4 Questions to Help You Move Past Surface-Level Issues and Identify The Real Problem

Despite having the last name Green, I did not inherit a green thumb. If a plant needs any maintenance, you can guarantee that I will be replacing a dead plant with a more low maintenance one in the coming months. With that said, I do understand the most basic responsibility of gardening: water the plant.

In our front yard, we have two hydrangeas. Without rain, these plants quickly go from big leaves and pretty blossoms to withered and droopy. To revive these plants, you don’t need to address the withered leaves or the dying blossoms but instead, address the roots. By simply watering the roots, the plant perks up and the once withered leaves become full. The principle is simple. If you want the plant to bear fruit, you have to take care of the roots.

Focusing first on the roots, not the fruit is the most basic agricultural principle. In the Christian life, it’s just as essential, but often we are not trained as a farmer to start at the roots. Much like a plant, when we feel that our leaves are withering or that we are not producing fruit, we need to first inspect our roots.

Focusing On The Roots, Not The Fruit

Whether we try to fix an issue in our life or in others, our tendency is to acknowledge the bad behavior and try to correct it with good behavior. This approach is simple and straight-forward. Though this may have a short-term impact, it will not address the real issue. When all we do is address behaviors, we neglect the root issue.

Our behaviors are driven by our beliefs. We act in specific ways because we believe that a certain action will bring fulfillment to something we desire. When we only address the behavior, but not the belief behind it, we miss the real issue that needs to be addressed and any improvement is hollow and short-lived. When we don’t address the heart issue, it will manifest itself in different ways and leave us on an endless treadmill of discouragement.

Getting To The Root Of The Issue

Below is a simple framework that shows how you can address the belief behind your behaviors. When you identify an action that you know is wrong (e.g. being rude to a friend, being dismissive of others, overworking, being gluttonous, etc.), resist the urge to fix the issue with merely better behavior. Our sinful actions are coming from a misguided heart and fixing heart issues is not fast, cheap, or easy.

Instead, stop looking at the fruit and start looking at the roots. Ask yourself, “What lie am I believing?” This is a question that is not easily answered. The movement down from behavior to belief is the hardest movement to make because it quickly becomes nebulous, heavy, and convoluted. Consider how your perceptions and emotions have influenced your actions. As you identify these things, it often leads you to identify a lie that you are believing.

Once you have identified and repented of this heart issue, move forward by asking, “How does the Gospel combat this lie?” It’s helpful to identify a verse that best expresses that promise and spend time meditating on the verse until the truth moves from a concept to a conviction. As the truth of the Gospel becomes rooted in your heart, then you will begin to see the fruit in your life.

The final question to ask yourself is “How should I respond to God’s promises?” This is when we move from the heart back to the hands. When we truly believe the promises of God, then it will be reflected in our life. Often, you will find that when you do the hard work of addressing the roots, it leads you to a much better place than if all you did was address the behavior.

A Personal Example

For many years of my life, I struggled with reading the Word consistently. Often, I tried to treat the behavior by creating better habits. It wasn’t until I began to address the roots of my issue that I began to see God change my heart and my behavior. Here is how I worked through this framework:

Only addressing the fruit:

  • My current action: I have been struggling to read my Bible.
  • My solution: I need to just prioritize it more. I should set alarms to wake up earlier and get into the Word.

Addressing the roots:

  • My current action: I have been struggling to read my Bible.
  • The lie: I feel shame when I go to read my Bible because I know how many things I have done wrong and I know God is dissatisfied with me. I need to get my life in order before I can go to him.
  • God’s promises: God’s love for me is unconditional and despite my screw-ups, he sees me as His child and wants me to come to him. I don’t have to clean up my life and then come to Jesus, but instead, I can come to Jesus and he will clean up my life. (Eph. 2:8-10, 1 John 1:9, 1 Cor, 13, 1 John 3:1, Rom. 5:8, Rom. 8:1)
  • Steps of obedience: I need to experience God’s love, mercy, and grace through confessing my sins, joyfully receiving his forgiveness, meditating on his Word, and spending time in prayer.

The difference between the two is radical. What I needed had nothing to do with my schedule, but everything to do with my heart. The solution to my issue was not prioritizing my calendar, but allowing God’s love to drive out the shame I felt. Without addressing the roots, I deceived myself with every solution I tried, because I wasn’t addressing the real issue. But when I did the hard work of diagnosing how my beliefs were driving our behavior, I began to experience restoration through Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that this process helps you do “rootwork” both in your life and in the life of those you lead.

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