“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to THRIVE; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” ― Maya Angelou (American poet, actress and activist in the American Civil Rights Movement).
Reading through the gospel John, one cannot escape the promise of LIFE, of flourishing and thriving, in Jesus. Over and over Jesus promises that “I have come that you may have LIFE… and that you may have it in overflow” (eg John 10:10). In fact, the over-arching identity and mission of Jesus (at least from John’ Gospel) is one of LIFE-GIVER.
Jesus is LIFE. He said “I am THE BREAD OF LIFE” (John 6:35), “I am THE LIGHT OF LIFE“ (John 8:12), “I AM THE DOOR” for the preservation of life and access to life (John 10:9), “I am THE GOOD SHEPHERD” who lays down his life for the sheep, that they may have life (John 10:11), the “I am THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE” that “whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live” (John 11:25), “I am THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE” (John 14:6) and lastly “I am THE VINE” though whom we have access to and power for life, for “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
I share Mark Hall’s philosophy on this video of Casting Crown’s album THRIVE:
THRIVE in spite of hardships
This promise of LIFE is not defined as an easy life, overflowing with worldly goods and void of suffering. Jesus did not promise his followers a life void of pain, suffering and difficulty; rather, he promises “In this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
The apostles echoed his words when they wrote to the suffering churches “all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted” (1 Timothy 3:12) and “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12). In essence, the New Testament says “don’t just SURVIVE hardships – THRIVE in spite of it!” The LIFE Jesus promised is not snuffed out through suffering.
THRIVE in spite of lack
It is difficult for us to think that it is possible to THRIVE in spite of financial difficulty. Yet it is true that most of the New Testament Church was really poor, being marginalized and persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Yet the church had power and grew rapidly; they knew to be true what Jesus taught: “life does not consist in the wealth of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Just like some plants flourish in the harsh conditions in a dessert, so a LIFE OF THRIVING is not dependent on abundance of wealth or material success. In fact, neither Jesus nor Paul nor the other apostles had much possessions.
THRIVE in spite of imperfections
Just as a THRIVING plant may not be void of imperfections, so a THRIVING life is not a perfect, faultless life either. Paul likened the full LIFE of Christ contained in human imperfections to a fire shining through the cracks of a clay pot “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Thriving therefore is not dependent on worldly comfort, prosperity or perfection. So, Biblically speaking, how does one move from a life of mere SURVIVING to THRIVING?
- A Place to Belong: LIFE flows through receiving and giving love
Using the metaphoric language of a tree, the Psalmist writes “They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” To THRIVE, one needs to be “planted in the house of the Lord” – to find your space in church community which one calls “home”, a place of belonging. To THRIVE one has to open your heart to people, and be received into theirs.
It’s common to not feel part of a community, to feel like an outside. But Paul writes that – regardless of our background – Jesus has “made us accepted” into Christ’s beloved community through adoption (Ephesians 1:5-6). If this remains “cognitive truth” at best we will SURVIVE; but once this adoption and acceptance becomes “realized or incarnated truth”, once we experience the blessedness of unconditional acceptance in the community of love we THRIVE in life. We thrive in a community where love is evident both in our giving and receiving of one another.
Jesus refers to this THRIVING as the GLORY we share in wherever we living in unity, in harmonious, Christ-centered community. He said to his followers that THRIVING LIFE or GLORY will set us apart from the world, so that we will be recognized as Christ’s followers, sharing in his LIFE (John 17: 21-23).
Thriving happens in Christ’s community, in God’s family (Ephesians 3:14-19) within the security of unconditional love and acceptance, and space to grow and be yourself. A place where there is no need for presence, where we can live in truth.
- Community of Truth: LIFE flows where the LIGHT shines
David observed that it is not financial prosperity that causes one to be blessed but rather by “delight in the law of the LORD” leading to a life devoted to its perpetual study and mediation. He concludes this person “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalms 1:1-3). As trees flourish and bear fruit next to a flowing stream, so humans THRIVE in a life devoted to the way God intended – a life directed by “the Law of the Lord”. The “Law of God” or “Truth” is the manual for how God has ordained life, and the pursuit thereof promises a THRIVING LIFE (James 1:25), although not without opposition or difficulty.
