Plow the Thorny Places
We are coming to the end of a series based on the Parable of the Soils. Last week we focused on plowing the rocky places through discipleship (in case you missed it you can read it here). This week we are going to focus on the thorny places.
Disclaimer: I usually get concerned when I am going to share the story about how my husband and I ended up together. It's not some meet-cute from a romantic comedy or an inspiring tale about two star-crossed lovers that overcame the odds. In fact, there is nothing heartwarming about it at all. Our relationship began in an affair—an affair that caused an enormous amount of pain and suffering. Just because we are now walking in the midst of our ever after does not mean that it was God's will for us to achieve it the way that we did.
We didn't just have an affair but our daughter was conceived in the midst of it. Those were the worst nine months of my life, but as I write that I realize that they were probably the worst months for all involved. Her paternity was in question and both men desperately wanted it to be them. I spent nine months in a frenzy, trying to keep two men happy whose lives were crumbling all around us. I watched them both self-destruct into drug use and depression while I spent my days wearing my baby bump like a scarlet letter.
When the results of the DNA test came in and the fragments of my marriage that remained were carried off by the wind, I watched a man shatter into a million pieces in my hands. All of my efforts to fix the situation, to make it better, had brought us to this point, and yet it wasn't my life that was crushed in the balance, it was the life of another that laid shattered in the dust.
Something shifted in me that day—though I didn't recognize it for what it was until much later—God was beginning to do a work in my soul. Never again would I allow myself to be the harbinger of such pain and destruction to another life. Never again would I put my own lusts above the well-being of another to such an extent. I decided then and there that I would never lie again and I meant it. I could barely carry the guilt of what I had done and I refused to be the cause of the destruction of another. From then on I would filter my decisions based on the question, “Will it hurt [insert name here] when I tell them about this later?” If the answer to the question was “yes” then my answer was “no.”
God was beginning to plow the soil of my heart, all of those lusts that had grown up like thorns around me were ripped up and buried beneath the surface. But the infuriating thing about weeds is that unless you eliminate the root, they always grow back.
It wasn't until years later that the weed of lust tried to entangle me again. Joe and I had since married but the drug use that had escalated during my pregnancy didn't magically disappear when we started to try to build a family out of the ashes. In fact, it kept increasing until he was completely out of control. This time I was the one bearing the pain and suffering at the hands of another. Then during a chance encounter, a temptation came in the form of a thought (because that's where all temptations are born). Thank God by this point I had a relationship with Jesus because directly following the thought was a verse, 1 Peter 1:14, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” This time around the thorns of lust didn't have the chance to mature, the thought was taken captive, and the plan of the enemy was thwarted.
"The [seed] which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of [this] life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
- Luke 8:14 NASB
In Luke 8:7, Jesus states that the thorns grew up with the seed and choked it out. Notice the thorns grew up along with the seed, or even after the seed had been growing for some time. These are the things that even those who are well established in the faith, those who are already fruitful have to watch out for.
So what are the thorns? Worries, riches, and pleasures (which can also be translated as lusts or desires). On the surface, those things seem disjointed, but at their heart, they all grow from the same self-centered root. They are born from a perspective that is looking inward instead of looking upward. Because they have the same root, they have the same solution: to fix our gaze on the One who has given us victory over every trap and snare of the enemy.
The word used for “choke” means to crowd upon, essentially overwhelming the thing it is choking. When it comes to worries of this world (as it is translated in Matthew and Mark), Jesus tells us to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and Peter says that we are to give all of our worries and cares to God because He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7). If we are overwhelmed by our worries and anxieties it is a red flag that we are not casting them upon the Lord. To cast something upon Him is not a one-time, one-off thing. It is a continual surrender. It is keeping your eyes fixed no matter the storm raging around you and if you succumb to the distraction of the wind and the waves it’s about having the humility to call out for help.
I like the way Mark wrote the next bit, he calls it the deceitfulness of riches, which is a maxim that is echoed by Paul when he instructs Timothy to:
“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.” - 1 Timothy 6:17-18
Notice again the first step is to put their trust in God, but I love that it doesn't stop there, he then instructs them to do good works. It's difficult to be self-centered when we are focusing our attention on God and our energy on doing His work for others. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the best way to deal with the thorns growing in our lives (after focusing our gaze on God) is to focus on doing what we can to help remove the thorns from the lives of others.
“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.”
- James 1:14
The word “desires” in the above verse is the same Greek word as “pleasures” in Luke. James 1:14 could just as easily say “our own pleasures” but I am happy that the translators chose “desires” instead because every time I read this verse I am reminded of another. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires.” I believe that this has nothing to do with our whims or self-centered desires, though I have heard that point argued in the past. Instead, if our delight is in the Lord then He will become our desire! And not only that, His desires will become our desires. The desires in our heart will be the ones that He has placed there, which of course He is then going to fulfill because it was His desire, to begin with. So if we treasure the Lord and find our delight in Him, our desire will be in Him and there will be no place for temptations to arise.
There is so much more that can be unpacked in these three words but I know I have already been long-winded. I started this series with a clear idea of where it was headed and quite frankly I was quite surprised with the direction that God took it in. I've learned so many things but one takeaway I will be going home with is this: plowing is a lifelong endeavor. No matter the health of the soil or the state of its growth the plow will always be necessary not just in the lives of others but in our own lives. Consistency and endurance are key. The thorns begin to grow and overtake the growth that has already been established when the hand is removed from the plow! Our enemy will always be coming and trying to choke out the growth that God has brought forth, either with the regrowth of old weeds or the planting of new ones. Keep tending your field, beloved, stay alert, and don't allow the thorns to grow. If we take care to remove them before their roots are put down deeply then we never have to become barren. Keep your eyes fixed on Him, the author and perfecter of your faith, and plow on!
“Plowmen also do something else of great importance: they hold on. A plowman who lets go is no plowman at all. Plowmen are not usually learned persons, nor are they often poets in disguise. But there is one virtue they possess pre-eminently, and that is the virtue of quietly holding to it.”
- George H. Morrison
Written by Amanda Strauser