The mangrove tree makes its home on the shoreline of numerous countries in southeast Asia, particularly those closest to the equator. No one on a mission to landscape a home or beautify a city would request a gardener highlight this particular tree as part of his plan. An obscure tree that is not particularly attractive, the mangrove tree is not known for its beauty, the mangrove tree is known for its roots.
The mangrove tree is not planted by the water on the shore, the mangrove tree is actually planted in the water by the shore. Between each tree, seen resting on top of the water’s surface is a tangled mess of what appears to be sticks and debris, twisted and entwined to the place where it’s difficult to decipher exactly where the mess begins or where it ends. This unattractive compilation of sticks and debris looks messy, neglected and unpurposed, but when you look a little deeper, you see the truth. What is seen between these trees is not debris, not abandoned sticks. The seemingly unpurposed mess you can see with your eyes above the water is one set of the mangrove’s roots.
On December 26, 2004, fourteen countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia were hit with a tsunami history will never forget. Two hundred and thirty thousand lives were lost in these fourteen countries. Entire villages were destroyed as giant waves made their way to the shore, leaving a path of destruction behind them as they went. In the aftermath of the storm, as rescue teams were sent to these devastated countries, an amazing fact was uncovered. While entire villages were taken away by the waves of the storm, villages on the shore that were positioned behind mangrove trees actually managed to sustain a degree of life. Fewer lives were lost and less devastation took place in villages positioned behind these trees.
The mangrove trees were not stronger or higher than the waves they faced, but their roots were doing an amazing work hidden to those who could only see what was on the surface.
The tangled, twisted, unattractive, seemingly unpurposed root structure that could be seen above the water had been working an amazing purpose under the water for years. In places that could not be seen, over the course of time, these messy roots had been collecting dirt and mud. Sediment carried in the water found itself caught in the root structure of these trees and what was stuck in their roots became more ground. Greater ground, more territory was being gained under the water. In unseen places, the mess that could be seen above the water was working out a far greater purpose. This new territory around these messy roots became a buffer that took the first impact encountered by the storm, breaking the force of the waves, protecting the people positioned behind the trees, ultimately saving lives. Those standing behind the trees rooted in the water with these messy roots endured the storm in a way that was not possible for those standing on their own.
The Word of God says in Psalm 1:3 that we are to be like trees planted by the river…
Planted in the waters, we are to be like trees. We want to be the oak tree, standing tall and strong, or the cherry tree, beautiful to view when the colors of spring are seen…but how often do we look at our own lives and see just a tangled mess? How often do we look at our story and see what looks like sticks and debris, events and circumstances that seem messy and unpurposed? How often do take in only what our eyes can see and not go down deep to see the rest of the story? If we would take a minute to look beyond…
We would see that what looks on the surface to be a pile of debris is really God growing our roots.
We would see that under the surface these messy roots are serving a purpose. In places that we cannot see, these roots are working to gain ground. These roots are taking what comes at them, using it for a purpose, growing stronger, increasing their territory and becoming a buffer so when the next storm comes, these trees will not fall and those behind them will experience life.
One tree standing in the waters can be a powerful force against the enemy…but what protected the people the day of the tsunami was not one tree standing. The villages that had been protected that day were positioned behind lines of mangrove trees, hundreds of trees planted in the water. Groups of mangrove trees were planted together and created a force that the storm could not take down. Each tree had its own messy, tangled, seemingly unpurposed root structure, but as the trees stood side by side, these roots started to get tangled up together. As the roots of one tree twisted into the roots of another tree the picture looked even messier, but under the water, new ground was being formed. As lines of trees grew together with their root structure twisting into the other’s root structures, more mud and dirt were collected in the unseen roots, new territory was created, greater ground was gained.
So what did the countries of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia do? They have purposefully planted mangrove trees, forests of mangrove trees. Where did they plant them? They planted them in the water, even closer together, so their roots could connect in a greater, closer way, so that while the mess of the roots we can see may look even messier, under the water, greater ground is being gained.
Ever look at the mess around you, or the mess around that tree positioned next to you? Ever wonder why the chaos, why the unplanned circumstances? Why are you positioned here, in the water, the place where quite often we feel like we are surrounded and unable to stand on our own? Why are we positioned next to these other women? Why are we called to stand together?
Perhaps all the chaos, all of the seemingly unpurposed mess we can see with our eyes is developing roots that God is using to increase us, give us greater territory and use our testimonies to protect those coming up behind.
Perhaps He has planted us close to each other because while we may not see it, we all experience similar things, we all have had struggles, none of our stories are pretty all of the time. Perhaps all of our roots are actually quite purposed. In the places we cannot see, perhaps God is using these roots to gain ground, expand territory, and increase the Kingdom of God.
What a lesson we can take away from the mangrove tree. Nothing messy is unpurposed in the Kingdom of God. Let’s stand together, maintain our positions and grow those roots! Let’s be that tree and watch what God will do!
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.