“The righteous thrive like a palm tree and grow like a cedar tree in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they thrive in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green.” Psalm 92:12-14
“Thrive” has always been a compelling, refreshing, yet, uncomfortable word for me. I don’t often feel like I “thrive.” And I feel like by the time I get to “old age” there will be nothing left to squeeze out of me. I live in a constant cycle of: go like crazy, panic attack week, burn out, go like crazy again.
I have always been a self-motivated self-starter. I want to do something big. And because I haven’t lived very long and my time-table is all skewed, I feel as if I’m not successful right now — like I have failed.
But as I read Psalm 92, I realized that I have a desire way deeper than my desire for success. I want to thrive, to “still bear fruit in old age.” I don’t want to burn out while I still have life left. I want to look back on my life at the end of it and see a model of consistency. The plant metaphor in these verses, the image of a palm tree, left a mark on me.
Then I thought: Wait, wasn’t there another plant reference just a few verses before this?
And sure enough …
“Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be eternally destroyed.” Psalm 92:7
And boom, it hit me.
I have been using the strategy of the wicked.
I’m taught to be like grass, to sprout up when the conditions are perfect, come up fast, require constant maintenance and then die away after a season. My personality, my Spiritual life, my character, my ministry, my writing, teaching, discipling, etc. I want it all to be successful right now. I want to have a legacy that doesn’t have to be built. That’s what everyone else seems to have.
And I know I’m not alone, there are a lot of people in my shoes. People who want to peak now. I don’t really know what we’re thinking or even if we are. Because what happens for the next 50 years if we peak when we’re 25? Do we expect to ride the wave of that success for the rest of our adult lives? Do we expect to reach the pinnacle of success in all areas, and then somehow keep climbing upwards? Or do we not know what to expect because we’re not thinking of the future?
The world is full of people who crave the short-lived successes. The world is full of people who do good things just so they can use their resulting “good character” to show off. The church is full of people who use God as a platform for their own fame and success.
That is wicked. That is worldly. And most of those people are headed down a road of destruction.
And if you envy those people, you’re not the only one. It is enviable. You at least have me and the writer of Psalm 92 on your side (and a few other Biblical writers as well). Those people get to live how they want — using people, using God – and they’re successful and rich and praised. But only for a time. They’re like grass that sprouts up, but they won’t be sprouting for long.
And even though we know that, we still try to be like them.
It’s like we want to accomplish God’s will by using the world’s methods, and it makes no sense.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our best, I’m not saying we should intentionally hold out. But we can’t be obsessed with becoming the perfect person right now. We can’t insist on living on a mountaintop. We can’t sprint the whole way through a marathon.
The worldly way of success and leadership says to gain as many followers as fast as possible. To own the moment in whatever debate happens to be going on at the time. To be liked and shared and retweeted and “go viral”. And then, to cater and pander to everyone, lest you lose those followers.
The worldly way of character development says it’s all about looking like you already are the person you want to become. It’s not about God working anything in you, it’s about you working in yourself. It’s about feeling and acting loving, joyful, peaceful and patient rather than being loving, joyful, peaceful and patient.
I think I could do all of the former very quickly. I think I could spend the next year trying to make my life look good to others. Trying to “sprout up” and look like a Godly leader who has deep thoughts and Spiritual insight. I could focus all my energy on writing knock-out posts on this blog that will inspire you for as long as it shows up on your Facebook wall. I could write super “relevant” curriculum where I gloss over my mistakes and make pain-staking efforts to never offend. It’s actually not that hard to sprout up like grass. It takes all you have for a little while … but then you’re done.
But I don’t want to look back and see that I peaked in my twenties, only to go downhill for the rest of my life. I’d rather focus on my actual character, doing something consistently I may never be praised for. I want to thrive — growing and learning without needing affirmation from the here and now. I want to look back on my life and see I not only produced something of consistent quality, but I became a person of consistent quality.
First year teachers, don’t think you’re not successful if you don’t have a “Freedom Writers” year. Pastors and worship leaders, don’t measure your success based on the size or involvement of your congregation. Writers, your first attempts may not be your best. Young mothers, the day you had today isn’t necessarily a picture of the rest of your life.
Erin, don’t live life at a pace that will prohibit you from finishing well, with strength.
Don’t seek to sprout up, seek to thrive.
P.S. The following posts by Donald Miller and Jon Acuff are also good reads on this subject. Their thoughts were a huge springboard for me in writing this.
*photo courtesy: britney @baretribeblog.blogspot.com