Cut-Flower Syndrome

Withered Flowers shutterstock_180107483

Many in our day have what I call a cut-flower mentality. They focus on the immediate experience of the “flower,” neglecting the need for roots that sustain the plant. It is normal and appropriate to enjoy flowers, but that enjoyment will be short-lived without the long-term nurture of the plant.

This is especially problematic in matters of faith. Many followers of Jesus suffer from “cut-flower syndrome” in the primary areas of biblical knowledge, theology and worship. Without roots, they are subject to being tossed about by fads and pressures instead of standing firm in confidence and understanding.

Immediate experience and crowd-sourced values are real liabilities when it comes to living as a disciple. This leads to situations where our judgments and practices are based on personal preferences and subjective evaluations, rather than drawing on God’s Word. We think we have to figure everything out for ourselves instead of drawing on the witness and careful thinking of God’s people across the ages.

In his book, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, Michael Horton quoted an article by John Seabrook in The New Yorker Magazine about the ‘dumbing down’ of our culture.

“The old cultural arbiters, whose job was to decide what was ‘good’ in the sense of ‘valuable,’ were being replaced by a new type of arbiter, whose skill was to define ‘good’ in terms of ‘popular.’ A ‘hierarchy of hotness’ replaced the older hierarchy of value and there was no such things as poor taste anymore, just different tastes… These judgments do not depend on knowledge of the canon, tradition, history, or some shared set of standards as to what constitutes ‘good taste’ to give them weight; this kind of taste is more appetite than disinterested judgement” (Horton, 191).

Deep waters, I know. So why is this such a big deal? How does this affect our hearts and minds? Here’s the point: If nothing is intrinsically true, good, and beautiful–and therefore superior to other things that are not quite as true, good or beautiful– everything is a matter of taste, or personal preference. And all we have are today’s cut flowers, which wither quickly.

I confronted my own cut-flower mentality during seminary.

I really struggled with impatience during the three years it took to complete my seminary education. I wanted to get out on the front lines of ministry. When I finally did get “out there,” however, I quickly realized that my education was an invaluable resource to sustain ministry in depth and breadth. In other words, I had some roots. I, in no way, had all the answers, but I knew where to look for more understanding. I, in no way, was prepared for the demands I faced, but I had reference points in Scripture, theology, church history, practical theology and counseling (to name just a few areas) that helped me better frame the questions and issues.

You don’t have to go to seminary, however, to develop roots. To change metaphors, when we develop depth through the renewing of our minds, we move from the burden of having a glass we rely on ourselves to fill to the joy of tapping the well of Living Water (John 7:37-38).

Deep roots drawing on Living Water– that’s key to spiritual vitality. It reminds me of this wonderful verse in Genesis:

Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them (Genesis 26:18 NIV).

I love the image of reopening the wells. First, it speaks to the reality that the wells of truth and grace have been blocked by forces that stand against us. But we are also reminded of the promise that we can find fresh water from old sources. Isaac didn’t just dig new wells. He went back to the old wells that still had so much to give.

There are too many applications for me to develop now, so I’ll close with a few simple questions. Are you putting down roots, deep roots in your faith? Roots that draw on the life-giving waters of Scripture? Roots that draw from the wells of the thoughts and experiences of dear saints who have hard-won insight to share?

Enjoy the flowers– but, more importantly, put down roots.

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