The self-help gospel is pervasive these days. Spend any amount of time in the Christian section of the bookstore or peruse through popular articles online and you’ll see it everywhere. It isn’t as blatant as the prosperity Gospel, but perhaps it is just as deadly. The self-help gospel takes our eyes off of the eternal and distracts with the temporary.
How to thrive as a stay at home mom.
How to flourish at home and in the workplace.
How to thrive as a single person in the church.
How to be a successful Christian leader.
We even have books and Christian celebrities who make their living off of teaching us how to have flourishing bank accounts.
We are consumed with success in our various spheres of life, and as a result this idea of “flourishing” has made its way into our churches. Flourishing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we (rightly) believe that living according to Christ’s Kingdom standards can lead to greater flourishing in the world.
So let’s ask the question: What does it mean to flourish as a believer? What does it truly look like to thrive in this upside-down kingdom that we’re called to?
This life is not about you.
What Is Flourishing?
Before we dive in, let’s agree on a common definition of flourish. To flourish is a verb which means “to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way.” I like this definition because it gets at the heart of what people truly are seeking: Healthy growth and development. The majority of people attending conferences, indulging in books and reading articles are people who are seeking out development and growth, which is not a bad thing! But rather than quenching their thirsts with content that points them to eternal waters, we are squelching their thirsts with temporary fixes. We are wrapping self-help in wisdom with the purpose of helping them build their own kingdoms.
Paul warns against this kind of self-help teaching in 2 Timothy 3. He writes,
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
I am also reminded of the parables in Matthew 19-20 where Jesus tells his disciples about this upside-down Kingdom He’s building. How many of us religious folk are like the rich young ruler coming to Jesus with our church attendance and tithing receipts? All the while, we’re neglecting the poor among us while building “blessed” kingdoms for ourselves? Shannan Martin says it this way in her book Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I’ve Always Wanted, “We disguise our entitlement by calling it blessing.” How often do we equate flourishing with our own preferred entitlements? Jesus’ reply to the rich young ruler is the same for us. In His kingdom the first are last and the last are first, and it’s incredibly difficult for a person without a perceived need to enter the kingdom of heaven.
We see more glimpses of this upside down kingdom throughout the Gospels when we see Jesus do the complete opposite of what the religious and elite thought he should do. He heals the sick and loves the outcast. He treated adulterous women with dignity and respect. He allowed a disreputable woman to wash His feet with her hair, and He honored her for it. All the while the religious elite clung to their rules and entitlements, frowning upon the Messiah’s decision to love and spend time with those types of people.
Then in James we are told that true religion looks like bridling our tongues and caring for the orphan and widow (James 1:26-2:13). We are urged to beware of our tendency to show favoritism to those who are successful for God has chosen those who are poor in this world to be heirs in His kingdom. This type of kingdom that Christ ushers in contrasts the type of kingdom our society tells us to build.
Flourishing in an Upside-Down Kingdom
So when we answer the question “How do we flourish as believers?” we cannot answer with simple self-help answers wrapped with wisdom. If we want to grow as a Christ-follower, we must model his ways. And Scripture shows us that the furthest thing from the ways of Christ is self-obsessing over thriving and building our own kingdom.
When the world says save enough money for a luxurious retirement or large-scale church building, Scripture says do not worry about tomorrow and to love and generously give your money to the poor and needy among you.
When the world says seek revenge on your enemies, Scripture says to love and bless them.
When the world says you have to love yourself first and foremost, Scripture calls us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
When the world says degrees, promotions and titles are our measurement for successful growth, Scripture says that love, joy, peace, long-suffering and thinking of others are our truest markers.
When the world says find a community that meets your needs and wants, Scripture says that we are a part of an eternal family that transcends biology, race and socio-economic status not only in word but in deed.
When the world says self-care is the answer to a stressed out season, Scripture says that we will face seasons of suffering in this life but that Christ will never leave us nor forsake us. And THAT is our hope that sustains us.
So how do we flourish in this upside-down kingdom?
Our Christ-honoring answer is that we flourish when we grow in what matters. Sharon Hodde Miller recently released a book entitled Free of Me: Why Life is Better When it’s Not About You. Her solution to stop making different spheres of her life about HER, was to make them about something bigger than herself: God.
So if you want to flourish as a believer, be like the man in Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
Delight in and meditate on God’s word.
Relish in who God is and what He’s done for you.
Live a life that reflects and honors Christ in a broken world.
And whatever season you’re in remember, regardless of the latest self-help fad, this life is not about you.
And like one of my favorite hymns says, may we be a people who are more concerned with eternity that the things of earth grow strangely dim in light of His glory and grace.