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Did I Miss My Chance to Flourish?

February 20, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 17:24 (NRSV)

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
+++and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

All the trees of the field shall know
+++that I am the LORD.
I bring low the high tree,
+++I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
+++and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
+++I will accomplish it.

Focus

You may truly believe you’ve missed your chance to flourish. Perhaps you’ve failed in ways that were costly. Or maybe you’ve been the victim of painful injustice or accidents. You might be getting on in years. Or you might be young, but feeling worn down in your soul. No matter your situation, God has good news for you. God can make the dry tree flourish . . . even you.

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

Devotion

When I was a young pastor, there was an older man in my church whom I’ll call Fred. To be honest, I didn’t like Fred very much. Sure, he was a brother in Christ, but such a cranky one! Fred had been a career military man and he was tough as nails. Plus, he seemed gruff and wasn’t especially friendly.

One day, when Fred needed a pastor, he came to see me. I felt wary, wondering if I had done something to offend him. Our conversation began in a positive way, as Fred thanked me for seeing him on such short notice.

“I need to talk to you,” he began, “because I feel as if I’ve wasted my life. I have so little joy. I’m not a likable person. But I feel like I’m too old for God to change me. I’ve missed my chance to be the kind of person I wish I could be.” As Fred said this, his eyes filled with tears and his voice trembled.

I sat there, stunned, moved, and ashamed of my previous attitude toward Fred. I had written him off as an Ebenezer Scrooge kind of person. In fact, he was like Scrooge, but near the end of A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer looks upon his own grave and repents, falling on his knees before the Ghost of Christmas Future. Fred saw the emptiness and cheerlessness of his life, and he yearned for a change.

Fred’s despair was no doubt increased because of his advanced years, but throughout my decades as a pastor I’ve listened to people—old, young, and in between—as they talk about their sense that they missed their big chance to live well. For some, it was not getting the promotion or the new job they were sure was theirs. For others, it was being left at the altar on the day of their wedding or getting a divorce they never wanted. People in such situations honestly believe that they have missed their chance to flourish, that is, to live fully and fruitfully. Perhaps you’ve felt like this at some point in your life. Perhaps you’re feeling that way now.

For those who worry that they’ve missed their chance to flourish, there is good news. Psalm 92:12 promises that the righteous will flourish like the palm tree. By God’s grace, it’s never too late to begin to live into God’s gift of righteousness through Christ. That which leads to flourishing can begin in your life right now.

But folks who feel as if they’ve missed out can also feel stuck. If you’ve ever known that stuck feeling, you know how it can drag your soul down into a pit of discouragement and depression. You’d love to live so as to flourish, but that can feel impossible.

For those who feel as if they’ve missed the opportunity to flourish, hope can be found in the prophecy of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 17:22-23, the Lord is talking about how he will make Israel thrive as a mighty tree, a tree that started with a tiny sprig planted by God. The prophecy continues,

All the trees of the field shall know
+++that I am the LORD.
I bring low the high tree,
+++I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
+++and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
+++I will accomplish it.

God has the power to dry up the green tree and, crucially, to “make the dry tree flourish” (Ezekiel 17:24). The Hebrew verb translated as “flourish” is a form of the verb parach (hiphil for those of you who know Hebrew). Earlier in this devotional series I examined the meaning of parach and its strong association with fruitfulness. When God makes a dry tree flourish, it will produce generously whatever is appropriate: fruit, leaves, branches, lumber, etc.

If you feel like a dry tree, if you worry that your potential for flourishing has passed, the Lord has good news for you. God can renew and restore that which is dried up and damaged. God, by grace, is able and willing to work all things together for good, even things that seem to us beyond repair, beyond hope.

After Fred and I had talked for a while, I offered to pray for him. Laying my hands on his shoulders, I offered to God his sadness and despair. I asked God to grant what Fred was too discouraged to ask for: inner renewal leading to outward fruitfulness. I prayed that God would bless Fred and use him for God’s kingdom purposes in however many years he had left. When I finished, Fred thanked me earnestly and asked me to keep on praying for him.

Fred lived for several more years. Watching him was for me a source of wonder. God had truly touched his heart, and the new life inside of Fred flowed out. He did remind me of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose last years were filled with kindness and laughter. In Fred I saw a moving example of God making a dry tree flourish. Not only did he live with distinctive joy, but he invested his life in serving others. He got involved in an inner-city ministry for underserved children. He faithfully prayed for people in need after church worship services. He went out of his way to encourage others in their ministry efforts, including me. Even today, I remember fondly Fred’s warm smile when we’d run into each other at church.

You may truly believe you’ve missed your chance to flourish. Perhaps you’ve failed in ways that were costly. Or maybe you’ve been the victim of painful injustice or accidents. You might be getting on in years, like Fred. Or you might be young, but feeling worn down in your soul. No matter your situation, God has good news for you. God can make the dry tree flourish . . . even you.

Reflect

Have you ever felt as if you missed your “big chance” in life? If so, when? Why? What happened later?

Do you wonder sometimes if you will not flourish in life as you would like to?

Have you ever experienced God’s healing and renewing power in your life, the power that allows God to make dry trees flourish? If so, when? What happened? How did you respond?

If you felt completely free to ask God to help you flourish today, what would you pray? How would you feel?

Act

If you know someone who is going through a hard time, or who may be feeling rather like Fred was once feeling, commit to pray for that person regularly for the next week. If you feel led by the Spirit, reach out to that person with a kind word.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for giving life to dry trees. Thank you for being a God who makes all things new. Thank you that we don’t have to give in to despair, even if our situations feel impossibly difficult. Thank you for the ways we have experienced your redeeming and renewing grace. That you for the potential we have to flourish in every season of life. Thank you that we have never missed out on the restoring power of your grace in our lives.

Lord, you know me through and through. You know where I have hope and where hope has disappeared. You know my dreams and my fears. You know exactly what I’m thinking and feeling at this very moment. So, I ask you now for the gift of flourishing. Especially if I’m feeling like a dry tree, I ask you to give me new life. O Lord, may my life be full of fruit that glorifies you. May I know the joy of living fully and fruitfully by your life in me. 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 High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Happens When God Plants a Tiny Tree


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3 thoughts on “Did I Miss My Chance to Flourish?

  1. Eunice says:

    Thank you, Mark. It sounds like me! This message is for me. I am blessed that God is using your ministry through me.

  2. Jonathan Russell says:

    Thanks for this uplifting devotional, Mark. Makes me think of that poem by Wittier– “For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”

    Also makes me think of a more hopeful contemporary poet- Pete Morton/The Poozies and the words to “Another Train”:

    “You may feel your done,
    But there’s no such thing.
    Although your standing on your own,
    Your own breath is king.
    The beginning is now,
    Don’t turn around.
    For regrets about mistakes,
    They will only drain.

    There’s another train,
    There always is.
    Maybe the next, one is yours,
    Get up and climb aboard.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I-7nraIrrY

    Thankfully, we serve a God of second, third, forth. . . . chances.

  3. I am very glad that you gave this message. At 61 and having
    some health issues,the reminder that we serve a GOD of chances
    is a wonderful revelation.And HIS praise shall continually be
    in my mouth.

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