One thing that the “Law of God” (or “Word of God”) does for the sincere reader is to search one’s heart and show what is true and what is false (Hebrews 4:12). This shows what is dynamic and of God (truth), what is destructive and of the sinful self (selfish ambition), or deceptive and from Satan himself (a lie). That which is from God causes eternal THRIVING LIFE in self and others; that which is from self or Satan causes death and destruction (James 1:13-17). The Word of God brings to light the veracity of motives, thoughts and feelings. It causes one to LIVE in Truth.
One prospers in the Truth: an environment of honesty without deception, of sincerity without pretense. Such a community that embrace truth in love cultivates tremendous vigor – it leads to THRIVING LIFE. Where there is freedom in unconditional acceptance to either confess faithlessness or failure, or to lovingly confront and correct destructive behavior or beliefs so that one’s life may be directed in Truth and be set free to THRIVE (Romans 8:32).
- Hope – a reason to LIVE on
As mentioned earlier, a THRIVING LIFE is not void of trials, tribulation or temptation, but rather this resilient life THRIVES in spite of hardships because of hope – the confident expectation that good will come. Like the tree shoots out its roots, even splitting open solid rock because it follows the scent of water beyond it, so THRIVING in hard times requires the hope of reward. There must be a reason to push on. There must be a promise of THRIVING life beyond this hardship.
Paul was a man that endured much: “imprisoned frequently, in [danger of] death often… five times I received forty stripes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness– besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). But he did not give up, and he did not just settle to SURVIVE, but pressed on to THRIVE in spite of these hardships. How? Through hope! He writes “we do not lose heart… For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul always kept his eye on the promise of ETERNAL LIFE, not being phased with temporal hardships. Paul THRIVED on hope.
His life philosophy was that “all things work together for the good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28), and reasoned that “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2-5). He stressed the fact that this hope is not an empty dream, because already the Holy Spirit is living in the believer as a guarantee of ETERNAL LIFE (Ephesians 1:14) and what he calls “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) – the promise to share in the GLORIOUS LIFE in Christ. Therefore Paul rejoices in these hardships, because it helps him produce godly character and reminds him long for a life without sin and suffering in Christ’s Kingdom. He does not want to forfeit that prize by giving up now!
THRIVING amidst hardships means we push on in hardships in faithfulness to God, because we know “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23) – our perseverance has promise of the prize. Although itit is much more costly! To hold on, to break through, to push forward in hope leads to a better LIFE. THRIVING in hardships requires hope – a clear picture of what the reward for perseverance is.
David writes on hope: “I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” and concludes “wait in the Lord; be of good courage and he will give strength to your heart” (Psalm 27:13-14).
- Jesus – the source of LIFE
Earlier we wrote that Jesus us the SOURCE of ENDURING LIFE: He called Himself “THE BREAD OF LIFE” (John 6:35), “THE LIGHT OF LIFE” (John 8:12), “THE DOOR” to LIFE (John 10:9), “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” who preserves and leads us on in LIFE (John 10:11), ” THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE” (John 11:25), ” THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE” (John 14:6) and “THE [LIFE-GIVING] VINE” (John 15:5).
Jesus is the source of LIFE. This thriving life is found in Him. He told his followers to “Abide in me… for apart from me you could do nothing” (John 15:5). How do we “live” and THRIVE in him? Simple
Jesus said “came that we “may have life abundantly” (John 10:10) – not just life to survive but LIFE in overflow, in excess: THRIVING LIFE. This LIFE is found as we “abide” or live in Him (John 15:5) – in communion and prayer with Him; as we study his will and live in obedience to his Word (John 15:7); and as we participate and share in his loving community (John 15:12).