Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A thorny problem

Graphic from CrossCards.com
If you know me in person -- and possibly if you've been reading my blog long enough to "know" me well -- then you know that seeing others grow spiritually is a passion of mine.  God's plan is for us to grow.  He doesn't want us to stay stuck where we are.

When it's obvious that we aren't growing in the Christian life, we often wonder why.  Sometimes it's really pretty simple.  Sometimes it's a simple matter of starving ourselves. If we take in little or no sustenance from God's Word, and if we have no prayer life, well, our problem is really, to be brutally honest, self-inflicted.  The remedy is right at hand.

But sometimes it's not so simple. 

I've been enjoying my study of Charles Swindoll's Come Before Winter every weekday, digging more deeply into the "Come Aside" Scripture passages with each reading.  One blessing of this informal study time is that the readings are all over the place in the Bible, not in one particular book or section.  Today found me in Mark chapter 4:1-20, looking at the parable of the soils.

You're familiar with this parable, I'm sure.  It tells the story of a sower who sowed some seeds.  The seeds, representing God's Word,  fell on four different types of ground, which represent all sorts of people and the four basic responses they have to spiritual truth.

Every bit as interesting is the fact that the meaning of this parable was actually explained by Jesus Himself when the Twelve asked Him what it meant.  So there is no doubt as to its meaning.  We can't twist it to suit some agenda of our own.

Okay -- so, the four basic responses of people to spiritual things,  as seen in the parable:

1.  Some listen, then instantly reject.  (Mark 4:15)
2.  Others hear, seem to like what they hear,  and even respond well on the surface, but fall away when the going gets tough.  (Mark 4:16-17)
3.  Still others believe what they hear, but later get sidetracked as their growth is choked by thorns.  (Mark 4:18-19)
4.  And still others hear, believe, grow, stick with it, and eventually begin to yield fruit as healthy plants are intended to.  (Mark 4:20)

The first two groups are not truly born again.  As Swindoll puts it, they are "rootless, lifeless, and fruitless."

The fourth group consists of growing, active, serving, fruitful believers.

But the third group is a problem.  They are Christians, and they do grow spiritually ... for awhile.  The truths of God's Word don't become deeply rooted, part of their lives.  Their spiritual growth is stunted.  How does this happen?

It's a thorny issue.  Thorns come in, and they suffocate the normal healthy growth of the plants.  It's interesting to note that the thorns were already there when the seed was sowed, and that they were allowed to take over. 

"And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit."  (Mark 4:7)

Thorny blackberry bushes
What exactly do the thorns represent?  There is no room for doubt here, because Jesus Himself tells us in verse 19.  They represent:

"the cares of this world";
"the deceitfulness of riches";
"the lusts of other things".

Jesus doesn't say that these things might cause a problem, or that it's a possibility they've been known to hinder spiritual growth.  He says:

"Entering in, they choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful."  (Mark 4:19)

These thorns choke God's Word in a believer's life.

As Swindoll notes, the tentacle-like roots of the thorns "advance so slowly, so silently, the victim hardly realizes he's been strangled.  Demanding first place, they ultimately siphon off every ounce of spiritual interest and emotional energy."

The cares of this world may be thought of as worry.  It certainly seems that there is plenty to worry about these days!  Yet what does worry accomplish?  Nothing positive is ever gained by worrying.  Jesus said plainly in Matthew 6:27, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?"  Worry distracts us from learning to trust God.  It truly chokes out His Word.

The deceitfulness of riches is another empty, unsatisfying yet consuming thorn.  We somehow think that money and the things it can buy will bring us happiness and satisfaction.  Again, not true.  Proverbs 23:5 asks, "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?  For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven."

But the third species of thorn, the lusts [or desires for] other things, may be the most dangerous of all.   It pictures discontentment -- always thinking that something more will make us happy.  If we struggle to be content with our circumstances, we can be quite sure that this species of thorn has something to do with it.  Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy: "Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out."  (1 Timothy 6:6-7)

Are you living among thorns today?  I've noticed that thorny wild blackberry bushes are some of the first plants to appear every spring.  I can (and often do) cut them down, but unless I address those tentacle-like roots which can stretch in every direction under the surface of the ground, the problem is not really solved.

1 John 2:15-17 may help us address our thorny problems:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

"And the world passeth away, and the lust of it; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."

I'm pretty sure I have a few thorns to uproot.  How about you?


  1. When I worked at a local pregnancy clinic, I often despaired over those who I felt made a decision for Christ just to get me to stop talking to them about their spiritual condition. I remember that the director of the clinic told me that all I was responsible for was giving the message. The Holy Spirit was in charge of the results. That has stayed with me and has been an encouragement. I often felt down about my work there as there were so many who were so blind to the things of God.

    1. That is so true, Arlene -- we are only responsible for giving the message, and for living it out -- the Holy Spirit is definitely in charge of the outcome! Thanks for sharing this encouraging thought!

  2. Thanks, Mrs. T, for your post today. It's what I needed, as I fit in the third group. I've become such a worry-wart and have neglected my bible reading and daily devotions. Sometimes I feel like I'm stuck in a rut and don't know how to get out. It's just a matter of reaching up and grabbing the Father's Hand. Thanks again for your post! God bless you.

    1. Oh, Carol, it just makes my day that this was just what you needed to read. I share from my quiet time very infrequently. Almost never do I post about my devotions the same day ... usually I will wait and write up a post later. This time I felt almost compelled to write a post the same day. Now I know why!

      I hope you have now reached up and grabbed the Father's hand and that He is helping you to get out of that rut. Truly, He is faithful!

  3. I would imagine that there is not a Christian who has ever lived who has not run smack into thorns...ouch! We try too hard without leaning on The One Who knows we are but dust and is the only One Who can keep us bearing fruit and on the right path. He is, after all, the vine and we are but the branches. We live and move in Him. I was just looking up Come Before Winter scriptures. It was surprising to me not to find what I expected to find.

    1. I'm sure you are right, Vee. We do indeed try to do far too much in our own strength. I love what you said about us trying too hard without leaning on the One who knows we are but dust and the only One who keeps us bearing fruit and on the right path. Very well said!

      Were you expecting the verse from 2 Timothy 4:21, where Paul is urging Timothy to come to him before winter?

      The book's introduction goes into some detail on that verse and situation -- and in fact the rest of the book deals with material that encourages folks in "dungeon-type situations".

      Would you like my copy of the book? I am nearly finished with it. It's a paperback and wouldn't cost much at all to send.

  4. That parable was just in my Bible readings this week. Very interesting to find it here as well. I need to read it again and really let it sink in. Blessings to you!

    1. That is indeed so interesting that this parable cropped in two places for you this week. I've learned to pay attention when that happens!


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