(Our friend Mark Roberts has graciously allowed us to repost this from his “Life for Leaders” devotional. It begins a series on flourishing, which we think about often. I’d recommend signing up to benefit from his pastoral wisdom for leaders. To read this in it’s original context click here.)
Psalm 92:12 (NRSV)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
God did not design us merely to get along. We were created to flourish, that is, to live full and fruitful lives. Psalm 92 presents the promise that if we live rightly, we will flourish like healthy, beautiful, productive trees. God invites us to a life of genuine flourishing.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: Invitation to a Flourishing Life.
God has more to give you and more to do through you than you might imagine. One way to describe what God offers is flourishing. God invites you into a flourishing life, a life of fulness and fruitfulness.
Today I’m beginning a multi-part devotional series called “Invitation to a Flourishing Life.” Yes, in a way I’m the one who’s giving you this invitation. But I’m really only the delivery person. The invitation comes from God through Scripture. God invites you to flourish in life.
The word “flourish” comes to us by way of Old French, from the Latin florere meaning “to flower or bloom.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “flourish” as “to grow luxuriantly, thrive, achieve success, or prosper.” The Oxford English Dictionary has “to blossom, thrive, prosper, or do well.” People steeped in classical English might still speak of literal flourishing, as in “That garden is flourishing wonderfully” (meaning, “It’s blooming impressively”). But for the most part, we use the words “flourish” and “flourishing” metaphorically rather than literally. For example, a recent Washington Monthly Magazine story bears this title, “How Cities Can Flourish After COVID-19”. The Washington Post featured a story called: “Climate change lets mosquitoes flourish – and feast – in Los Angeles.” (I’m sorry to say this is true. Until recently, Southern California had very few mosquitoes. Now they are flourishing, thanks in part to my blood donation!)
What does it mean for human beings to flourish? Scholars trace this language all the way back to Aristotle, who saw the goal of human life as what classical scholars now call “human flourishing” (translating the Greek word eudaimonia). Recently, Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University, has written: “Flourishing itself might be understood as a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good. We might also refer to such a state as complete human well-being, which is again arguably a broader concept than psychological well-being” (“On the promotion of human flourishing”). According to VanderWeele, flourishing includes:
1. Happiness and Life Satisfaction
2. Mental and Physical Health
3. Meaning and Purpose
4. Character and Virtue
5. Close Social Relationships
6. Financial and Material Stability (for “secure flourishing”).
The Bible offers a variety of ways to think about human flourishing. The biblical notions of shalom (peace), ’ashre (blessedness), and tamim (wholeness) are rather like secular ideas of human flourishing (see Jonathan Pennington, “A Biblical Theology of Human Flourishing”). The Apostle Paul commends what he calls the “life that really is life” (2 Timothy 6:19). Jesus says he came so that people might “have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Real life, full life, abundant life, a life of peace, blessedness, and wholeness . . . that’s what we’re talking about when it comes to flourishing. And that’s what God invites us to experience.
As you can imagine, if I were planning to tackle the biblical notions of peace, blessedness, and wholeness in this devotional series on flourishing, it would be a very long series! I may very well do that someday. But, for now, I want to try a different approach. I want these reflections to be based on the Hebrew verb parach in the Old Testament, which means “to bud, sprout, blossom, flourish.” In Isaiah 35:1-2, for example, we read, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom [parach]; like the crocus it shall blossom [parach] abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.” Parach can also be used figuratively, as in Proverbs 11:28, “Those who trust in riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish [parach] like green leaves.”
Parach appears in Psalm 92:12, which is the guiding verse for this series: “The righteous flourish [parach] like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Now, you may be aware that this verse is part of the foundational passage for the De Pree Center’s “Flourishing in the Third Third of Life” initiative. As we’ll see, Psalm 92 gives us ample reason to believe that we can flourish in older adulthood. But flourishing isn’t just for those of us in the third third of life. God invites all people, from the very young to the very old, to experience a flourishing life. I’m looking forward to sharing with all Life for Leaders, no matter your age, what I’ve discovered about the biblical promise of flourishing.
As we begin this series, let me encourage you to consider the following introductory questions:
Given your sense of flourishing, would you say that you are flourishing in your life?
Often we flourish in some ways but not in others. Are you flourishing more in certain aspects of your life than in others? If so, why might this be true?
When you read that God invites you into a flourishing life, what do you picture? What would a flourishing life be like for you?
Take some time to reflect on your life, perhaps writing down your thoughts. Identify parts of your life in which you are flourishing. Then jot down parts of your life in which you are not flourishing. As you look at what you’ve written, pay attention to what you think and feel. Talk with God about the flourishing in your life and lack thereof.
Gracious God, thank you for inviting us into a flourishing life. Thank you for the promise of Scripture that the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. I want to be such a person! Help me, Lord, to learn how I can accept and live according to your invitation to flourish. As I do, may you receive the glory! Amen.