Flourishing Is for Every Dimension of Life, Not Just Work

Some would argue that the word flourishing is way beyond overused. While there may be some validity to this charge, the question is why. When considering what flourishing means, it is surprising that it has taken this long for the term to become commonplace. This is especially true for Christians who's experience with flourishing ought be vastly different than non-believers. One of the pitfalls of overused words is that the meaning can be cheapened and when this happens with significant terms we all lose. In the article that follows, Dr. Art Lindsley, Vice President of Theological Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and an esteemed author and teacher, defines flourishing and in doing so underscores once again the importance it has for Christians. Lindsley gives us a glimpse of the all encompassing and inspiring nature of this word making it a term worthy of a place in our vocabulary.

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.

Crosland Stuart