Last week Baker Books officially released Rooted in Good Soil, a book that I had labored over for nearly a year. It tells the story in a rather unusual way of what I would call the organic Christian journey to maturity and fruitfulness. At the same time as the book was released I was invited to spend three days with some pastor couples and leaders at a retreat center in the heart of Montana. Most of them are old friends who have been faithfully serving in cities and rural towns of Montana for years. They are special people who Nancy and I have grown to love but haven’t had the chance to spend time with for a long time. They asked me to come teach the new things God had been doing through our ministry and the books I have been writing. As I prepared for what I believed would be a rich time of renewing old relationships it was in my heart to be a blessing in their lives if possible with my short visit.
While driving to the airport early in the morning to catch my plane I prayed and asked the Lord for a fresh message that would be both helpful and relevant not only for the ministries they lead but for their individual lives as well. I was weaving down the canyon road out of our hills towards the interstate just as the early morning light was breaking over the distant eastern mountains. As I prayed I began to hum an old children’s song I once sang as a young boy in Sunday school some fifty years before. At first I couldn’t recall the words, but gradually a few of them started to come to memory and I sang what I could remember with a hope that others would follow; but they didn’t. I sang, “Deep and wide, deep and wide, there is a fountain flowing deep and wide.” I sang this one stanza over and over again straining for the remaining lyrics. I felt certain that if I could recall the words the Lord would use them to show me what it was he wanted me to relate to the Montana pastors. Finally giving up, I called Nancy on my cell phone and ask her to Google the old song on her computer and call me back later with her findings. It wasn’t until I had arrived at the Boise airport and checked through security that Nancy’s return call came informing me that she had in fact succeeded finding the old song but that there were no additional lyrics. The entirety of the song was, “Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide”. That was all there was to it. My first response was disappointment; I was totally bummed and concluded that I hadn’t heard the Lord at all until it struck me that this was the message – “deep and wide”. I was to tell the pastors to go deep and wide and to lead the folks in their churches deep and wide. I know this may sound crazy to many, but in reality there is no greater thing for a Christian to do than to go deep with God for the sake of taking his love and ministry wide. I recalled how I had been hearing so much talk recently concerning the church in America being an inch deep and a mile wide; how that if the truth be known it may not even be a mile wide. This would be especially true if you define the “width” to be more about community and worldwide impact rather than the number of people in attendance on any given Sunday.
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. He said this is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37) Learning to love God and to be loved by him is the essence of going deep. Deep Christianity calls for a deep relationship with God. Learning to unconditionally love your neighbor, (especially the non-churched and the poor) is the essence of going wide. As simple as it might seem, to go both deep and wide (and in that order) is the key to authentic Christian faith. I’m convinced it is what God desires and is saying to his people.
After returning home from my short trip to Montana this simple thought stayed with me. It was in my mind even two days later as I worked up the enriched soil in the garden, forming raised beds and preparing a drip line irrigation system to water the seeds Nancy would soon be planting. I turned the soil over several times as I formed the rows; the first time to break up the compacted ground, and a second time to work in new compost and seasoned manure. Every vegetable gardener knows that the most critical issue in helping a plant to grow to fruitfulness is in the preparation of soil. For the plant to grow tall and wide its roots must first grow deep into the richness of the fertile ground. Establishing deep roots is everything for a healthy plant just as becoming deeply rooted in God’s love is everything for the Christian that wants to experience lasting spiritual maturity. The Apostle Paul once prayed, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”(Eph. 3:18) It is being filled with the “fullness of God” that enables us to not only grasp the love of God, but to take it wide; to take it to a pain-filled and broken world in very real and tangible ways.
Recalling those few words from a childhood song and overlaying them on the heart of the new book I had recently written encouraged and excited me as I got to see my old friends again. I knew God wanted to do a special thing for them, and that through the sincerity of their lives he would somehow impact the state of Montana.