Flourish!

The temperatures are creeping up a bit and the trees are starting to bud and look alive again. Spring is just around the corner. After months of barrenness, everywhere you look there’s evidence of new life bursting forth.

Spring is a vivid reminder for me of the powerful work that God desires to do in my life. Even in the seasons where I feel barren and unfruitful, God is still able to work and fulfill His purpose.

While God created us to flourish, there will be seasons in our lives – sometimes even very long ones –when the heat is turned up, the rain of blessing is sparse, and everything around us seems dry and desolate.

Even then, in fact especially then, God says we can flourish.

When something is flourishing, it is thriving and growing luxuriantly. To flourish actually means to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way.

Doesn’t this sound like something we should to go after and pursue?

Most likely, you’d agree. You’re probably not hoping for a life that’s dry, desolate and filled with dead dreams. In fact, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that all of us want a life that’s growing and fulfilling – a life where we’re flourishing and thriving in the sweet spot God created us to live.

Imagine what a flourishing life would look like for you?

If this is something we all seem to desire, and it’s something God desires for us, what keeps us from experiencing it? What hinders us from really experiencing a growing life that is fruitful and flourishing?

Let’s look at this through the lens of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is an Old Testament prophet who was speaking to the nation of Judah. These words from Jeremiah are called oracles – kind of like speeches given to the nation.

God was using Jeremiah to address the Jewish people about their continued tendency to look to other things and people as substitutes for their relationship with God.

He was warning them, calling them to repentance and preparing them for what God was about to do. They were living in the midst of political, social, financial, moral and spiritual decay. Babylon was rising in power and threatening to destroy Jerusalem, the temple and deport all of the Jewish people living in Judah.

The Jewish people were watching life as they knew it slip away and their hope for a future filled with health and prosperity for their children looked uncertain, even ominous.

God’s people were desperate, dominated by fear, worry, instability and uncertainty.

Jeremiah is letting the people know that although they’ve messed up, God still loves them and hasn’t forgotten them. In fact, he wants them to know that it’s not too late for them to return to him and follow him.

And when they do He promises to bless them and cause their lives to flourish. But in order for this to happen, the people of Judah are going to have to live differently. They’re going to have to have different priorities and make some different choices.

In this short passage, Jeremiah is giving the people the secret to living a flourishing life in the midst of desolate and desperate circumstances.

God is speaking through Jeremiah and making a contrast between two ways of living. God is saying, “You have two options to choose from. Two paths. Each has its own outcome. One will lead to a life despair and desolation; the other to a life of fruitfulness and flourishing.

Let’s start in Jeremiah 17:5-6…

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. 6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. Jeremiah 17:5-6 NLT

I doubt you’re thinking, “Sign me up for that! I want my life to be like a stunted shrub in the desert with no hope for the future!”

This is quite possibly why Jeremiah didn’t have many friends.

He clearly lacks social skills. But he gets his point across.

Nothing grows in a salty land. Nothing grows in a hot desert wasteland.

Thankfully, Jeremiah doesn’t end there and he doesn’t want the people of Judah to end there either. In fact, Jeremiah continues on…

Flourish

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

That sounds like a life worth living! That’s what I want for my life!

This is the modern day equivalent of an unlimited bank account, an orange tree that is always full of fruit, or, as my kids would say, great surf every day, 4-6’ glassy conditions with light trades.

The illustration Jeremiah is painting is one of an endless supply that never runs out.

Jeremiah is encouraging the Jewish people that although their life is going to be hard, they’re going to lose their homes, their possessions and their freedom, he is reminding them that…

The desert doesn’t have to be the place where you give up, wither up and die. Desolation is not how God created you to live.

Jeremiah is showing the people of Judah this tree that is growing and fruitful in an environment that should make health and growth impossible.

  • It’s hot but the tree stays green.
  • It’s the desert but the tree still grows.
  • It’s dry but the tree still bears fruit.

