The Ground is the Heart: Thorny Ground Part 3

Mark 4:18-19 (NKJV) 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

We have been looking at the three divisions of the ground that Jesus said was full of thorns that choked the fruitfulness of the Word which was sown. The first two types of thorns were the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. The last of the thorns Jesus speaks of is the desire for other things. This might be the most dangerous of the thorns we must deal with. Today we have so many “other things” vying for our attention that it has become increasingly difficult to focus on a desire for the things of God.

Colossians 3:1-3 (NKJV) 1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Paul understood that there are many things that demand our attention in life. Some are necessary, some are important, and some are about pleasure. The key to walking in God’s blessing is balance. The most necessary thing in life is that we “seek those things which are above” and that we “set our minds” primarily on those things. This has always been difficult.

There are earthly things that are very important. We must not neglect our marriage or our family. The bible teaches this. We need to provide for our needs and fulfill the responsibilities of work that we have been assigned. These things can not be neglected. Nevertheless, they do not rise to the level of necessity that the things of God must occupy.

What about pleasure? I believe every human being needs pleasure. I do not think it would be so important to us if God had not designed it into our being. I believe God enjoys our pleasure. I believe it is his will for us to enjoy life. Look at Paul’s words to Timothy, his son in the faith.

1 Timothy 6:17 (NKJV) 17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.

We have already looked at this verse from the standpoint of dealing with the deceitfulness of riches but look at the last words in the verse. God gives us all things richly to enjoy. If he did not want us to enjoy life, why would he tell us that he gave us “all things richly to enjoy.” He did not just say we could enjoy “things.” He said we were free to richly enjoy everything God has placed in the world. That is powerful.

It goes without saying that things God defines as sin are not placed by God to be enjoyed. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23.) The devil is a master at making things that will destroy us look like pleasure. Indeed, there is pleasure in sin for a time but there is always a cost to sinful pleasure that we will not want to pay. Within the boundaries of what God establishes in his word as Godliness, there is a great deal of pleasure to be enjoyed.

This includes all the wonderful modern things we have at our disposal. Everything from movies and music to video games and sports, both as spectators and participants. Our access to all kinds and means of travel is something that to people even 100 to 150 years ago would have been unheard of. Most people never traveled 50 miles from there home in their lifetime. I just finished a vacation trip of some 3000 miles. I saw wonderful things and had a great time. My wife and I enjoyed every minute of it, and I believe God was pleased with our pleasure.

We must give time to the important things. I believe as much as we can, we must find pleasures to enrich our time on earth. I do not believe God expects us to live our lives in isolation or contemplation of his Word or in prayer alone. However, what is the balance we are striking? What amount of our time and energy is given to that which is important and to pleasure compared to the time we spend in that which is necessary to ensure our relationship with God? I think we must answer that question.

In Paul’s day, finding this balance was a problem. In our day it is one of the greatest challenges for anyone who lives in our modern world. I have traveled extensively, and I can tell you that there are many levels of modernity in the world. In places like the United States we have access to much more than most of the rest of the world. I have spent time in some places where there were none of the modern conveniences, we take for granted and even fewer of the pleasures.

When you have long days to spend with no TV, no internet, no games and none of the other distractions we find necessary for pleasure, it is much less difficult to find time for God. My second son, who is now the pastor of our church, spent a year in India when he was 18. That was in the early 90’s and there was much less western technology and influence there at that time particularly where he was living. He called home once and said to his Mom, “I’m really praying a lot because God is the only one around here who speaks English!”

I think this is such a graphic example of what we deal with. In talking about the trip later, we found that he did have times of pleasure. There were important things including ministry that he got done. However, there were so many fewer “other things” to take up his time that prayer was easier to make a priority. Many things were deposited in his life in that year which have proven important to him now.

It is not wrong to have pleasure. It is vital that we tend to the things that are important to our natural lives. When do these things become thorns that choke the word? There is a phrase at the end of verse 19 that applies to all three types of thorns, but I think other translations indicate that it really applies to the “lust for other things.” Jesus says that it is when they “enter in” that they become a problem.

