Fuller

Invitation to a Flourishing Life

by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
Senior Strategist
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership

© Copyright 2022 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Invitation to a Flourishing Life (Psalm 92:12)
Part 2: A Picture of Natural Flourishing (Genesis 40:9)
Part 3: Flourishing That Doesn’t Last (Psalm 92:5-8)
Part 4: Are You Righteous? (Psalm 92:12-13)
Part 5: Where are You Planted? Part 1 (Psalm 92:12-13; John 15:5)
Part 6: Where are You Planted? Part 2 ( Psalm 92:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16)
Part 7: Unexpected Flourishing (Psalm 92:12-14)


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Part 1: Invitation to a Flourishing Life

Scripture – Psalm 92:12 (NRSV)

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

Focus

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.

Devotion

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.

Reflect

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?

Act

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.

Pray

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.


Part 2: A Picture of Natural Flourishing

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.


Part 3: Flourishing That Doesn’t Last

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.

Focus

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

Devotion

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 . . . .

Reflect

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?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or your small group about how you and they are flourishing, or not.

Pray

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.


Part 4: Are You Righteous?

Scripture – Psalm 92:12-13 (NRSV)

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
+++and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
+++they flourish in the courts of our God.

Focus

Psalm 92 promises that the righteous will flourish. That sounds good. But how can we be righteous? From a biblical point of view, righteousness is being rightly related to God, to ourselves, to others, and to the world. This kind of righteousness begins with God’s grace given through Christ and it grows to touch every aspect of life. We do not make ourselves righteous, but we can allow the gift of God’s righteousness to transform us.

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

Devotion

I don’t remember exactly when I first started hearing the word “righteous” outside of churches. It seems like it was sometime in the 1970s. People began describing all sorts of things as righteous. Surfers, in particular, were always in search of “righteous waves, man.” “Righteous” meant something like “awesome, excellent, or amazing.”
Perhaps the most famous use of “righteous” appeared in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The high school dean of students, Mr. Rooney, was in his office obsessing about how he would finally catch Ferris in one of his legendary misdeeds in order to disgrace him in front of his fellow students. Mr. Rooney’s assistant, Grace, was not so sure, however. After listing all the groups of students who adored Ferris, she concluded, “He’s a righteous dude!”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what the psalm writer intended in Psalm 92:12-13, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree . . . they flourish in the courts of our God.” For Jews immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, righteousness wasn’t a matter of popularity or general awesomeness. It was, most obviously, living rightly, that is, living according to God’s standards revealed in the law. But, at a deeper level, Old Testament righteousness wasn’t so much legal as it was relational. Righteousness was “right-relatedness” with God, with others, with oneself, and with the world. Such right-relatedness would be expressed in actions that were consistent, not only with the law, but also with God’s intentions for all of life.

Scripture reveals that sin disturbs and distorts right-relatedness. In Genesis 3, after the first humans sinned, they experienced brokenness in all key relationships: with God, themselves, each other, and nature. In Exodus, the law pointed people in the direction of righteousness, but also spotlighted their failure to live rightly in a consistent way.

Christ came to mend the brokenness of the world. To put it differently, he came to lead us into comprehensive righteousness. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8-9, “For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Because of what Christ accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, we can experience right-relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the world. Complete righteousness is part of God’s promised future. But we can begin even now to know the right-relatedness God intends for us.

The title of this devotion is “Are You Righteous?” If you’re inclined to answer this question by pointing to your good behavior, or even to your healthy relationships, you’re missing the fundamental point. You and I are righteous, not because of our actions or intentions, but because of Christ. Like Paul, we can say, “I don’t have a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:9). When we accept by faith what God done for us through Christ, then we are declared to be righteous. We are brought into right relationship with God, from which all other right-relatedness flows. Even more amazingly, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:12, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Though receiving God’s grace through faith in Christ brings us into right-relationship with God, it doesn’t automatically impose righteousness on every other part of our life. The experience of complete righteousness will become more and more real to us as we grow into who we are in Christ. In tomorrow’s devotion we’ll investigate how this growth happens.

Reflect

When you hear the word “righteous,” what comes to mind? How do you feel?

Does it make sense to you to think of righteousness in terms of right-relatedness? If so, why? If not, why not?

In what ways has the righteousness of God, given through Christ, made a tangible difference in your life?

Act

Talk with your spiritual director, pastor, or small group about your experience of the righteousness that comes through God’s grace in Christ.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for creating us to live in full-orbed right-relatedness. Thank you for not abandoning us when we chose sin rather than righteousness. Thank you for the gift of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.

