Pruning our thorns

When studying the parable of the sower, we Christians understandably want to identify ourselves as the good soil. After all, so far as we can tell, we’re bearing fruit, we’re being as faithful to God as we know how to be, and we aren’t pursuing happiness the way the world tells us to. Doesn’t this make us the good soil?

Not necessarily.

My own experience leads me to suspect we all have at least a little thorny soil somewhere in our lives. Though we may not be chasing what the world urges us to, we’re still very wealthy compared to people in developing countries. To us, being rich may mean having multiple homes, fancy cars, private jets, yachts, and the ability to take great vacations ‘whenever’. Yet most of the world would consider themselves wealthy if they had what we have: homes with electricity, indoor plumbing, clean running water, and basic luxuries like TV and books.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that having any wealth automatically means we have thorny soil. I am, however, willing to say it can distract us from living as Jesus did—thereby allowing thorns to grow in our lives. To prevent this, we need a concrete picture of how Jesus would have lived, and the two passages that have been most helpful in giving me this picture are Ephesians 5:15-16 and 2 Peter 1:3-11. The first tells us we need to recognize time isn’t on our side when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission, and we therefore need to be careful about how we live to ensure we make the best possible use of the time we have. The second, meanwhile, shows us what this looks like: continually adding to our faith increasing amounts of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, with the promise that possessing these qualities in increasing measure will enable us to be productive and effective in our kingdom work.

That the Bible urges us to make the best use of our time is why I believe we need to constantly evaluate how we’re spending whatever time and money we have. Can we honestly say we’re “making every effort” to continually add the qualities from 2 Peter 1 to our lives… or are we more prone to spend our time on our own entertainment? We need to be honest with ourselves about this; the Bible warns that the last days will be filled with people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” as they love pleasure more than God (2 Tim 3:1-5). But what does this look like?

I think it looks like the life I once lived, in which I tithed, attended church, Sunday School, and midweek Bible study—and then counted the rest of my time and money as my own to do with as I pleased. Once I realized this could be the very lifestyle Paul had in mind when he penned his warning to Timothy, I got serious about finding and pruning the thorns out of my life. Not only did I drastically reduce the amount of time and money I spent on entertainment, but I sought to avoid anything glorifying sin. I then sought to grow in godliness by improving my prayer life and spending more time watching, reading, and listening to things that would help me become a more mature Christian. Though I’m sure I still have thorns in my life, I know from the way in which my life has changed that I’m making progress—thus, I believe, helping to confirm my calling and election.

Being in the world isn’t easy. We’re continually exposed to its lies about what will bring us happiness, and sometimes we listen. Fortunately, however, if we’re willing to constantly evaluate our lives, with God’s assistance, we’ll be able to keep uprooting the thorns and replace them with the only thing that can truly bring us joy and happiness: more of God himself. Then, when we meet Jesus face to face, we’ll be able to truly rejoice as he reveals how he used our lives to bear 60 or even 100 times what was originally sown.

By Nathan Dempsey

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