When “other things” outside of our relationship with God become lusts, they get into our hearts and become more important than our relationship with God. A lust is any natural desire that becomes controlling. A lust enters into us to the point that we cannot do without it. It demands our time and our attention. We think about it all the time. We cannot keep a balance when a thing is a lust. Anything our flesh enjoys can become a lust. However, even dealing with the important things in life can be a controlling desire. Today we use the term “workaholic.” This describes someone who has allowed the important thing called work to become so controlling that they sacrifice many things to fill this need.

What is the balance? We must make a quality decision to “set our affection” on things above. That does not mean we become so focused on heaven we cannot live effectively on the earth. It does not mean that we never enjoy what life has to offer. It means that we cultivate an attitude that reminds us that true life is to know God. It means that we must remember that physical life is a fraction of the life we really have available to us. We have a glorious future in God’s eternal presence.

We need to do the important things life here demands. We need enjoyment and pleasure. God made us that way. However, we must remember that what we give our focus to which is of the flesh, lasts only as long as our flesh does. That which is of God is eternal. Make time for those things first. Be willing to sacrifice the pleasures of life and even the important things of the flesh to that which is eternal and see how much better the rest will be.

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The Ground is the Heart: Thorny Ground (Continued)

Mark 4:18-19 (NKJV) 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Last time we began looking at the third type of thorny ground in Mark 4. Remember, the seed is the Word of God and therefore is always good. The variable in this parable is the ground. If the seed finds good ground it grows and produces fruit. If it falls in bad ground it will not produce fruit. Thorny ground is ground where the seed takes root and produces a plant capable of fruit, but because it is growing among thorns, or we might say weeds, the life is drained away, so none useful develops. I believe this is where most faithful Christian people find themselves too often.

The first type of thorns Jesus speaks about are the cares of this world. We all face cares in life. Life is full of challenges, trials and disappointments. If we let them overwhelm us, they will choke the plant that the seed of the Word of God has produced in us. What should we do to keep the cares of this world from choking the Word? We take those cares to Jesus. We read what his Word says about God’s care for us. Matthew 6 is an excellent chapter to read when the cares of life start to overwhelm you. I especially like verses 31 and 32. Look at them again.

The second type of thorn we encounter is the deceitfulness of riches. One of the most complicated things for Christians to balance is the need for money. We all need it. We can think of it as a fleshly thing but if we are going to provide for our families, have enough for ourselves to live and preach the Gospel to the world, we need money. Jesus never says that having money is wrong. In Matthew chapter 6 before he tells us that God cares for us and will provide, he reveals one of the things we must not do if we are going to see that happen.

Matthew 6:24-25 (NKJV) 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Jesus is pointing to the same thorns that he says choke the Word in Mark 4. He tells us we cannot serve both God and mammon. Mammon is an interesting word. It carries two meanings. It means wealth personified and greed deified. When wealth becomes our identity or our goal in life, we are serving mammon and not God. When we make greed or the acquisition of wealth at any expense, a god we are serving mammon and not God. When we do either we are deceived by riches and that deception will choke the fruit of the Word of God in us.

How do riches deceive us? 1 Timothy chapter 6 is full of good counsel concerning our relationship with money or riches. It is here that Paul warns his son in the faith that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. One of the ways money deceives us is by making itself so important that we will compromise to get it. We think of the love of money as it applies to greedy, often wealthy people. We need to understand that any of us can be deceived in this way.

Financial pressure is one of the most powerful we face in life. That pressure can cause us to justify compromise or even sin when it comes to getting money we need. That kind of thinking will choke the fruit that God is trying to produce through the Word. As soon as this deception rises in your mind, repent. Cut it off and rebuke the devil and even your own flesh. Doing that will break this evil deception. Then go back to Matthew six and remind yourself that almighty God knows your need and he has promised to take care of you.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NKJV) 17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

This is the second way wealth deceives the believer. Paul tells Timothy to remind those that have money not to be proud and not to trust in “uncertain riches.” The world system, the devil and our own flesh tell us that riches will solve all our problems. The truth is that riches are always uncertain. All kinds of things can cause them to fail. Even millionaires and billionaires have been known to lose all their wealth and end up penniless. No matter what it looks like you cannot trust wealth to solve your problems.

