“Christmas Trees and Self-Trust”
Now that we’ve entered the second week of Advent, you might be decking the halls in your house. But some Christmas decorations require some maintenance to make it until Christmas Day. For instance, you’d never purchase a real tree from a tree lot only to bring it home and put it in a stand without water, trusting it to sustain itself. No, you would be sure to water it regularly to keep the needles from drying and falling off before your Christmas festivities begin, because without access to water, the tree would surely die quickly!
Christmas trees can’t sustain themselves. And neither can we. In Jeremiah 17:5–8, Jeremiah uses an agricultural metaphor to warn Judah about the dangers of self-trust. Apart from the Lord, they will be parched, like a shrub planted in the desert with no access to the water. If they choose to trust in their own strength, in other humans, and in other gods rather than in the Lord of heaven and earth—the true Fountain of Living Water—they will find themselves forever thirsty. The consequences of their sin will take them into exile, to a place much farther away than they will ever want to go.
What is so dangerous about trusting in ourselves? As Jeremiah continues, he helps us understand that he’s talking about more than just having confidence. Jeremiah is talking about people who have put their trust and hope in that which cannot save—in themselves. We can’t save ourselves. Our hearts are deceitful and wicked, Jeremiah tells us, and terribly sick. Even our very best intentions are flawed. We cannot simply follow our hearts, because our hearts will deceive us.
Reading a passage like this brings me to a moment of self-examination. Am I truly trusting in the Lord and putting my hope in him, or am I putting my trust in my own abilities? Am I submitting to his authority and his leadership? Am I abiding in him, recognizing that while I am the branches, he is the vine, and that apart from him I can do nothing? Trusting in myself and believing I can sustain myself means I am actually denying myself access to the true source of life: the Lord. It is like believing the Christmas tree will last all month without ever being watered. The tree can’t sustain itself. And neither can we.
In response to his own prophecy, even the prophet Jeremiah cries out, “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV). Jeremiah recognizes this tendency even in himself and asks the Lord to help him!
Oh Lord, would you help me, too, to be a person whose trust is in the Lord, who is like a tree planted by the water, who does not fear when trials and tribulations come, who remains reliant on you as her source of life?