There’s a longing deep within each of us to flourish. The marketing industry knows this too. Have you noticed it? “Flourish” brings up 56 million results on Google, and Amazon has page after page of books dealing with how to flourish personally, in your family, work, relationships, in your garden, and so on. Even different religions all seem to be focused on explaining the path to flourishing.
Throughout the Bible, we see God’s desire for his people to flourish and a distinct definition of flourishing. Flourishing is a word that can initially seem vague, suggestive of a flower garden. With insight and understanding, though, it can be a truly rich and deep concept that can be applied to all aspects of your life.
Flourishing: A Central Idea in the Bible
Jonathan Pennington, a theologian and professor, argues that flourishing has been the central yearning and desire for cultures throughout history. Each cultural perspective comes up with a different view of what it will look like and how to get there, but flourishing is what we anticipate.
Pennington and other biblical scholars have explained that the biblical view of flourishing is both pervasive in scripture and comprehensive in scope. We can experience flourishing in every aspect of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental. It happens in our work, relationships, communities, church, etc.
Flourishing as Shalom
One way the Bible describes flourishing is with a central Old Testament word, shalom, which can be imperfectly translated as “peace.” The essence of this kind of peace can be described as flourishing in every direction, personal and public.
In his book Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga provides an excellent definition of shalom:
Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
We can better understand the idea of shalom by exploring a Hebrew form of poetry called “synonymous parallelism.” This is when every line in the poem or prayer means the same thing as the previous one, only stated in different words. If you want to know the meaning of any one central word, you simply have to look at the words around it. They define each other. The classic illustration is Numbers 6:24–26, the great blessing given by Aaron to God’s people:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up the light of His countenance on you and give you peace.
If you want to know what peace (or shalom) means, refer to the other images or words in the prayer. Peace means to know God’s blessing, to be kept secure, to know his grace, and to experience God’s favor.
God’s Call to Flourish in Every Area of Life
What does our calling have to do with flourishing? Flourishing is the result of being obedient to our calling and being good stewards of all we have been given in every dimension of life. When we pursue God’s call and steward the gifts he has given us to the best of our ability, we find fulfillment in our work, serve others, and experience flourishing, so everyone is better off.
Flourishing in life is more than just finding the right job; it’s part of God’s plan for all of his creation. Therefore, it is God’s call to us in every area of life, not just work:
- Spiritual: Before he calls us to a job, God calls us to himself. That is and always will be our greatest call.
- Family: Understanding what the Bible says about how we should love and respect one another as spouses, parents, and children can transform our perspective as well as our behavior and, ultimately, lead to a more flourishing family.
- Church: We were never meant to live in isolation and can only flourish in a community of believers.
- Relationships: To see our relationships flourish, we must invest in them with the currency of love.
- Work: Focus less on finding a specific career or job than on finding an environment in which you can regularly (not perfectly) use your gifts in the way God designed you.
- School: We ought to learn everything we can about anything we can. Every particular truth leads us back to the God of Truth.
- And for the cities in which we dwell, as in Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf. For in its peace you will have peace.” This should be the driving force behind business and all work.
Biblical flourishing encompasses all of life and is distinct from the cultural view of flourishing, which is only about personal happiness, prosperity, and wealth. Biblical flourishing is the motivation and desire for wellness in all human activity. It’s what happens when we do our work and live life to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes for his creation.
Ultimately, we will not have a perfect experience of biblical flourishing until Christ returns. Yet we can taste it now and give others a glimpse of the way things will be when he returns to make all things new.
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