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.