Planted in the Right Place
by Pastor George Van Alstine
“Where you from?” Ask that question around Altadena Baptist Church and you’ll get an amazing array of answers. On any given Sunday you may rub shoulders with people from Tennessee, Texas, Minnesota and Missouri; from Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Korea and Lebanon. Occasionally, you may meet someone who says: “I was born in St. Luke Hospital, went to school at Noyes and Elliott, graduated from Muir High School and Pasadena City College; now been working thirty years at Wells Fargo Bank; so I guess I’m from right here.”
We live in an increasingly mobile society, in which it’s not uncommon for a person to live in many diverse areas during his/ her lifetime, making new sets of friends along the way, and ultimately unsure how to answer the “Where you from?” question. We tend to look down on the person who’s stayed in the same location from birth to death, thinking that their perspective and life experience must be very limited.
The familiar first Psalm in the Bible celebrates the value of staying in the same place spiritually. This sounds almost like heresy, because there’s so much preaching and teaching about moving on to greater and more fulfilling spiritual adventures. But the Psalm says “Blessed is the one who is planted, like a tree.” How boring! I want my spiritual life to have wheels, maybe even wings. I want to go places, experience all there is to experience. Being rooted in one place limits me. Yet, the intriguing challenge comes down through the centuries, through generations of faith experience: “Blessed is the one who is planted.”
Of course, it matters where you’re planted. In Psalm 1 the person who is described as “blessed” is planted “by streams of water.” A tree planted in the middle of a barren desert has no hope. A man planted on a bar stool will not prosper; neither will a woman planted in front of a mirror with her cosmetic case. “Streams of water,” of course, are the currents of spiritual resources flowing from the presence of God. They are not seasonal, but constantly flowing — to those who are planted in the right place.
Okay, that describes a nice, calm way to live, but a planted tree isn’t going to amount to much. Oh? How’s this for a resume of accomplishments: this properly planted tree “yields its fruit in season, its leaf does not wither, and whatever he does prospers.” Fruit, foliage, and “prospering” — what more can a tree hope to do in life? And the Psalm’s proverbial tree does this, not by taking courses and going to seminars, not by agonizing and trying real hard, not by going farther and faster than all the other trees in a tree race, but by being planted in the right place.
Actually, there’s one other thing — the tree has to have the right DNA. Otherwise there may be ugly, twisted leaves, or the fruit, if any appears, may be bitter. When Jesus talked about the “new birth,” he was describing a process in which God changes a person’s spiritual DNA, so that he will produce the leaves and fruit that God likes. The psalm describes this as learning to “delight in the law of the Lord.”
The irony of this is that while others (described in the Psalm as “sinners” or “mockers”) may be frantically traveling all over the world in search of ways to fulfill their destiny and discover meaning for their lives, the Psalm 1 tree finds all this effortlessly, simply by being planted in the right place. The others are “like chaff that the wind blows away.” I can hear Gene Autry singing “drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed.” Tumbleweeds break from their roots and roll around the landscape They don’t have green leaves, and they have no edible fruit. I’d much rather be a planted tree. Call me boring!