The Ax Is Laid at the Root of the Tree

Maturity requires awareness and honesty.

When John the Baptist saw Pharisees and Sadducees among his audience, he directed a question to them: “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7). The question must have been jarring. They presumably were there out of curiosity, not fear. Then John made his point more vividly with a metaphor:

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9

I would interpret John’s metaphor this way: “Your days of complacency and maintaining the status quo are numbered. Your time of reckoning is coming. You really ought to wake up to the seriousness of your situation and make some changes now, before everything comes crashing down.”

The prophet Alma used the same metaphor as he addressed complacent church members in Zarahemla:

The Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire.

Alma 5:52

And the Lord used the same metaphor in an 1833 revelation to Joseph Smith. (See Doctrine and Covenants 97:7.)

During the financial crisis of 2007-2010, my team experienced significant disruptions, and we had to adapt rapidly to successive waves of change. I became fond of the following aphorism by Eric Shineski, a former United States Army general: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more” (Quoted in Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Marines Turned Soldiers”, National Review Online, December 10, 2001). It became something of a mantra for me through that experience. Like the ax, the crisis happening around us was real and required action. Standing still or doing things the way we had always done them was simply not a workable strategy.

There is a natural human resistance to change. We overcome that resistance by looking around and looking ahead—being honest about our circumstances and about where our choices are leading us.

Today, I will be more agile, more willing to change, more willing to repent. I will be honest about what isn’t working in my life, and I will make the changes required to be more productive, to bring forth more good fruit.

4 thoughts on “The Ax Is Laid at the Root of the Tree

Add yours

  1. I really appreciated your insights today. I turn 60 this year. Age can bring complacency and reluctance to change. But, alas, age brings on constant change (physical, social, spiritual) and the need to adapt. It helps to remember I’m still a part of the process of life. I benefit from embracing change, not hiding from or resenting it.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I’m glad to hear that this post resonated with you.
      I think we all benefit from the example of a 98-year-old prophet who embraces change more quickly than most of us!


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