Help me, Lord, to live each day in the righteousness you give me. May I be rightly related to you, to myself, to others, and to the world. As this happens, may I flourish by your grace. Amen.


Part 5: Where are You Planted? Part 1

Scripture – Psalm 92:12-13; John 15:5 (NRSV)

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
+++and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
+++they flourish in the courts of our God.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Focus

If we want to flourish in life, if we want to live fully and fruitfully, then we need to develop an intimate, growing relationship with Jesus. We do this by allowing his teachings to live within us and guide every part of our lives. We let his love claim us, fill us, and embrace us. The more we live in the truth and love of Jesus, the more we will make our home in him. As a result, we will flourish, living fully and fruitfully.

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

Devotion

Temple Mount in Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives, photo by Mark Roberts

Psalm 92:12 promises that the righteous flourish like the palm tree. Verse 13 adds, “They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.” Scholars aren’t sure whether or not the temple courts in Jerusalem had real trees growing in them or not. Today, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, now a Muslim holy site, has a thriving grove of trees. (See the photo I took several years ago from the Mount of Olives.)

Of course, Psalm 92 is speaking figuratively. Righteous people are not actual trees literally planted in the temple and its courts. Rather, the righteous are in some way deeply connected to God, whose presence was represented by the temple. The imagery of Psalm 92 is similar to what we find in Psalm 1, where those who delight in God’s law “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper” (Psalm 1:3).

As Christians, we do not have a physical temple in which to worship. Though we may call our places of worship “sanctuaries,” we don’t think of the places in which God is uniquely present. So, we might wonder where we should be “planted” if we want to flourish in life. Where do we put down our spiritual roots, so to speak, if we want to be truly and intimately connected to God?

We would rightly think of Jesus as we consider this connection. He is for us, in many ways, what the temple once was for the Jewish people. For example, Jesus is the dwelling place of God in an even more dramatic and literal sense than the temple (John 1:14). Moreover, it is through Jesus and his sacrifice that we receive God’s forgiveness, rather than through material sacrifices made in a material temple. If we want to flourish, we need to have our roots grow deeply into Jesus, so to speak.

Jesus did not use the analogy of trees and roots to describe our relationship with him. He did, however, employ a related agricultural image. In John 15, Jesus spoke of himself as the vine, with us as the branches (15:5). He promised that if we abide in him, that is, if we are deeply engaged with and connected to him, we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). He might have just as well said, “If you are deeply rooted in me, you will flourish.”

In John 15, Jesus indicated what we might do in order to abide in him. In verse 7, for example, he said, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you . . . .” One way we abide in Jesus is by having his words live within us. We do this by reading, reflecting upon, memorizing, discussing, teaching, and obeying his teachings.

Jesus also said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9-10). Jesus invites us to live in his love. We do this, in part, by keeping his commandments, by living as he taught us to live. But that’s not all. We make our home in Jesus’s love as we spend time with him in prayer, as we share life with other “branches,” and as we remember regularly his loving sacrifice for us on the cross.

So, to employ the language of Psalm 92, one way we will be like trees planted in the temple is by developing an intimate, growing relationship with Jesus. We allow his teachings to live within us and guide our lives. We allow his love to claim us, fill us, and embrace us. The more we live in the truth and love of Jesus, the more we will flourish, living fully and fruitfully.

Reflect

As you think about your life, where are you “planted”? What gives you energy? Where do you feel connected and at home?

What helps you to know Jesus better?

When in your life have you felt strongly the love of Jesus for you? What difference did this experience make?

Act

Consider memorizing a verse from John 15. Perhaps verse 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for being so available to us. Thank you for the privilege we have of being “planted” in you. Thank you for all the ways your nurture us so that we might flourish.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the invitation to abide in you. Help us, Lord, as we seek to have your words live in us. May our hearts be open to dwelling in your unsurpassable love for us. Amen.


Part 6: Where are You Planted? Part 2

Scripture – Psalm 92:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NRSV)

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
+++and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
+++they flourish in the courts of our God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Focus

Scripture reveals that our flourishing depends on a meaningful, committed community with other Christians. We will not serve ourselves or our fellow Christians well if we remain withdrawn from regular participation with other believers. The specific forms of our Christian relationships may vary. We may well find that digital connection actually increases the quantity and quality of our fellowship in some ways. But, no matter the details, Scripture is clear that if we wish to live fully and fruitfully, that is, to flourish, then we need to be in regular and intentional relationship with the sisters and brothers in our Christian family.