How is this possible? How can we bear fruit in an environment that is harsh and unwelcoming? How do we flourish in a season that is dry and seemingly barren? When we find ourselves in a foreign land of undesirable circumstances, how do we stay fresh and green?

When life turns up the heat, how do we keep from withering?

Perhaps an even better question to ask,

“When the heat is turned up, what comes out of my life?”

 The people of Israel had a choice to make. They had to decide how they were going to choose to live.

We have a choice to make as well…

Will we choose to live like a stunted shrub in the desert or as a lush, flourishing, fruit bearing tree? Will we wither away when the heat comes or will we flourish, staying fresh and green, and bearing fruit?

But how? How do we get our lives to the place where we’re flourishing and fruitful, even if everything around us is dead and decaying? How?

When you look at the references to flourishing in scriptures, they are almost always referring to some kind of plant and the way it’s cared for and growing.

There’s growth and promise. Planting, cultivating, budding, nourishment, growth, grounding, rooting, fruitfulness, health and vitality.

Nothing is stagnant. There’s activity. There are tangible results and it’s exciting.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah 17:7-8 and look at this a little closer…

Imagine what having this kind of strength in your life would look like for you?

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

The tree can flourish in any situation. It can overcome and thrive in the heat and drought. It’s not withering when things get tough. It’s not being blown away when the storm hits. Even when it’s dry, the tree is going to continue to stand strong.

It’s strong, standing firm, growing, flourishing and bearing fruit. But how?

Here are a few cues we can take to tap into a flourishing life.

  • You flourish when you press in to God (verse 7). The man referred to isn’t trying to do everything on his own strength. He is tapping into the strength of God.
  • Note this tree was planted near a life-giving water source. It’s not a wild tree growing in a random place. It takes work and intention. You don’t just wander into a flourishing life.
  • Jeremiah also tells us this is a tree whose roots reached deep into the water. A tree’s roots will determine the health and size of the tree. Strong, healthy roots will make a strong, healthy tree.

The roots – the unseen part of the tree – are the most important part because they deliver the nutrients to the rest of the tree. As Christians, to live a strong, healthy, vibrant, flourishing life, we must dig our roots down deep into God’s Word – not once in awhile, but daily.

When we consistently press into God, plant our lives near life-giving sources and dig our roots deep into God’s Word, our lives will flourish. Not because of the lush environment around us, but in spite of our circumstances.

The result will bring glory to God and cause others to wonder about the tangible power and presence of God working through your life. Your life will be marked with a peace that passes understanding and a quiet strength that demands explanation.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

When the heat is turned up in my life, what is the fruit that is being produced?

Dear friend, press into God and trust him. Plant yourself near life-giving sources and dig the roots of your life deep into God’s Word. Then, your life will flourish and never stop producing fruit.

 

 

 

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Don’t Give Up

Well, January has come and gone and we’re already halfway into February. At the beginning of the year I’m so motivated to make changes, to try new things, to reprioritize my life. With renewed vision and vigor I determine to…

  • Clean the closets
  • Redecorate the house
  • Eat healthy
  • Get back on budget
  • Exercise more
  • Read more, pray more, study more

And yet, by the end of January, I notice the dust beginning to settle on my dreams for the year. *Sigh*

The fire that motivated me so strongly January 1 is beginning to burn a little dimmer – at times flickering and gasping to stay aflame.

Funny how easy it is to be quick out of the blocks – to initiate change, start projects, take on new responsibilities. Yet over time I watch the energy I need to sustain the pace at which I desire to run dissipate.

I haven’t given up though. I’m determined to push through and approach this year with a different level of faith, an additional dose of tenacity. I don’t want to meander through the year, wilting under its heat and pressure, succumbing to its weight and burden.

I truly believe that God has a purpose and plans for me. I believe that He has wonderful plans for you too.

I don’t think I’m experiencing anything new – nothing you probably haven’t had to face as well.

