It’s a dirty job

I’m not much of a camper. I have four experiences I can actually remember and the words that come to mind for each one in order are cold, cramped, faraway and dirty. These experiences must have had some impact because I can still vividly remember each one. The most memorable experience I have was the last one and probably why it was the last one.

Just dirt

Imagine a vast dry land with gusting winds. The goal was to build shelter just to provide some small relief from the blowing dirt and dust. Did I mention we were camping on dirt? Have you ever tried to build a tent in the wind, while breathing in dirt? Just when you think you had it right, a firm gust destroyed the work, and put more dirt in your mouth if you actually needed to breathe. At some point, the dirt was so pervasive, hair became crunchy and styled like Moses in the Ten Commandments, mouths spat dirt like Jesus healing a blind eye and any uncovered path into the body became a tunnel of mud. Dirt covered every inch of everything. When the decision was made to give up, the dirt went home with me and it actually still exists in some corners of the garage.

What it means to me

I pull this term tentmaking from the book of Acts where Paul is referred to as a tentmaker by trade and in the church universal, it generally means a vocational minister where the church cannot fully support the work of the ministry. Throughout my Christian life, I have had many opportunities to serve in the church and in the community. These experiences were pure ministry but without my “tentmaking”, I’d be on the street as volunteering does not pay the bills. Whether it was in the church or in the community, the person that was me is the person that I always hoped to leave with those who crossed my path.

The application today is trying to reconcile work in a world that we ultimately look forward to leaving. We are called to work.  I know of so many great people who come home after a hard day, beat up by bosses, coworkers, customers, etc. yet the person I know is not that defeated person. I reflect on the tough days I have as well, often misunderstood by those who feel it is easier to just criticize than improve self.

Who you really are

That dirty tentmaking day provides a nice picture.  As Christians, our work is tentmaking. It is what we have been blessed to do while we are here making a difference in the lives of those around us. The dirt of the world may change us externally, but it is not who we are. It is not a reflection of the inner creation. We need to realize that the dirt that sticks to us, whether it is how we are treated or spoken to, is just that, dirt. When we cleanse ourselves in the truth of who our creator made us to be, we are empowered to go back out, do the work we need to do and return to the presence of God daily knowing He sees our heart. The world will attempt to make the dirt stick to you but remind yourself daily that the early apostles lived in a dirty world and they had a greater purpose while tentmaking. There is a purpose for being out there, find the lessons in personal growth and showing that you are different. And then take a shower.

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These are a couple definitions

  • Encircling roots at the bottom the rootball of a container-grown plant that indicate it has been left too long in too small a pot.
  • (of a pot plant) having outgrown its pot, so that the roots are cramped and tangled

About a year ago, the adjective rootbound resonated in my mind at a time where I had felt I had reached capacity in what I was doing in a lot of areas. In ministry, I felt like the team I worked with cared more than those who were to direct us. Professionally, I was not feeling challenged and basically just existed in a maintenance mode of previous growth and for a lack of a better term, I just felt like a large plant stuffed into a small hole. There was no fancy diagnosis, just a feeling that can only be described as a rootbound plant.

Am I a plant or a person?

Rootbound is the word that seemed appropriate at the time. There are many resources to describe it from the actual botanical angle to the spiritual comparisons. In either approach, the comparisons hit home when I considered them. I once heard that the first thing you need to do when repotting a plant was to “tickle the roots”. Simply putting a rootbound plant in a new hole is not the answer as the life giving root to the plant is all bound up in the shape that caused the problem in the first place.

Not a green thumb for sure

It is said that a rootbound plant eventually does not respond to water, loses vitality, stops flowering, growth stops, a hardening of the roots occurs and yellowing will occur from a lack of nutrients. How’s that for a picture of yourself? Have you felt that way? In a transplant, there is an actual cutting of the roots that must happen. Most plants will go into a shock at this time. Even with proper care, it is expected that there is a die off of growth for a period, a continued lack of flowering for a season. And of course, planting in too large of a pot can lead to water saturation and rot.

A season of rest

So where is all this going? From a pure life perspective, I see a lot of this in my day. We go along and accept our circumstances as normal after awhile. We slowly die off from what was once a thriving period of growth. Like a normal healthy pruning of a tree or plant to stimulate growth, we need to allow those seasons to occur. In this world of “need to have it now” when it comes to what is going on in the world, it is no easy task to just sit and wait. But nature itself proves this as a good thing. Consider the rose bush that is seasonally chopped each winter only to produce the most fragrant flower in the spring. Or the grapevine reduced to a gnarly twisted wood only to produce the finest wine.

What did Jesus say?

In Matthew 9:17, Jesus warns against pouring new wine into old wineskins and that the idea that He, Himself brings a newness that cannot be confined to the old form. As we grow, it is natural to pour ourselves into a new form. Rootbound is about that idea. It is about knowing it may be time for a change, learning to stop and just wait, accepting that what outer beauty there was is ok to die off knowing that properly rooted, an abundance of growth is in the offering. It’s about the long term investment you have made in your life. The kind of moment where you can look back five years, ten years, and see where God was only in retrospect.

My current journey in the wait is now thirteen months and there have been some amazing movements of God after a season of time where I thought I had nothing else to give. The roots are now pointed down as they say, absorbing new life and there is a budding of new faith happening. I’m twenty years in my walk and very much believe I am just beginning to know the heart of my God.




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