February 8, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 92:5-8 (NRSV)
How great are your works, O LORD!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The dullard cannot know,
the stupid cannot understand this:
though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever,
but you, O LORD, are on high forever.
When the rain comes, wild grasses flourish . . . but only for a season. Soon they are dry and lifeless. Trees with strong root systems are different. They flourish throughout the year, often for decades if not for centuries. When we think about our lives, we want to flourish, not like the grass, but like beautiful, fruitful trees.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: Invitation to a Flourishing Life
Flourishing sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? In contemporary English, flourishing means things like “marked by vigorous and healthy growth,” “very active and successful,” or “prosperous, thriving” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary; Oxford English Dictionary). Given these options, who wouldn’t want to flourish?
Flourishing is also commended in Scripture in passages such as Proverbs 11:28, “Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish [parach] like green leaves.” But that’s not the whole story. The Hebrew verb parach, which is translated as “blossom” or “flourish,” can be used in both positive and not so positive contexts.
For example, Psalm 92:12 observes that “The righteous flourish [parach] like the palm tree,” holding up flourishing as something to be prized. But five verses earlier in Psalm 92, parach is used with a different connotation: “though the wicked sprout [parach] like grass and all evildoers flourish [tzutz], they are doomed to destruction forever” (92:7; as you can see, Hebrew has more than one verb that means “to sprout” or “to flourish.”)
What’s the difference between positive flourishing and negative flourishing? The most obvious distinction is that one happens to the wicked (Psalm 92:7) while the other happens to the righteous (92:12). But notice that the sprouting or flourishing of the wicked in verse 7 is described to be “like grass,” whereas the flourishing of the righteous in verse 12 is like healthy trees. The grass may indeed flourish, but only for a short time. When the rains stop and the weather gets hot, the grass dries out and withers (see Isa 40:7-8). Its flourishing doesn’t last.
When I reflect on the contrast between the different “flourishings” in Psalm 92, two images come to mind. First, I picture the vast stretches of open land in the Texas Hill Country. In the rainy season, those endless acres are covered in lush green grass. But when summer comes, the grass turns to the color of dust. If a major thunderstorm comes along, however, the grass might regain its spring luster for a few days, only to return to its lackluster beige.
The second image is of redwood trees in California. They could be the American version of the “cedar of Lebanon” mentioned in Psalm 92:12: “The righteous flourish . . . and grow like a redwood in California.” Redwood trees have extensive (though surprisingly shallow) root systems that allow them to thrive even in times of drought. Redwood bark has an asbestos-like quality that protects the trees from major fires. So redwood trees will often grow for centuries, even millennia. The oldest Giant Sequoia redwood in California is estimated to be over 3,000 years old.
Surely, we want our lives to flourish like redwoods more than grass. This doesn’t mean, however, that everything we do in life must survive indefinitely. Let me offer a personal example. In the 2000s I was a prolific blogger. I was posting at least one blog entry per day and drawing over 1,000,000 visitors a year. But, when I began writing devotions in 2008, I mostly stopped blogging. You could say that my work as a blogger flourished for a season, but then dried up. But I don’t regret either my time of blogging or my transition to devotional writing. Sometimes seasonal flourishing is acceptable.
But when we consider our whole lives, surely we don’t want our “leaves” to dry up. We don’t want to leave this earth having made no difference in it. Rather, we want to live in such a way that our actions contribute to the common good and the kingdom of God. We want to “bear fruit, fruit that will last,” to quote a very wise man (John 15:16). Thus, we will want to know how we can be “righteous” rather than “wicked.” We’ll consider this next time. Stay tuned . . . .
Can you remember a time in your life when your flourished, but only for a season? Why did your flourishing stop? How did you feel afterwards?
Do you ever worry that you’re investing your life in things that really don’t matter?
How are you investing your life in things that will last?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about how you and they are flourishing, or not.
Gracious God, thank you for creating us with the potential to flourish. Thank you for telling us to be fruitful and multiply. Thank you for giving us the chance to make a difference that matters in this world for you and your kingdom.
Help me, Lord, to invest my life in that which will last. May my flourishing be like a fruitful tree, not dried up grass. In all that I do, may I seek to glorify you. 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: Here’s an Experiment: Frame Your Day With God’s Love and Faithfulness
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.