In fact many years ago, we find the apostle Paul encouraging the Galatian believers as they began to waver under the persecution for their faith. He urges them not to allow their diligence and discipline to wane. He writes,

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Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

There will be seasons when the heat is turned up and the enthusiasm we once had to initiate change fades.Don’t give up. Don’t grow weary. Don’t become discouraged in your efforts. Perhaps you aren’t seeing the results you desire in this season, but God created you to flourish. To move forward in what He created you to do.

Push through your weariness to experience the growth and reward waiting for you on the other side of your mountain. It’s his power working in you and through you that gives you the ability to overcome and reap the harvest you desire to see in your life this year.

 

 

 

 

Clearing the Clutter to Make Room for Something Better

The holidays have passed. The kids are back to school. The Christmas décor is sagging, reflecting the hurried pace of the last few weeks. Sigh. Time to pack them away for next year.

It’s ironic that in the rush of the preparation for the big day (Christmas), the peace of Christ can seem illusive and slightly out of reach – lost in the crowded malls, long lines, overcrowded schedules and unrealistic expectations. The voice of God that should be preeminent this time of year can too often seem distant – drowned and muffled by the voices telling me to “go”, “do”, “eat” and “spend”.

The week after Christmas is one of my favorite weeks of the year because the pace of life slows down dramatically.

This year in particular, our family made a conscious decision to hit “pause” to create space to rest, reflect, refresh and enjoy relationships.

No schedule. No commitments. I didn’t cook. Didn’t do laundry. Didn’t clean our house. I bought a ham, a palette of Cup of Noodles, made sure we had cereal, juice and milk and called it good. (In case you’re wondering about vegetables, there are a small handful of freeze-dried peas and carrots in every cup of noodles.)

Don’t judge me. It was only one week.

As the pace of life slowed and our scheduled enjoyed some much needed breathing room, I began to realize how easy it is to substitute activity for relationship. Spending a lot of time with someone doesn’t guarantee that you’ll truly see them, intently listen to them and authentically connect with them.

Could the same can be true regarding our relationship with God? Can we become so consumed with our Christian activity that we overlook the necessity of pausing long enough to hear His voice? Stopping to appreciate the nuanced beauty of His creation? Lingering to enjoy His presence?

We can go to church, serve in ministry and even read the Bible, yet still fail to see Jesus, hear His voice and connect with Him intimately. Time with God isn’t a box we check off every day. It should be a delight, not an obligation. Yet, when our schedules scream it can easily be reduced to a task in a long line of duties and expectations.

In a culture that values how fast we run, how much we do, how full our schedules are, Jesus, during His ministry on earth, modeled something quite different for us. He exemplified an unhurried life that valued and delighted in spending time alone with His Father. The book of Luke gives us a glimpse into how Jesus handled the delicate tension between the demands of His schedule and His relationship with His Heavenly Father:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16

Jesus was unquestionably a busy man whose time was in great demand. He also possessed God’s perfect love and intense compassion for people, feeling the weight of every need, every heart break and every loss. Yet, He wasn’t driven to meet every need and demand.

Jesus’ schedule wasn’t dictated by the circumstances surrounding Him. He made time alone with his Father His first priority and that is what fueled the rest of His decisions and charted the course of His day.

The clutter of activity and over-commitment wearies our soul but doesn’t take us very far. 

Jesus knew this.

Jesus knew that He couldn’t meet every need and make everybody happy.

Jesus knew that true worth and value are found in intimate relationships, not in big crowds, productivity and packed schedules.

He knew that clarity for his life could only be found through spending time in the presence of God.

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Jesus knew that clarity and rest are only found when we create space for the presence of God. 

Jesus knew that to hear the voice of God, you had to clear away the noise and clutter.

And Jesus knew that it’s in the silence, in the space, where God begins to transform us. 

This year, let’s make a commitment to pull away, create space, be present and listen to God who’s desperately longing to speak to us.