Stones And Replanted Trees
Many have heard the old proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” but not very many seem to misunderstand what it means. Because ours is a highly-transient, always-busy, easily-distracted, instant-gratification culture, most think “a rolling stone gathers no moss” is like saying: “Don’t be lazy.” “Never settle.” “Keep on keeping on.” “Do whatever it takes to reach your goals.” “Never stop.”
Yet none of those are even close to the proverb’s actual meaning. We know this because the author compared his proverb to a (then) well-known Latin saying: Saepius plantata arbor fructum profert exiguum, which means, “A tree replanted too often produces little fruit.” In the same way, “A rolling stone gathers no moss” is a not warning against stagnation, but against excessive movement.
Now it ought to make us wonder—with sober self-examination—whenever our culture has led us to read into a quote almost exactly its opposite meaning. This is usually a sign that we are blind to something that previous generations clearly saw. To be sure, they had blind spots too, but the revealing power of hindsight has cleared up most of theirs. Our problem is that we act as if they had blind spots while we do not. We love identifying specks in the eyes of our ancestors; yet we do not recognize the log that sticks out of our own (Matt. 7:3).
The Transient Life
The particular blind spot we are concerned with here is the fruitlessness of the transient life. The transient life is the “here today, gone tomorrow” life, instead of the “here to stay” life. It’s a life spent chasing things that don’t last (like bigger paychecks, fame, recognition, status) instead of pouring time into things that do last (like relationships with God’s people, which will last forever). The transient life is a life that values whatever is taking us away from our neighbors, our friends, and our churches above our those neighbors, friends, and churches.
The transient life is lived by someone who relocates every time they are offered a promotion in another city, even if they already make plenty of money.
The transient life is lived by people who hop from church to church to church, always looking for something that suits their selfish preferences. They go on searching, but never finding, and eventually they abandon going to church altogether.
The transient life is lived by the person who moves from house to house to house, always on the hunt for a bigger home in a “nicer” neighbor—which is usually code for ‘an upper-middle class white neighborhood’ or for more land, far away from people who might actually have needs or make requests of us.
The transient life is lived by pastors who move from one congregation to another, which tragically seems always to move in the direction of more people in attendance and more dollars on their pay stubs.
The reason the transient life is bad is because it is a fruitless life. It keeps people from putting down roots and staying committed to a specific people for long enough to make a difference. This matters because Jesus did not die to rescue isolated individuals, but to create a new community of people who live for him (Titus 2:14).
That truth has many important implications, but one of them is that we must learn to see that the local church is God’s chosen context for our lives. Everything we do is done with a view to how it affects the people in the church where we are members. This makes sense because the church is central to what God is doing in the world (Eph. 3:7-12). The church is the end goal of God’s saving plan. It’s where everything is headed. The church is God’s final destination; it is his eternal home (Eph. 2:19-21). Thus when John wrote about eternity, he talked about the people of God (Rev. 21:1-3). The people are the point!
Saved from Fruitlessness
Tragically, our sin causes us to view our lives through lens of Me and My. We tend to think about our decisions solely in terms of how they will affect me, increase my opportunities, advance my career, further my enjoyment, give me more travel time, and so on and so on. This is radically different from the salvation that God intends to bring into our lives. He tells us that people whose eyes have been opened by the gospel are people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose for their sake” (2 Cor. 5:15). That’s another way of saying that the gospel changes our focus from Me/My to Jesus and his people.
In other words, when God saves us he turns people with rolling stone hearts into firmly planted oaks of righteousness (Isa. 61:3). For example, we begin to ask questions like, “How will my presence affect others? How will my decisions help or hurt the people in my family, my church, and my community? Will spending this money on that thing I don’t really need decrease my chances to be generous with others? How will traveling every weekend or for months at time mean cause relationships with people in my church and my neighborhood to suffer from my absence? Will turning down a promotion in another city give me a chance to keep building on the relationships that God has given me?”
These questions sound crazy to a Me/My world, but they don’t sound crazy to people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose for their sake.” Thus God replaces our selfish tendency toward the transient me-focused life with an others-centered rooted life. Instead of the transient life of “here today, gone tomorrow,” the rooted life is “here to stay.” And this rooted life is a reflection of the gospel itself, since the gospel is not a message about a “here today, gone tomorrow” God. Rather, the gospel is a message about the God who is “here to stay,” who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5).
The Beauty of a Rooted Life
There are many people in our church who have turned down better-paying jobs so that they could keep pouring into relationships with their neighbors, co-workers, friends, and church family members. One man turned down a job that made three times as much as his current salary. Another is leaving his job that would have required him move, and he is taking a lesser paying job so that he can stay. Another man moved his family to Richmond in order to plant their lives in a healthy church, because there were none in their hometown.
Because of Jesus, these people are choosing to live the rooted life, to become oaks of righteousness in their church and community, with branches that extend to bless those who are near them. Imagine the kind of impact that people like this will have after decades of faithfulness in the same community and church. Imagine the beauty of friendships that are fifty years old and all that they have shared together as members of the same church and same community. Imagine what it would be like if people who had to move became the rare exception. Imagine the kind of power that this sort of life has before a watching world that is filled with people living the transient life. Imagine’ people who know that a “a tree replanted too often produces little fruit,” and so they make a concerted effort—so far as it depends upon them—to plant their lives in one church and one city in order to grow deep roots and strong branches that will truly bless the lives of others for years and years and years.