Things That Strangle Us

One of the first blog posts I wrote back in March 2011 was titled Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads regarding a parable that Jesus told (“The Parable of the Sower” found in Matt. 13:1-23Mark 4:1-20Luke 8:4-15). It is about a sower (e.g., a farmer) who went out to sow his seeds, and as he sowed, some fell on the wayside and was trampled down and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because of lack of moisture and the scorching sun. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it. And some fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded up a crop a hundredfold. When He finished this parable, His closing statement was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

This morning I read a devotion by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled, “Things That Strangle Us,” regarding this same parable and I’d like to share it with you:

Things That Strangle Us

Mark 4

While reading through Mark’s Gospel recently, I was drawn into the scene of chapter 4. You remember, it’s that time Jesus sat down in a little boat by the seashore and talked about a farmer who dropped seeds into the dirt. Same seed, different soil, different results. Four to be exact.

Some seeds fell beside the road . . . the birds gobbled them up. A few seeds feel on rocky ground . . . the sun scorched the rootless growth, and they withered and died. Other seeds feel among thorns . . . which choked out the growth so severely there was no crop to harvest. Still other seeds feel into good soil . . . bumper crop. Then Jesus explained each point.

First, He said, the seed represents “the Word.” I believe we’re safe is saying that “the Word” refers to truth. God’s truth. Second, the different soils represent people’s varied responses to that “word.” All four “hear,” but not all reap a harvest. That’s significant. hearing guarantees nothing. Next, the results are directly related to the condition of the soil . . . not the quality of the seed. If you look closely, you’ll see that the first two groups lack roots. Only with the last two groups does Jesus mention fruit.

I think it’s obvious that the first two groups of people are without spiritual life. No roots, no fruit, no growth, no change whatsoever. The third group hears, but only the fourth group “hears the word and accepts it,” resulting in strong, healthy growth. It’s the third group that intrigues me. These people hear everything the fourth group hears. But those truths are not really accepted, allowed to take root, and grow. Instead, the thorns “choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.”

Thorns that choke? What are they? Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. They are “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19).

The term “worry” is derived from the old German word wurgen, which means “to choke.” By extension, the word came to denote “mental strangulation” and, finally, to describe the condition of being harassed with anxiety. Worry begins as a thin stream trickling through our minds. If entertained, it cuts a deeper channel into which other thoughts are drained.

But the third species of thorns is the killer: “the desire for other things.” It’s the picture of discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie “enough just isn’t enough.”

Jesus closed off His brief talk with that familiar line, “He who has ears, let him hear (Mark 4:9).

When the thorns of life scratch us, we need the pruning shears of the Word.

Source: Day by Day” by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 69
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

“Hearing guarantees nothing . . . .” That’s a frightening statement if we stop to consider what it is really saying. It means we either don’t believe what we hear in the first place (as in the case of the first two soils) or if we do believe, we don’t take it very seriously and let the “thorns”the world–dictate our lives (with it’s worries, cares, and desires, as well as the deceitfulness of money and what it can buy). I dare say very, very few of us today are among the fourth group–those who hear the Word and actually do what it says by living it out in our actions and attitudes on a daily basis.

Gossip, greed, getting over, getting more . . . and the pervasiveness of sexual immorality among Christians today is staggering (e.g., sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend and/or living together without marriage is not an option for Christians, nor is having sex with anyone we are not married to). Is anybody paying attention? And even if our “outward” appearance looks good to others, our thought life leaves much to be desired (e.g., bitterness, anger, lust, jealousy, envy, judging others, rivalry, etc.–we all know the list). Most of the time we don’t even try to live different lives from the rest of the world except on Sunday if we go to church at all.

And it’s all meaningless . . . .

Does anybody take the time to read the Bible to find out exactly how we are suppose to live? The New Testament is full of advice on how we are supposed to conduct ourselves in this life. If we are truly Christian, it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But we don’t want any restrictions on how we live our lives or how we spend our time and our money, yet everything that we own and everything that He has given to us in the way of talents and gifts belong to Him. None of it is truly “ours”–not if we are Christian. But we hang on to everything we have tightly and still want more. And we want the blessings of God without any obedience to how we should be living our lives. When was the last time we actually repented of anything?

As Dr. Swindoll mentioned in his devotion it’s the constant call of our own “discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie ‘enough just isn’t enough.'” And the love of money and wanting more, more, more of it is relentless in our society. The love of money has become such a cult in America that even family members will screw over other family members just to get more of it–friends, too.

We’ve left God in the dust except when we’re in church or when we are around others that we have to put on a good show for–but God isn’t fooled. We don’t like reading verses like Galatians 6:7-8 that clearly state, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” And ignoring them isn’t the answer, either.

If we read our Bible on a regular basis, do we read it with the intent of actually letting it sink in deep to change our thoughts and how we live our lives; to actually love God without using Him to try to get more of what we want? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Do we really believe that? James 1:22 admonishes us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The Message Bible states James 1:22-24 like this, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

Besides the love of money and materialism ingrained in us from our society, gossip is prolific in the church and it is deadly, but it’s one of our favorite past times. Gossip destroys people and many times the gossip is false and misleading. Does that matter to us? What if that gossip is about us? I bet it would matter then, right? God has a lot to say about gossip and none of it is good. Just go through the book of Proverbs and see how many verses relate directly to gossip and how deadly it is. God takes gossip very seriously. We, obviously, do not, and it is to our detriment. Here’s a link to a short article on gossip titled, What Does the Bible Say About Gossip?

I realize not everybody who calls themselves Christian conduct their lives as described above, but a great percentage of us fall under a fair amount of it nowadays. As much as I hate to say it, we are a greedy and gossipy bunch. And, if we don’t clean up our own house first how can we expect God to bless America again?

Have we learned absolutely nothing from the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament when they turned their backs on God and what happened to them over and over again when they refused to clean up their own lives? The Apostle Paul sent out a clear warning from Israel’s history (see I Cor. 10:1-13) about what happened to them when they fell into idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and grumbling as a reminder to us that it can happen again. Also, reading the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the minor prophets will give you a reality check if you need one. It’s the same today, folks. Nothing has changed–especially human nature.

Jesus came to set us free from all of this–free! But do we really want to be free?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1980) sung by Shirley Caesar (originally written and sung by Bob Dylan):

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