Planted, Fruitful, and Prospering

Tom Burke

July 2017
© 2017 Scriptural Study Groups.  All Rights Reserved.

What is the Christian life supposed to look like? Many seem ready to answer this fundamental question, and yet their answers vary greatly. According to Hollywood, the Christian life is apparently marked by condemnation of others, hypocrisy, and close-mindedness. Closer to home, we find that even Christian writers and teachers can differ widely, some emphasizing a life of trial, temptation, and pain that will only be ameliorated in heaven, and others insisting on an unbroken happiness, health, and wealth, with little concern for the rest of the world.

With so many contradictory voices in the air, thank God that we can, once again, go to His Word for an answer that is both dependable and satisfying. As we do so, we find that God describes the life of the believer in three short verses.

Psalm 1:1–3

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

How simple and how beautiful! God compares the life of one of His own to that of a tree planted nearby a source of constantly nourishing water. Please note that the verse does not simply say ‟growing by,” but rather ‟planted by.” The fact that a tree is growing in an advantageous place may be due to happenstance. In other words, a seed just happened to land there. There is an equal chance that the seed lands in the midst of a harsh barrenness.

No, this tree is planted. It is deliberately, consciously situated in a place where it can be assured of growing strong and tall. And there it brings forth fruit. The fruit may not be immediate. The fruit almost certainly will not be constant. But it will be in season—at the exact time when it is needed. And even when it is devoid of evident fruit, that tree is growing, its leaves never withering.

Finally, we are told that whatever that tree─that believer─does shall prosper. What does this mean? Does it indicate that I can enter the Olympics and be assured of a gold medal? That every task I put my hand to is guaranteed to be problem-free? Certainly not.

Our brother Mike Clark, in his wonderful book, Prosperity and Financial Giving1, defines prosperity as ‟being helped on our way.” What an assurance! That which I do as a believer may not seem like much to the senses eyes. It may never draw the attention, let alone the admiration, of the world. But I can be certain that, from the very outset, God is present to help me on my way.

Are you excited yet, Christian? If not, then please continue reading in Psalm 1.

Psalm 1:4–6

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

What a sobering contrast to the life of the believer—not a rooted, flourishing tree, but chaff in the wind. Incapable of right judgment. Unworthy to stand with the righteous. A life that terminates in nothingness.

The life of the ungodly differs from that of the believer in the most fundamental of ways. Consider the first five words of verse 4: ‟the ungodly are not so.” Hence, planted by rivers of water? The ungodly are not so. Fruit bearing? The ungodly are not so. A leaf that wonʼt wither? The ungodly are not so. Helped on their way? The ungodly are not so.2

These few verses beautifully and accurately summarize the life of those who hold themselves apart from God. They have no other choice. Their only alternative is to turn to God and begin walking in His ways. This point is essential to remember, because whereas the ungodly have no choice, Christians do have a choice.

Please note once again that the life described in verse 3 is not for the chosen few. It is the life which God desires for all of His people. It is what might be described as ‟the normal believer’s life.” Anything less is, truly, abnormal.

Why, then, do many Christians appear to be leading an abnormal life? Because the Christian is still free to choose the life of the ungodly. It is not the norm that God desires. It is not what He expects to see in His people. But it is possible.

Throughout this article, I have referred to this planted, fruitful, and prosperous life as the life of the believer. It is the life of one who believes.

In our day, all those who have believed on Jesus Christ are counted as Godʼs people. However, it is His desire that those who have believed will continue to believe. All too often, men and women believe on Jesus Christ and then return to a life led by their own inclinations and abilities. There were many such in the Galatian church, and the Apostle Paul, by revelation, had some pointed words for them.

Galatians 3:1–3 (New English Translation)

You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified!

The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?

Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?

Having once believed, God would now have us live by believing. This is made clear in the first two verses of the first psalm, where we learn that this ‟blessed man” has made two distinct and deliberate choices.

Psalm 1:1, 2

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

First of all, this man has chosen to not do certain things: he once listened to ungodly counsel, once counted sinners as close companions, and once scorned the things that God calls good. No more. Why? Because he recognizes a simple truth that can be found throughout the Word of God.3 If I am going to believe God’s Word, it is essential that I monitor and banish those things which erode my reverence for the Word of God.

Jesus teaches this principle via a parable in which he speaks of a sower distributing seed on various types of ground, and the subsequent results.4 Later, he explains the parable to his disciples.

Mark 4:14–20

The sower soweth the word.

And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

Notice first that in all four cases, the seed was the same. Any variation in outcome is due not to differences in the seed, but differences in the ground.

The desired, the intended, the ‟normal” result of sowing seed is, obviously, fruitfulness. But this is not always the outcome. For example, some seed fell among thorns. Although it grew, the thorns grew as well. In due season, a piece of ground that had all of the potential to be fruit-bearing ended up as fruitless as the location where the birds immediately devoured the seed. Had that ground—literally, the heart of that individual—been ‟weeded,” he or she could have been among those bringing forth thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. Instead, unbelief triumphed.

This sad story is played out in the lives of far too many who endeavor to receive God’s Word but continue in the very things which tend to distance them from God and His ways.

Obviously, though, ‟putting off” is rather pointless if I am not simultaneously ‟putting on.” Let’s recall that the ‟blessed” man made two decisions—not only to put off the old, but to put on the new. He chose not only to delight in God’s Word, but to consciously meditate in it, to ‟chew” it, to hide it in his heart. Avoidance of worldly thoughts and ways is meaningless if I have not chosen to learn God’s thoughts and ways, and to make them my own.

This is also described in the parable. The seed which fell on stony ground is shown to illustrate those who receive Godʼs Word, but have no root in themselves. They may read the Word of God, they may listen to it, but they have not taken the steps necessary to engraft it.5 They remain in unbelief.

You see, unbelief can take many forms, and outright rejection is only one of them. The individuals described here received the Word with gladness. But gladness alone does not equal believing. (For example, we are told in Mark 6:20 that King Herod gladly heard the words of John the Baptist. Yet this did not prevent him from beheading John when the social pressure became too intense.)6

Why do some Christians fail to live fruitful lives? They have not taken God’s Word into the depths of their hearts, the place where true transformation can occur. Or they are indeed feeding on God’s Word, but feeding with equal relish on those things which are inimical to truth.

There is no great secret here. God has made it plain. I encourage you to follow the example of the man described in Psalm 1, that you, too, might be planted, fruitful, and prospering, and that you might count yourself among those who know themselves to be blessed.

1 Michael D. Clark, Prosperity and Financial Giving, (Scriptural Study Groups, 2010) 1–37.

2 For further study, the reader may want to examine Jeremiah 17:7–9, where the same contrast is drawn, with even greater detail.

3 See, for example, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22–24, II Timothy 2:15,16, 22, 23.

4 This parable can be found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8.

5 See James 1:21.

6 See Ezekiel 33:30–33 for another striking example.