Spiritual Yard Work

(Soil of the Heart: Part Three)

My husband loathes weeds. He can work for hours pulling them up from the ground, but “those stinkin’ weeds” always return within days. And they don’t just return, they overtake the whole yard. Weeds always grow more quickly than the rest of the vegetation in our yard.

That’s why yard work never ceases to be a part of my husband’s regular home maintenance.

In the same way, yard work is also a necessary regular spiritual discipline.

Jesus said that the third type of ground that the seed of the Word fell on was a ground with thorns that “grew up with [the seed] and choked the plants.”

Jesus later explained that the thorns are our worries, riches, and pleasures.

The danger of these thorns was that they “grew up with [the seed] and choked the plants.”

As we are growing in truth, competing thorns are continuously fighting to rob the seed of nourishment and eventually sunlight, which is what chokes the seed and makes it ineffective.

What we love the most in our hearts is what we will feed the most. If our competing cares become overgrown, they will inevitably receive the nourishment of our attention and energy.

To prevent this from happening, we must completely uproot spiritual thorns. If we only grab them at the surface level, they, like my husband’s weeds, will inevitably return.

Uprooting thorns begins with honestly identifying them. How can we uproot something we refuse to acknowledge?

Our tendency is to dismiss all three types of thorns-worries, riches, and pleasures- in an effort to appear “spiritual.”

As I was preparing for this week’s blog (literally researching thorns), a link to Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this very topic serendipitously popped up. I highly suggest you read his entire sermon, "Sown Among Thorns".

My favorite point that he makes in his sermon is: “Thorns are natural to the soil. Since the fall, these are the firstborn children of the world. Grace is exotic; thorns are indigenous.”

We all have thorns in our hearts right now. They are indigenous, which means there is no reason for us to feel that we must hide them in order to be “spiritual.”

What makes us spiritual is not our lack of thorns, but our perseverance in uprooting them.

Some Christians are more willing to identify with worry because worry seems less “sinful” than the other two thorns. But Jesus’ statement communicates that it is not a lesser thorn; it is every bit as capable as the other two of choking the life out of us. Worry will consume our thoughts and make us too exhausted to engage in the Spirit’s work and power. Worry is a suffocating, all-consuming, draining weed of a sin. I know because I deal with it on a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily basis.

We all want to dismiss the argument that we love riches. However, the deceitfulness of riches is a thorn that is innate to us all. Riches can be deceitful because they give us a false sense of security, a posture of prideful self sufficiency, and a mind consumed with managing and keeping our money as safe as possible. Spurgeon says of riches, “Are you sure you do not love it? Your thoughts run a good deal after it. You hug it rather closely and you find it hard to part with.” If our thoughts are consumed with anything to do with money (how to keep it, how to multiply it, or how to spend it), it is a competing care, a thorn begging for all the nourishment of our attention and energy.

We definitely don’t want to admit pleasure thorns. The word pleasure alone has a certain lure to it, a sound so sinful that we fear any association to its mention. Pleasure itself is not sinful; it is a necessary, healthy part of life. We were meant to enjoy the gift of life we have been given. But pleasure must be kept in check so that it does not rule over our lives. Spurgeon said it this way, “Amusement should be used to do us good ‘like a medicine’; it must never be used as the food of an individual.”

We must consider whether a pleasure is a thorn based on the criteria of how much nourishment it requires of us. The difference between refreshing enjoyment and a thorn is the answer to the question, “Is it feeding your soul?”

“Pleasure,” Spurgeon says, “is the murderer of thought.” Our thoughts are usually one-dimensional. If our seeking of pleasure is excessive, then our mediating on God’s truth will be limited.

Hearts overrun with thorns will “bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). We might see sprouts, but they will disappear after a while. Our fruit will never be ripened if we leave our thorns unattended.

Unfortunately, there’s no cute Christian remedy for thorns. We have to engage in sweaty, exhausting, meticulous yard work.

We must get on our knees as we dig deeply, pulling and pleading with God to remove the thorns.

We must surround ourselves with the Word by putting it on notecards, on our playlists, and in our speech.

We must fast to prevent our soul from feasting on anything but the Word of God.

In the same way we have to dig deep so that the truth can develop roots, so we have to dig deep to let the truth uproot the competing cares of our hearts.

For me, uprooting happens far below the surface, in the deepest soil of my heart and mind, my subconscious.

Our subconscious is defined as, “of or concerning the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one's actions and feelings.”

We are usually not fully aware of our thorns, which means we must dedicate specific time and energy to become aware, digging to find its root.

We must go beyond the actual thorn itself to see where it finds its beginning, its anchoring in our souls. WHY is this worry, money, or pleasure a thorn? What is my behavior actually covering up?

For example, I’ve noticed that I will obsess over a worry and give all my energy to it instead of actually just saying out loud that I don’t fully trust God for it. But in reality, that is what is at the root.

And I’ve found that to uproot that worry, I have to begin praying to God with the prayer, “I don’t trust you in this area of my life.”

I know that sounds unspiritual, but we must start at truth. If God is ever going to do His work in us, we have to evaluate with painful honesty the current condition of our souls.

Spurgeon’s exhortation about uprooting thorns is brilliantly simple and powerful:

“Make a child's use of them [thorns]. What does a child do? If he gets a thorn in his finger, he looks at it, and cries. How it smarts! Then he runs off to his mother. That is one of the sweet uses of his adversity, it admits him to his mother at once. She might say, "What are you coming in for? Run about the garden." But he cries, "Please, mother, I've got a thorn in my finger." This is quite enough argument to secure him the best attention of the queen of the house. See how tenderly she takes out the little dagger! Let your cares drive you to God. I shall not mind if you have many of them if each one leads you to prayer. If every fret makes you lean more on the Beloved, it will be a benefit. Thus make good use of the thorns.”

It’s important to note that some thorns cannot be uprooted, no matter how desperately we pull or plead with God. Paul spoke to this when he shared about the “thorn in the flesh” that he pleaded with God three times to remove. And God’s answer was that “power is perfected in weakness.” Even a thorn in the flesh serves the purpose of keeping us humble and realistic about the struggle of sin in a fallen world. A thorn in the flesh keeps us going to God on a regular basis so that it does not become overgrown and therefore choke God’s Word in our lives.

No matter the situation, we are called to “make good use of the thorns,” letting them more deeply cultivate an awareness of our dependency on the grace of God.

Though painful, the process of uprooting always leads to fruit. When our weakness meets God’s power, spiritual growth happens. Life flows. Fruit appears. And God gets massive glory in our lives.

Father, Help me to see the thorns in my heart, the competing cares that must be uprooted for Your fruit to grow uninhibited. I lay my heart before Your presence now; search me and know me that I may see my thorns. Help me to know the way in which I should walk to uproot these thorns, specific disciplines I can display which will make Your Word fruitful in me. Thank you, Jesus, that you weren’t afraid to bear my thorns on Your head so that Your Spirit could come and uproot them in my heart. Thank you for exotic grace. May it ever be at work in me. Amen.