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

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I asked the question: Where are you planted? If you want to flourish, according to Psalm 92:12-13, you should be planted in God’s temple. As Christians, we do not have a building called “the temple,” a place where God is said to dwell. Jesus is our temple, the dwelling of God upon earth, the one through whom our sins are forgiven. Thus, if we want to flourish, we need to be deeply connected to Jesus, as a tree is joined to the ground through its roots, or as a branch “abides” in the vine.

The New Testament reveals Jesus to be a kind of temple for us. But there is another dimension of God’s temple found in the New Testament. We find this in 1 Corinthians 3, for example. There, the Apostle Paul speaks of his church planting and pastoring work as building a physical structure. But he isn’t constructing some ordinary building. In verse 16 of chapter 3 he writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” The “you” in this case addresses the community of Christians in Corinth. Later in his letter Paul will show that the Spirit also dwells in each individual Christian (1 Corinthians 6:19). But in chapter 3, the community of believers constitutes God’s temple in which God’s Spirit lives. (A similar use of temple imagery can be found in Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-5.)

So, as we read Psalm 92 from a Christian perspective, we rightly understand that our personal flourishing has everything to do with our relationship to the Christian community—that is, to the church, the body of Christ. We cannot plant ourselves in or next to some building where God is known to dwell. But we can let our roots grow deeply into the soil of Christian fellowship.

As I write this, I’m aware of how hard this has been for many of us during the COVID pandemic. How can we be rooted in Christian community if we are so limited in the ways we can be together? It’s true that digital association can help, though with obvious limitations. Most people I know have not found online worship to be nearly as engaging as in-person worship. That’s certainly been true for me, though I’m grateful for churches that have made their worship available digitally. Throughout the past two years, I’ve been struck by how much potential there is for small groups to experience genuine intimacy through Zoom and other platforms. For me, meeting in person is better, but the internet has helped me to stay in relationship with other Christians.

I am hopeful, of course, that the pandemic is winding down. I look forward to the day when we can fully re-engage with other Christians without hesitation. But I am concerned, honestly, that many who have disconnected from embodied Christian fellowship will remain spiritually isolated after the pandemic has passed. In 2019, before we ever heard the word “COVID,” the Pew Research Center reported a precipitous decline in participation by Christians in regular worship services. That pattern may well continue, perhaps even more steeply, after COVID has become much less of a threat.

If, indeed, our flourishing depends on a meaningful, committed community with other Christians, then we will not serve ourselves or our fellow Christians well if we remain withdrawn from regular participation with other believers. The specific forms of our Christian relationships may vary. We may well find that digital connection actually increases the quantity and quality of our fellowship in some ways. But, no matter the forms, Scripture is clear that if we wish to live fully and fruitfully, that is, to flourish, then we need to be in regular and intentional relationship with the sisters and brothers in our Christian family. Or, to use the imagery of Psalm 92, we need to plant ourselves in the sacred soil of Christian community, the temple of God.

Reflect

What has your experience of Christian community been like during the pandemic?

In what ways has your fellowship with other Christians helped you to flourish in life?

What are your expectations with regard to church participation after COVID?

Act

Do something today (or tomorrow if you’re using this devotion at night) to connect in a meaningful way with another brother or sister in Christ.

Pray

Gracious God, once again we thank you for the gift of a relationship with you. Thank you for making yourself known to us, for breaking down the barrier between us and you, and for inviting us to make our home in you.

Thank you for the ways in which Christian community is a kind of temple. Thank you for being present among your people as we gather. Thank you for all the ways you serve and bless us through our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Lord, as we look ahead with hope to the end of the pandemic, help us to think wisely about how we will reconnect with other Christians. Lead us away from the temptation to remain isolated. Help us to grow in relationships with others, so that we and they might flourish. Amen.


Part 7: Unexpected Flourishing

Scripture – Psalm 92:12-14 (NRSV)

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
+++and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
+++they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
+++they are always green and full of sap,

Focus

Our culture generally assumes that older adults are past their prime, that the season for significant flourishing has passed. The Bible offers a contrary and compelling vision. According to Psalm 92, the righteous will flourish and be fruitful even “in old age.” This vision is encouraging for folks in the third third of life, to be sure. But it also gives younger people a fresh, hopeful, and transformational vision of their lives and their potential to flourish in every season of life.

