Part three of the four-part series by Major Mat Badger looks at the seed amongst thorns from the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3, 7, 22). (Read Part One, Part Two)
Sometimes I feel as if I’m pulled in so many wrong directions. Unfortunately, my affections can be easily influenced by what I see. And in a digital world, this can be dangerous. If I’m not careful, things can grow out of perspective, become toxic, and it can become hard to guard my heart.
After addressing the issues of confusion and persecution in the first two parts of this parable, Jesus moved on to address the issue of where we place our attention—the things that we focus on.
‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed … other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.’
Jesus then disclosed to his disciples in private the true meaning of these words: ‘The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.’
The use of thorns here invokes a powerful image that would have related well to Jesus’ first-century audience. The implication is that someone initially hears the truth of the kingdom and resolves to become a Christ-follower. But over time these metaphoric thorns slowly grow and choke the believer, who loses focus and is pierced with deception. The ‘choking’ process is not instant but gradual, like the growth rate of thorns—a slow, insidious creep that penetrates the human heart.
You are what you … think
This parable centres around the question of our attention and where we place it. Psychologist Jordan Peterson writes that our thoughts will ultimately direct the course of our lives. ‘People tend to base their day-to-day actions on what they choose to think about in the moment and over longer periods of time.’ This is also what Jesus was alluding to. Put simply, our lives will become what we predominantly meditate on.
Jesus makes it clear that these briars take two forms and both lead to an unfruitful life for the kingdom. The first form of choking happens when a Christ-follower becomes entirely consumed with the worries of this life. Vexation can take many forms. We can all look at the news and see that the world is a mess. Our personal circumstances can also contribute to our apprehensions—sickness, loss of a job, relationship breakdowns or death of a loved one are all examples.
Additionally, we can unintentionally impose worries of this life on ourselves, particularly if we look at the way some people portray their lives online or in the media. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we’re not good enough or successful enough. Researchers say that it is one of the contributors to the poor mental health epidemic that we currently face in New Zealand. This is not surprising when people globally, according to Broadband Search, currently spend an average of two hours and twenty-seven minutes on social media platforms every day. Comparison can take us to a dark space mentally, which robs us of our joy (a byproduct of the kingdom), and we lose sight of our true purpose. We can begin to lose our identity and fall into the trap of placing our worth in other people’s hands, instead of remembering it’s what God thinks about us that is the most important. Therefore, it is important not to compare ourselves with other people. This very principle is found at the heart of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) when we are told not to desire anything that belongs to our neighbour.
The second form of metaphoric choking, according to Jesus, is the deceitfulness of wealth. We live in a society consumed by materialism. Everywhere we look, advertising reinforces this, whether it’s the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we live in or items that are nice to have but we don’t really need—such is the power of advertising!
Sadly, some parts of the Church too can be guilty of teaching an unhelpful prosperity doctrine. The prosperity gospel is a form of the message of the kingdom filled with error. As Erik Raymond writes in his blog: ‘Prosperity thinking has subtly lulled us to sleep dreaming solely of sunsets, success, and self-fulfilment … the prosperity gospel has gone viral, and the worst part is, many of us don’t even realise it.’
People who come to Christ under the prosperity doctrine do so out of what God can do for them—how God can benefit them materially. This gospel taps into sinful human nature. However, people who come to Christ through the true full gospel as taught by Jesus and the apostles do so in gratitude, and begin to ask the question: ‘What can I do for God?’
There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, but it can be tricky if we value money and possessions over our relationship with God. Wealth can lead to self-sufficiency rather than dependence on God. This is the trap the Parable of the Sower is warning us about. The danger is that someone who is consumed with getting rich could eventually be consumed by their wealth.
Jesus, in another context, explained that the obsessive pursuit of riches is the direct opposite of being a disciple, ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8:36). At all costs we must guard our hearts against the spiritual minefield associated with money and possessions. According to Jesus, having material wealth and being a Christ-follower is a call to generosity. That’s why he challenged the opulence of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21. When Jesus said to him ‘…if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’.
Cultivating authentic faith
A subtle insight in this parable is the idea of what we see versus what we hear. Often, temptation in life comes from what we see—whether it’s looking at who other people are, what they have, or things we see in the world around us—this can lead to a warped ungodly perspective. In contrast to this, according to Jesus, the secret to healthy, authentic faith is all about what we hear. As believers, we are to hear the Word and allow it to shape our lives.
The most practical way of keeping a kingdom perspective can be found in Romans 12:2 (NLT): ‘Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect’.
If you want to know what God’s will is for your life then you need to spend time with him. The best way to do this is through prayer, reading the Bible, developing other spiritual disciplines and rhythms, and spending time with like-minded people. Of course, to keep a kingdom perspective you also need to be out in the world prayerfully searching for where God is already working and align yourself accordingly.
If you want to cautiously navigate the minefield of deception and cultivate a kingdom perspective, then you need to focus on God, make sure you have a good understanding of the full gospel, and prayerfully seek out his plan for the world through you every day.