When I was a kid I grew up with my best friend Todd. He and I lived just down the street from each other. My parents had 5 acres of land with a creek running through the middle and a lot of woods for a boy to explore. Todd’s family had 10 acres of land, a pasture with horses, and best of all it had a swamp. No kidding, all that was missing was Shrek.
Todd and I roamed these fifteen acres of land usually wearing rubber boots and camouflage pants and carrying a bb gun, hatchet, or machete to hack our way through any obstacles we might encounter. We must have been a formidable sight, although now that I look at the picture below I see that we looked like little old men.
Looking back now I realize it was the best kind of childhood you could imagine.
On our treks through the woods we would often find ourselves conquering various types of fauna. Being from the south kudzu was always present. We would also find fallen trees, poison oak, vines to hang on, small saplings to chop down, and wild blackberry thickets.
Sticking, stabbing thorns
Worst of all were the saw briars.
Saw briars were thick green vines covered with thorns. They blended into their surroundings and you usually wouldn’t see them until you felt the prick of the thorns through your pants leg. Looking down, you would see this invasive weed wrapped around your feet and legs and stopping you from moving forward.
The only was to get free was to stop and gently extricate yourself from the vine and the grip of the thorns.
I bring all this up because a common parable took on new meaning for me.
Often times we can read a passage of scripture and only after the 479th time will something jump out at you. This is what happened to me this week.
Jesus warned about thorns
He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:2-8)
The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 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. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:14-20)
Perhaps, like me, you have read this parable many times. I’ve heard countless messages preached from this text. There is much truth to be mined from these words. The usual explanation is that the Good News (or word or message) is told to four different types of people represented by four different types of soils. The first is the hard ground where it can’t take root and is easily picked up. The second is rocky soil where it takes root but doesn’t get established and quickly dies. The third is the soil filled with thorns where the seeds can’t find a place to take root and therefore can’t grow. The fourth is the good soil where the conditions are right for the seed to grow, take root, and produce fruit and a harvest the way the sower intended.
Again, you could write a book on the messages contained in these verses, but I’ll save that for later.
What are the thorns in my life?
This passage always seemed to be about a person going from lost to found. Or to be more clear someone going from not knowing God to knowing God. I thought this was a witnessing passage. A message about a non-Christian becoming a Christian.
But that third type of scenario, the one with all the thorns, struck me differently this time.
I wondered if I am a Christian, who knows the Lord, and yet the thorns of this life choke out my worship and my work and leave me bankrupt of all that God wants to do in and through me.
I’ll say it again: what if the thorns in my life of worry, pursuit of wealth, worry about what others people think, and other strong desires have a chokehold on me and keep me from being fruitful?
It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Abide in me
In a different passage Jesus offers us another type of vine that we should stay connected with. Consider John 15:5-8:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Where the thorns of life are always reaching out to grab us and the sharp points are constantly intruding on our lives with viciousness, the True Vine is different.
Jesus shows us that when we willingly connect to him, he will cause us to produce much fruit. Unlike the thorns that hook us and don’t allow us to move forward and live profitable lives, the true vine is our sustainer.
We stay connected to the vine by reading the word of God, by praying and seeking God’s voice, by attempting to reconcile what we think with what God tells us. We surround ourselves with other believers so that “iron can sharpen iron.” We remember that it is God’s glory we should be seeking, not our own.
What are your thorns?
I would urge you to take some time to evaluate the thorns in your life. Are you receiving the message that God is trying to give you or is your life so choked out with thorns that any message can’t get through?
What consumes you? What are you worrying about and trying to achieve? Do these things align with Jesus? Is it possible to seek them out and still abide in Christ and allow him to guide and direct your path?
When I was a kid running through the woods I wouldn’t seek out the thorns, I was just trying to get to where I wanted to go. It was only after I crashed into a thorny vine that I would know it was there.
For you and I it can be the exact same thing. We are boldly going where we think we should go only to look down and realize that we are entangled in thorns.
Take a look at the thorns holding you back. Make a concerted effort to rid yourself of these entanglements and stay firmly grafted into the true vine.
Let God sustain you in Christ and direct your growth. Let God prune you and trim away the dead branches that will no longer produce fruit. It may be painful at first, but it will help you get untangled and live the life that God is calling you to live.