The uncertainty of wealth manifests in other ways as well. You may have all the money in the world, only to find that the best medical treatment money can by will not heal you. You may have everything you could ever want and feel empty and be friendless. You find that wealth cannot buy you true love, true friends or the peace and joy promised by Jesus. The only “sure thing” in terms of a joyful and fulfilled life is a current and growing relationship with the Lord.

I read a quote by one of the richest men in the world some years ago. He grew up poor and worked hard. In his middle age he became very wealthy. Someone asked him how it felt to come from having nothing to having anything money could buy. His answer was, “Anyone who thinks money will make them happy has never had money.” What a powerful statement from someone many of us would like to be. That typifies the deceitfulness of riches.

God has so much more for you than what money or wealth can give you. Riches will deceive you into thinking that they will solve all your problems. They will not. It is uncertain what they will really do and how long they will last. One thing is not uncertain. Jesus and the Father both love you and they will meet the real needs of life.

Paul tells Timothy what to tell those that are rich in this world. I tend to think his advice applies to all of us. Especially those blessed enough to live in a place like the United States. He tells us to put away any kind of pride about what we have. We are no better than anyone else. The poorest pauper has the same access to God by faith as the wealthiest among us. We must trust in God for he is the one who gives us the power to obtain wealth in the first place. It is not our gifts, talents or any natural thing that brings wealth to us. God may use those things, but true wealth comes only from him (Deuteronomy 8:18.)

Then he gives us some practical things we can do to keep from being deceived by riches. We must be rich in good works. Sometimes when we have money, we think our giving alone is sufficient. It is not. We must get involved in the work of the Kingdom. We must be willing to “get our hands dirty” as it were. We need to give of ourselves and our time not just our money. This helps us understand the love God has for others and reminds us that “but for his grace” we would be in the same condition.

That said, if we have some money, we must be willing to give and ready to share. This does not apply only to those who have a great deal of money. It applies to all of us. There is nothing that breaks the deceitfulness of riches like giving. This is especially true when we give sacrificially. If we cultivate these things, riches will become a tool with which we can provide for our needs and our families. We will be able to use some of it to bring blessing and enjoyment to our lives without being confused by their true role in the heart of a believer. Finally, we will open a flood gate of provision for the building of the kingdom of God (Luke 6:38.)

The Ground is the Heart: Thorny Ground

Mark 4:18-19 (NKJV) 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

We have been looking at how the Bible teaches that a Christian should walk according to God’s ways. We have discovered that one of the most important things God has given us to accomplish this is the Word of God written in the Bible. Everything God intended a Christian to be is contained in the many seeds found in God’s Word. All that must happen is that the seed find good ground, be cultivated and allowed to grow to fruition. If it does, sin will not be a problem and the abundant life that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10 will be ours.

We have found a few things to be true. The seed of the Word is always good seed. It was designed by God to interact with the soil. It will produce what God sent it to produce (Isaiah 55:11.) The variable is the soil. The soil that the seed of God’s Word was designed to react with is the heart of man. If the heart is good ground, the Word “seed” will produce what God intends for it to produce in the believer’s life. The Greek word for salvation can be defined as all the blessings bestowed upon man in Christ. That is what is available if we plant the Word in our hearts when they are good ground.

There are two types of ground in Mark 4. There is good ground and bad ground. The bad ground is divided into 3 types. We have studied two. The first was pathway. This is ground that is hard. The Word may go forth to them but it does not penetrate. Satan steals the Word from this person before it can produce. The second was stony ground. This is ground that is shallow. The seed falls upon it and takes root quickly. It begins to grow but Jesus says it has no root in itself. When pressure comes the seed is easily plucked up and an offense is usually left behind. Both are incapable of producing fruit from the Word of God. We need to guard against these things.

