Stunted Shrubs or Towering Trees?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.

Jeremiah 17:6

Why did Judah find itself on the verge of destruction at the hands of the Babylonians? To be sure, the central problem was the persistent sin of God’s people. But part of what had led them astray was their reliance on themselves rather than God, on human ingenuity rather than God’s revelation. “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,” said the Lord, “who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD” (17:5).

How do those who trust in humans rather than God experience their accursed state? Here’s what the Lord said through Jeremiah: “They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land” (17:6). This translation captures the sense of the original language, though the word “stunted” is implied but not stated in the Hebrew. If you’ve ever been to a dry desert, especially one where the soil is salty, you know that the flora is sparse and small.

In contrast, Jeremiah 17 affirms that those who “trust in the LORD” are “like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water” (17:8). These trees withstand heat and drought and remain fruitful indefinitely.

Have you ever felt like a “stunted shrub”? I know I have, more times than I’d prefer to remember. But I remember the feeling of dryness, the shame associated with not growing in the Lord as I know I should. Sometimes being with mature, fruitful Christians highlights my stuntedness. I see all that God is doing in their lives and wonder what’s wrong with me.

Jeremiah 17 suggests that my problem is relying too much on myself and not enough on God. When I live for myself, my goals, and my glory, when I rely on my own moral judgments rather than God’s revelation, I stop growing as a Christian. Yet when I trust more consistently in the Lord, when I entrust my life to him, when I seek him and his ways above all else, then my roots reach deep into the water. My growth is strong and steady, and I can see the fruit of God’s Spirit growing in my life.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you felt like a “stunted shrub”? What were you doing—or not doing—that contributed to your stuntedness? What would it mean for you to trust God more deeply and consistently today?

PRAYER: O Lord, I know that you’ve created me to be fruitful. Your desire is that I be like a tree, with my roots growing deeply in you, nourished by your living water. When I slow down and think, that’s what I want for my life too.

But, I must confess how much I am like a stunted shrub. My growth in you is limited by my lack of trust, by my self-reliance, by my choice to serve myself rather than you. Forgive me, Lord, for being so much less than you have created and re-created me to be.

May I be a fruitful tree, dear Lord. In every part of life, may your life flow in and through me. To you be all the glory. Amen.