Deep roots grow strong shoots

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Every fortnight people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.

We enjoyed a lovely family holiday last month in the Fife region of Scotland.

The sunny weather made for some breathtaking scenery, particularly over the Lomond Hills, of which our cottage enjoyed a clear view. Beneath the hills, a large patchwork of fields stretched as far as you could see, interrupted only by the occasional farmyard or patch of trees.

Unlike home, agriculture in Fife is predominantly cropping, with cereals, potatoes and salad vegetables a common sight. The cottage we rented was itself situated on a large arable farm, looking out over a field of beans, with some winter wheat growing along the lane. Despite the dry weather, the crops looked superb - particularly the beans, which stood three feet tall and loaded with pods.

Not every crop enjoyed the good weather, however. Around the county, irrigators were working on almost every farm, supplying much needed water to the vegetable crops. The grass too was burning up badly. One morning our hosts took us to see their suckler herd of predominantly Simmental-cross cows. The cattle were grazing a field named ‘The Rockies’, so called because its rocky outcrops meant it hadn’t been ploughed since World War II. The field was dry, an ideal site for cattle, but the grass was slowly dying as its roots struggled to find moisture in the thin soils.

Thankfully the farmer was able to feed them some round bales and the cattle were all lying content. But what a contrast to the field of beans just a few hundred yards away. Their deep roots meant the beans flourished in the drought conditions, while other crops struggled.

That morning reminded me of the well-known parable, recorded by three of the four gospel writers, where Jesus tells of a farmer going out to sow seed. In Matthew 13:5-6, Jesus says: “[some] seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”

Just like the seed planted in good ground (Matthew 13:8), the seed that fell on rocky ground germinated successfully, began to grow and looked to be flourishing. But what caused it to die away? A time of hard testing. Why? Because it lacked strong roots.

Ill health, death, unemployment, and loneliness are just some examples of hard testing that we all face. As Christians, we can also be tested by doubts, taunts, or feelings of guilt over past sins. Even our own Presbyterian Church in Ireland has faced testing times in recent weeks, both from without and within. So how do we ensure we are building strong roots? By immersing ourselves in the study of God’s true and living Word, by spending time talking with Him in personal prayer, and by sharing with others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives.

I must admit I struggle with ‘root building’ as much as anyone. If you are like me, then take heart - we are not on our own, we have a helper. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).

Ronald Annett works for a local animal feed company and helps out on the family farm in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. He is a member of Mourne Presbyterian Church in Kilkeel, County Down.

If you would like to talk to someone about this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at khanna@presbyterianireland.org or call him on 028 9753 1234.