The next type of bad ground is what we will call thorny ground. I find this to be the most common and the most tragic type of ground in this parable. It says that some of the seeds of God’s Word fall among thorns. These seeds do take root. The soil is good enough to growing a plant capable of producing the life God intended. The problem is not the soil itself. The problem is what else has been allowed to grow along with the Word.

I choose to believe that most Christians try to be good ground for God’s Word. They go to church. They read their bible. They do some study at least. They pray and try to live according to what they hear. The problem is that there are so many other things in their life that produce plants that are not from Bible seeds. They come from the seeds that the world brings. They may be found in entertainment or education. They may be part of our culture or our life experience. Wherever they come from, they produce plants that are not part of what God’s Word is trying to do in us.

The result is that these plants begin to crowd out the Bible plants. They take our time and our attentions. They drain our “soil” of its ability to produce. The Word plant grows, but it does not produce fruit. We see this in the natural all the time.

I lived in a house once that had a grape vine growing up one side. It was a very large vine. It had plenty of leaves. It had fully developed branches and bark. It even produced grapes but they could not mature. They would be very small and green. Instead of growing in size and ripening to the dark purple color this species was supposed to have, they just withered away and died. It was a grape vine. It produced grapes but those grapes produced no usable nutrition. What was the problem.

Although the vine grew up the house there were many other plants growing around the bottom. They were weeds of various types. They took some of the nutrition away from the grape vine. As a result, although it was a mature and functioning vine, it could produce no fruit. I was young and had no interest in cultivating the vine. In retrospect I wish I had learned what to do. I love the particular kind of grape the vine would have produced but I never tasted a one because I allowed the ground to remain thorny ground.

It is not realistic to think we will never have seeds that are fleshly and worldly coming into the ground of our hearts. Some things we need to have such as a good education. Everyone needs some kind of entertainment and distraction in life. However, the question is priority and quantity. What priority to we give to the thorns in life. What quantity of “flesh” seeds do we sow compared to the quantity of Bible seeds. Which seeds do we spend the most time and effort cultivating? The answer to that question will tell you whether the fruit of God’s word is flourishing or being choked out by things that bring far less benefit.

Although there are all kinds of thorns that may get into our ground, this parable highlights three in particular. The first are the cares of this world. We live in a world full of pressure. We need many things to survive. We want to see our families prosper and our children have better lives than we did. We want to live lives that are fulfilling and matter. All of these very natural and needful things produce care.

According to Vines Expository Dictionary this word means to draw in different directions, distract,” hence signifies “that which causes this, a care, especially an anxious care.” To me this sounds a great deal like what we today call stress. When things like this overwhelm us, we are overcome by the “cares of this world.”

When this happens, those cares take root in our ground. They begin to produce plants of worry and fear. These fear and worry plants tend to take the life from the plants produced by the seeds of the Word of God. If we are not careful, we will have “Word” plants ready to produce, but they will not because the life has been robbed from them by the “cares of this world.”

What should we do about this? One thing that will not help is for us to feel condemned because we have cares. Everyone has cares. We all worry at times. That is just a natural byproduct of life. However, there is a solution. Jesus gives us some insights in Matthew 6.

Matthew 6:31-34 (NKJV) 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

When the cares of this world produce plants that choke out the life of the Word of God, the solution is to turn right back to it! The Word has the power to replace the fear and worry plants with plants grounded in the love and care God has for us. Meditate on this scripture. The more you realize that God loves you and knows what you need, the more you will see the “care and worry” plants wither and fade away. As that happens, the seeds of life in God’s word will produce the abundant life Jesus wants for us all to enjoy.

We will look at the other two types of thorny ground the next time. For now, let the words from Matthew 6 sink in. Look a few versus back in this chapter and you will find that worry does not Work. Faith in God does work. You do not have to carry the “cares of this world.” Give them to Jesus. He will help you walk above them and bring real help to you for the real problems you face.