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A Picture of Natural Flourishing

February 7, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Genesis 40:9 (NRSV)

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

Focus

In the Bible, flourishing isn’t only a matter of personal happiness and fulfillment. It’s also being fruitful, living in such a way that you add to the goodness and beauty of the world. God promises that those who live rightly will flourish, just like healthy, fruitful, beautiful trees.

Today’s devotion is part of the series: Invitation to a Flourishing Life

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I introduced a new series called Invitation to a Flourishing Life. Scripture shows us that God intends for us to flourish in this life, not simply to wait around for abundant life in the age to come. Psalm 92, as you may recall, promises that the righteous will flourish like beautiful and fruitful trees.

I mentioned yesterday that I’m basing this series on the Hebrew verb parach in the Old Testament, which means “to bud, sprout, blossom, flourish.” This verb is often used metaphorically, as in Psalm 92. The psalm writer did not envision literal leaves and flowers growing on the body of the righteous person. But sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures parach functions literally.

Consider, for example, the dream of the chief cupbearer in Genesis 40. As you may recall, Joseph was thrown into prison, the victim of a false accusation and an unjust judicial system. While Joseph was in prison, Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer offended his master and was imprisoned along with Joseph. During the time of his incarceration, the cupbearer had a dream, which he reported to Joseph. He said, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes.” If you were reading this in Hebrew, you’d find the verb parach in the phrase “as soon as it budded.” This is a literal use of parach, even though it’s describing what happened in a dream.

I want to emphasize the ordinary, botanical sense of parach for two reasons. First, it helps us imagine what the original audience of Scripture might picture when they heard the opening of Psalm 92, for example. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree . . . they flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:12-13) would have reminded them of thriving trees, trees with ample leaves, strong branches, and abundant fruit or flowers.

Second, the original meaning of parach reminds us that flourishing, in biblical perspective, includes fruitfulness. It’s not simply a matter of personal well-being. One who flourishes will produce bounteous “fruit” or “flowers” in life. This suggests, by the way, that biblical flourishing isn’t just the same as productivity. Flourishing doesn’t happen just because you’re working yourself to death. Moreover, the “produce” of a flourishing life isn’t only abundant. It’s also sweet and beautiful as well as useful.

When I reflect on the meaning of parach, I remember the flourishing of the orange groves near our home in Orange County, California. When my family and I moved there in 1991, we lived close to vast groves of orange trees (now a golf course, housing developments, and shopping malls). There were times in the spring, as the trees were blooming, when the air around our home smelled gloriously sweet and the nearby trees glowed with soft white flowers. Several months later, the flowers turned to fruit, weighing down the tree branches. The groves were no longer green or green and white, but green speckled with orange in a kind of autumn glory.

Your memory of natural flourishing may well be different from mine. You may picture flowering roses, fruit-filled apple orchards, Midwestern cornfields right before harvest, coastal hills covered with yellow mustard, expansive fields of Texas Bluebonnets, or brilliant fall leaves in New England. But no matter your particular picture of flourishing, I’d like you to keep your picture in mind as you reflect on the promises of Psalm 92. The fact is that God wants you to flourish in life, to live fully and fruitfully. Let this truth percolate within you as you consider what flourishing looks like in the natural world.

Reflect

When you think of flourishing in nature, what comes to mind? What feelings do you associate with your memories of flourishing?

Can you think of times in your life when you’d say you were flourishing? What was happening in those times? What helped you to flourish?

Keeping in mind your memory of natural flourishing, reflect on what your life might be like if you were flourishing that way.

Act

Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about your experience(s) of flourishing. See if you can identify what helps you to flourish . . . and also what hinders you.

Pray

Gracious God, first I want to thank you for the flourishing of nature, for trees budding in the spring, for flowers blooming brightly, for fruit-filled orchards in the fall, and for so many other examples of flourishing. Thank you for creating the world to be filled with beauty, sustenance, and delight.

As I reflect upon the promise of Psalm 92, I feel an eagerness within me to flourish. I want to live fully and fruitfully. I want to experience the life you have chosen for me. I want to know that my life matters. I want to hear your voice saying to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So I ask that you help me live in such a way that flourishing comes to me as naturally as oranges fill a healthy tree. Teach me more about flourishing, Lord, so that I might live fully and fruitfully for your glory. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Joseph’s Interpretation of Dreams in Prison (Genesis 39:20-40:23)


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