“How, exactly, can you break a bone pulling weeds?” That’s what someone asked me a few summers ago after I described my yard drama. I wanted to save the lovely, fragrant viburnum we had planted outside our bedroom window from an aggressive weed-like shrub interloper. Not being much of a gardener, and, in hindsight, vastly underestimating its roots, I thought I could pull it up by squatting and yanking. But the harder I pulled, the more I compressed my knees against my rib cage. Crack!
The effort and pain involved in eradicating those stubborn roots is such an apt description of our spiritual lives. Most of us know what it’s like to underestimate the roots we’re dealing with, implement an inadequate approach, and suffer a few cracked ribs, metaphorically speaking.
Thankfully, God’s Word gives us the wisdom to be on guard against three main things that choke our ability to grow and bear mature fruit. Take a look at just one verse from the parable of the four soils.
“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Let’s take choking’s fearsome threesome — cares, riches, and the pleasures of life — one at a time.
Cares — These are choppy waters to navigate. When we’re burdened with cares, it’s good and right to pour out our hearts to the Lord, to feel his comfort, to ask for help, and to sense his direction. Often, though, intense suffering causes us to stop trusting him. We don’t believe he could have good purposes and come to resent his mysterious ways. Clinging to the thing we’ve lost, and valuing it more than the growth God has in mind, we slide into the ditch of bitterness or the ditch of despair — two places where fruit doesn’t mature. What’s even worse is when we turn away from the Lord and turn to savior-substitutes. This is fertile ground for strong, stubborn weeds like gluttony, drunkenness, and other kinds of substance abuse.
Riches — Rust is real. Jesus warned us that moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. When that happens, let the frustration of replacing expensive things show you the futility of storing up for yourselves treasures on earth. Vow instead to make a priority of bearing fruit; it’s such a happy preoccupation that it acts as a safeguard against materialism. Moreover, there’s great joy of knowing that we’re storing up imperishable treasures in heaven — and that flows out of us in winsomeness — making spiritual maturity in Christ attractive to others.
The pleasures of life — What if we were able to see a pie-chart that compared our time spent entertaining ourselves to time spent bearing fruit for the kingdom of God? If this life were all there was, I can only imagine how much attention I’d devote to planning my next vacation, my next big purchase, my next great diversion. But it’s not. Even though God has created all things for us to enjoy, I need to remember that my true citizenship is in heaven. When I do, I’m much less likely to let pleasure-seeking choke out fruitfulness.
Let’s ask the Lord to protect us from the things that would choke our fruitfulness. Let’s ask him to make us good soil — one who “hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 12:23).
A hundredfold yield! Give a thumbs up if you want to swing for the fences!