Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sowing to Thorns

My previous article focused on a parable Jesus taught in Matthew 13 about a farmer sowing seeds in expectation of harvest.  According to Jesus this is one of his most important teachings.  In explaining more details to his closest followers he reveals it as a foundation for all other teaching.  “Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (Mark 4:13).  To understand the kingdom of God (God’s rule and authority) and to follow Jesus more closely, it is imperative to practice the foundational truth of what Jesus is saying in this parable.   Since I’m not quoting the entire parable here, please read Mark 4:1-20 for a better understanding of what follows.
As we saw previously, God is likened to a Farmer sowing seeds.  There are four types of soil (human hearts) mentioned in the story.  Type 4 is the soil that produces a crop at harvest time (good fruit / behavior as the Bible calls it). The other 3 types are hard, rocky, and thorny.  In this article I will focus on the third type.  In a society with many Christian churches and activities, the “thorny” soil is the place many people get stuck.  Unfortunately, I think it describes much of what we see in the Church in America today.  The good news is that God’s power can change this if we allow him to do so.  The article also looked at the ongoing aspects of change that must occur in our hearts as Jesus followers.  Allowing God to change us from the inside out is what the Christian life is all about.  
Mark 4 is another place in the Bible this teaching is recorded from a slightly different perspective from Matthew 13.  The thorny soil is described this way, Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word;  but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).  Three charactieristics define type 3 soil: worry, deceit, and misplaced desires.   The three main  thngs that  keep God’s Word from changing our heart are fear, ungodly beliefs, and ungodly desires.  
First, let’s look at the “worries of this life” (fear).  It seems like fear has a tighter grip on peoples’ lives than ever before.  Fear-motivated reactions are the polar opposite of love.  God is love, and he created people in the original design to demonstrate his love to all people, in all circumstances, and for all times.  With the entry of sin came changes to the perfect world God created.  We now have a need to concern ourselves (at least to some degree) with survival and self-preservation.  Father God is our provider, protector, and identity, but we have a role to make this real in our lives.  It is very easy to get  God’s part and our part out of balance.  Fear shows up in thinking about whether we have enough to live life fully (eg. enough good looks, competence, skill, strength, or maybe even enough food or clothes)   Fear shows up in things like trying to grab too much control over people or situations (ei. not trusting God to be our ultimate protector) .  Fear may show up in thinking too much of ourselves (eg. not respecting others legitimate rights,  wishes, or property).  Thinking too little of oneself is also a form of fear (eg. not worthy, valuable, capable of love, misfit, alone(.  
Fear responses create thorns that choke out seeds of truth sown in our hearts.  
Second, is the “deceitfulness of wealth” (ungodly beliefs).  I think the wealth spoken of here applies much more widely than material or financial resources.  It may include abundance (wealth) of trust in knowledge, reason, beliefs, human capacity, self-reliance, self-sufficiency and the like.  When a person thinks they are fine without God, they have no “hunger” for God.  Our physical body can become content with junk food, even though it is unhealthy and steals our vitality.  In a similar way, our soul can become content with counterfeit beliefs.  What we think about God and how we know him should be shaped mainly by the Bible, and not the latest sermon series, video, s’ocial media post, or self-help tool.   When we rely on our own  “wealth” of knowledge,  wisdom, or ability to figure things out, we run the high risk of choking out the obvious truth that is right in front of us.  Our reliance for soul transformation must be in God, and God alone.  
Third is the “desires for other things” (ungodly desires).  Whereas ungodly(misplaced) beliefs stem from over dependence on the power of human reasoning, ungodly (misplaced) desires stem from over dependence on human passion.  God is holy.  He is so much unlike anything else this world has to offer.  An accurate and healthy concept of God is essential for living a healthy and godly life.  Knowing God as a personal God is far removed, and more important than knowing  about God as a concept.  To know him is a wonderful thing.  And to really know that we are known by him, only comes through desire for knowing him.  A heart that longs for him is a satisfied heart.  See Psalm 63  for King David’s  beautiful expression of this truth.  Seeking satisfaction  from things in our natural world leaves us dry and thirsty.  Deep desire for God’s supernatural (beyond natural) love gives us everlasting joy built into our original design.  A satisfied human heart knows God’s desires, and seeks to satisfy God’s desires above their own.  Choosing to elevate God’s desires above self, is the key to finding the true self  God uniquely created us to be.
Human beings are designed to make choices regarding their beliefs and desires.  Reason alone does not reveal God for who He truly is.  Passion alone does not bring us into fellowship with the God of Truth.  We must worship God with both reason and passion, mind and heart, truth and spirit (see John 4:23).  Discovering truth and desiring to please God by putting it into practice is the best way to chase away the fears that keep us from loving as God intends.  We must become less content with what the world has in mind for us, and more content with what God has in mind.  To do this we must become less aware of worldly comforts and more aware of godly comforts.  
Desiring more of God may require us to pay more serious attention to where we place our energy, time, and talents.  Never before in history does there seem to be so many distractions and potential false comforts, false beliefs, and seemingly urgent nonessentials.  Yet with more “thorns” than ever trying to influence our heart (soil), it becomes more important to press into God’s simple truth.  The older I get, the more I realize I must pay attention to what I am paying attention to, and limit my exposure to things that may turn to thorns.  
I don’t want to get too specific so as not to appear legalistic, but I will say that much of what is called “entertainment” today looks like a thorn patch to me.  Even the TV network news media amounts to a thorn patch because of the fear-based slant on news.  Things that fall in the category of addiction would be putting “desires for other things” ahead of God.  Basically anything that would cause us to struggle if we believe God was telling us to give it up, is a potential thorn.  Always remember that anything we view as difficult to give up, has the potential of rewarding us with treasures of far greater value than we were able to discern before giving it up.  We don’t know what we don’t know.  Sometimes we don’t know how deeply something is influencing us in a negative direction until we replace it with an intentional more positive substitute.  Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament has some very good advice for us, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
My prayer is that we heed the warnings Jesus is teaching us through this story about the Farmer (God) sowing seeds (truth) that finds its way into furtile (productive) soil (our hearts.  May our hearts be turned to God to elieviate our fears, reshape our beliefs, and renew our desires for God.  To get back on track (or to stay on track), we may do well to ask ourselves some questions about the status of our contentments.  What is the true condition of my heart (soil)?  Have I become content with a thorn that’s choking out the Truth?  Where have I made friends with fear, rather than choosing to cast it aside?  Where might my beliefs need some adjustment to guard against deception?  How could the flames of my passion for God be fanned into a higher (hotter) degree?  Am I discontent with my current level of fellowship with God, so I am freed (from this world’s passions)  to desire Him more?  What experiences might I like too much, so that they keep me from heavenly treasures?  
Weeds and thorns in our heart are part of life as long as we’re living on this earth.  What makes the difference (for becoming good soil) is our choice to cooperate with God by accepting the salvation he freely gave us through his only Son Jesus.  Our hope is in Christ on a daily basis for inner life (soil) cleansing.  May we choose life, and choose to value the seed God has sown to give us eternal life.   

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry