Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
What does it mean to thrive or flourish in life? In a world where everything seems to be overanalyzed and word-smithed through a lens of political correctness or cultural relevance, is it OK to prosper? The word “thrive” implies moving beyond mere survival and demonstrating growth, positive development, advancement, and success. These thoughts and concepts often drift through our minds right before we cross the threshold into a new year.
Having posed the question, I am not advocating for what is sometimes referred to as the “prosperity gospel,” which holds that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God. On the contrary, decades of working as a counselor with hurting and broken people, have shown me otherwise. Nevertheless, I have still seen God’s faithfulness, grace, and mercy manifested in the midst of one’s pain, loss, and grief. The abundant life is not just about accumulating more things, but experiencing all that God has for us and embracing Him in genuine relationship.
The origin of the word, thrive, comes from the Old Norse (thrifa) and means, “to get hold of.” As people of faith, we should endeavor to get hold of God… better yet, perhaps we need to allow Him to get hold of us. Jeremiah 7:23 shows the connection between relationship and blessing: “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.”
The Greek word, “sozo,” is used over one hundred times in the New Testament and is an all-encompassing expression for salvation. However, the term goes beyond the forgiveness of sins to include healing, deliverance, wholeness, and freedom. Sozo also implies being rescued from suffering, danger, and destruction in order to be fully restored to health and life. In other words, it describes the very essence of what it means to thrive.
Failure to thrive is a term often used by pediatricians to describe extremely poor growth due to either physical or mental issues with the child or caused by a caregiver’s direct actions. It is defined in terms of height and weight measurements that fall below the fifth percentile or a downward change in growth across two major growth percentiles. Failure to thrive is associated with poor developmental and emotional functioning, particularly in children who are younger than two years old.
What parallels can we draw for believers? A failure to thrive spiritually is frequently rooted in fear, unbelief, and pride. It can also indicate a lack of direction and not having a sense of mission or vision in one’s life. The following words from Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland are insightful:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t really matter which way you go,” said the Cat.”
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26). The Greek word used here is “adelos” and it means “with uncertainty.” Paul understood there was a target and he knew what the target was. If we aim at nothing, we will surely hit it every time. January 1st is another day on the calendar, one often used as a line of demarcation, but life is such that most of us need to have purpose and direction. What is your “mission” in life? Will it enable you to thrive in your walk with God? Do you have a mission statement? Could you say it in five words or less? These are important questions because they can give substance and meaning to almost everything we do.
Let’s take a closer look at the mission statements of some people in the Bible:
- Moses – “Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Ex. 3:10)
- Jesus – “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Jn. 6:38); “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn. 18:37)
- Paul – “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:23); “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor.) 2:2)
Your mission should not only state the obvious, but also the exceptional and the extraordinary – to believe in the impossible and that which is based on faith and trust in God. Maximize your strengths and manage weaknesses, but don’t be afraid of failure. Here are some principles to keep in mind:
- Purpose – Do something that makes a difference in life and in the kingdom of God.
- Priorities – Do it with all your heart and always keep the main thing the main thing.
- People – Do it with those individuals where you have real relationship.
- Plan – Do it with diligence, intentionality, and only after counting the cost.
- Passion – Do it with inspiration, calling, and a commitment to be “all in.”
Staying “on mission” is also critical. Life throws us many curveballs and it’s easy to drift off course. Midcourse corrections are a necessary if we are to run the race God has for us. Even a one degree difference can radically change the outcome. My son is training as a Marine Corps pilot and he has learned the following reality: for every degree you fly off course, you will miss your target by 92 feet for every mile you fly. If this happened in flying from New York to Los Angeles, you would miss the city by 50 miles.
What a tragedy it would be if we missed what God has for us by 50 miles. John 10:10 says that Christ came so that, “we might have life and have it abundantly.” He wants to lead us and He wants us to thrive. Scripture often symbolically uses the metaphor of sheep to describe humanity. If you have ever seen sheep grazing in pasture, they really do know the voice of their shepherd and when he calls, they will follow. Contrast this with a cattle drive… where are the men on the horses? Usually behind and on the sides because they are “driving” the herd. If you constantly feel driven in life and are striving in your walk with God [and I say this with Christian love], spiritually you are cow! When we are led by peace and by the Prince of Peace, we are sheep (see Psalm 23). Only then do we move from a life that is so-so, to one that is filled with sozo.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Prov. 16:3).
“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.