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

Devotion

If you were to ask the average person on the street, “When in life do people flourish the most?” it’s likely that you’d hear about what happens in the second third of life. Beginning in the late 20s and extending into the early 50s, many people enjoy significant fruitfulness. They’re building and thriving in their careers. They’re making babies and raising children. They’re using their talents with growing wisdom and productivity. Their lives are often full to overflowing with good things. Flourishing seems to fit perfectly in the second third of life.

Plus, we rightly understand that the first third of life is mainly a time of preparation for what lies ahead. Though younger people can certainly thrive in the right circumstances, they are only beginning to flourish, especially if you understand flourishing with the biblical emphasis upon fruitfulness.

Then there’s the third third of life, when people are older. We might assume that their times of maximum flourishing have passed. Their children have been harvested, so to speak, and flown the coop (at least for a while). Their careers are being wrapped up, with retirement either looming or present reality. Older adults lose physical strength and certain types of brain functionality. Flourishing, especially the biblical variety with its emphasis on fruitfulness, might seem to be a thing of the past.

But then we come upon Psalm 92. We learn that “the righteous flourish like the palm tree . . . . they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap” (Psalm 92:14). Isn’t that something! Quite unexpected, I think. Flourishing, with its crucial aspect of fruitfulness, isn’t reserved for the young or the middle-aged. It’s something to be experienced by folks “in old age.” (For personal reasons, I’m particularly fond of the literal Hebrew original of this phrase: “in gray hair.” What hair I have left is mostly all gray, a suitable complement to my all-white beard.)

Now, if you’re in the third third of life, you may easily share my appreciation for this passage from Psalm 92. It offers so much promise of a life filled with meaning and fruitfulness. If you’re younger than I am, in the first or second thirds of life, you may wonder if this passage has much to say to you. Let me be clear. It does, for at least three reasons. First, the Hebrew could be translated, “They bear fruit even in old age [with gray hair].” It’s assumed that flourishing will happen for younger people who are righteous. So, you’re included implicitly in the flourishing and fruitfulness of Psalm 92.

Second, the biblical vision of third third flourishing can make a huge difference in the lives of younger people. If you’re 25, for example, it can transform how you think about your life. And it can help you to live now in ways that will maximize your flourishing in the third third.

Third, the biblical vision of third third flourishing can help those who are younger to be invaluable encouragers and supporters of flourishing older adults. Rather than buying into the cultural vision of third third irrelevance and uselessness, first and second thirders can uphold the promise of Psalm 92. They can build their lives, families, businesses, churches, and communities in a way that draws upon the invaluable assets of older adults, which benefits those adults even if it contributes to the flourishing of others.

It should come as no surprise that the biblical vision of third third flourishing is increasingly demonstrated in academic studies of older adulthood. For example, drawing upon a wide range of research, in his book The Happiness Curve, Jonathan Rauch shows that, on average, people become happier as they get older. Researchers looking into entrepreneurship found, contrary to popular wisdom, that older entrepreneurs have a much greater chance of success than younger ones. An article in the MIT Technology Review has this intriguing title, “Meet the next generation of entrepreneurs. They’re all over 65.”

Now, I don’t mean to glorify aging or to minimize the losses and challenges that come as we get older. The third third of life has its distinctive challenges, to be sure. But the culture in which I grew up and in which I currently live tends to see the third third of life as a time of diminishing fruitfulness and decreasing joy. We who are in this season of life – as well as those who are younger – need to reclaim the biblical vision of flourishing, not just in midlife, but throughout life.

I’ll have more to say about this in Monday’s devotion. For now, you may wish to consider the following questions.

Reflect

What are your expectations when it comes to flourishing in life?

Do you know people in the third third of life who, you would say, are truly flourishing? If so, why do you think so?

When you imagine your own future, do you see yourself as flourishing when you are older? If so, what do you envision? And why? If not, why not?

Act

You may well be aware of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. That’s great. But if you’re not, you might want to check it out, even if you’re not yet in the third third. Lord willing, you will get there someday! You can see some of our resources in the Third Third section of the De Pree Center website. Also, from that page, you can sign up to receive our monthly Third Third Life newsletter, which will keep you up to date on our work.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for expanding our vision of what life can be. Thank you for the promise of flourishing, not just when we’re young, not just in the prime years of midlife, but all the way to “old age.”

For those of us in the third third of life, may we live in such a way that we truly flourish, bearing fruit that matters. May our roots grow deep into the soil of your truth, love, and grace.

For those of us who aren’t yet in the third third, may we live now so that, when the time comes, we’ll be ready to flourish. And can we encourage those in the third third to live fully and fruitfully. To you be all the glory. Amen.


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