Overcoming Thorny Ground
Audrey Chan—Leicester, UK
You know the saying: when it
rains, it pours. This describes well the fortnight I have just been through.
Nothing overly serious, just irksome issues which came, one after another.
Firstly, strong winds brought down
some fence panels in our back garden, and then some guttering on the front of
the house came loose, making the rainwater gush down the brickwork. Next, the
windscreen wipers on my old car stopped working in the middle of a rainy
journey. Finally, I had troublesome dealings with a local garage, trying to
sort out the last problem. In the end, I decided it was too costly to fix the
car and started looking for a new one.
The search for a new car turned
out to be a worse ordeal than all the aforementioned mishaps. The problem is, I
like to make informed choices, and with the major purchase of a car, finding
the right one became something of a mission. So, for the best part of a week, I
looked through car magazines, did research on the
Internet, compared specifications and prices, and haggled with car dealerships
for the best deals.
This all affected me in a number
of ways, and none positively. Most of my time and energy was channeled into
finding the right car, feeling sorry for myself for having a hard time, and
weighing the value of different courses of action.
It all had a detrimental impact on
my service to God. I had promised to do some writing for the church that week,
but I could not concentrate. All that I could think about was sorting out the car.
I had no room left for God’s work: no inspiration, no enthusiasm, no energy.
CHOKED BY THE CARES OF LIFE
I expect that most people can
relate to the above scenario. After all, we all have the cares of life to
contend with. Sometimes our problems rotate: one week, it might be finances;
another week, it might be health issues, our children, relationships, or work
pressures. Other times, they come all at once.
The issue is that we need our
lives to run smoothly. There are often not enough hours in the day at the best
of times, and one hiccup can throw our lives out of sync. But we should not be
surprised when there are setbacks, as the Bible reminds us that life is far
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
In the parable of the sower (Mk 4:3-20), Jesus spoke of seeds sown on thorny
ground, which choked the growing plants. He explained:
“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they
are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this
world…choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mk 4:18, 19)
As human beings, we have
limitations. We can only concentrate properly on one thing at a time. So when
we give our attention to one thing, it is at the expense of something else.
This means that when we focus on the matters of our everyday lives, we have
less attention and time for God. Worse, the cares of life have the potential to
drain us of our spiritual well-being. God’s words cannot grow and bear fruit in
In my situation, they left me
feeling stressed, tired, and spiritually low. I had nothing left to give to
God. Any capacity for bearing fruit had been well and truly choked out of me.
I am reminded at times like these
that we need to reflect on what we should do to stop ourselves from being
overwhelmed by the cares of life.
GIVING THANKS TO GOD
An all too easy reaction to life’s
problems is to grumble. We probably know the experience: we start by feeling
sorry for ourselves, then we grumble about our predicament, and we subsequently
may end up distancing ourselves from God.
It is reminiscent of the behavior
of the Israelites in the wilderness when they complained about the unvarying
supply of manna and water that did not arrive fast enough for their liking (Ex
14:11, 12, 15:24, 16:2, 3, 17:3; Num 11:4-6). God was personally taking care of
the Israelites and only expected faith and submission in return, but it was not
good enough for the demanding people.
From the Bible, we understand that
God does not like complaining. It signals ingratitude and insubordination. By
grumbling, we are indicating that we are unhappy with God’s arrangements, that
we feel that His love and care are insufficient, and that we deserve more. What
was the outcome for the Israelites? Well, those who grumbled were destroyed
(Num 11:1, 33; 1 Cor 10:10). So grumblers beware!
The antidote to grumbling is
thanksgiving. The Bible reminds us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the
will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).
In fact, gratitude towards God is positively beneficial to our spiritual
well-being. It lifts us onto higher plains.
We need, then, to condition our
mindsets, to make a consistent habit of remembering God’s grace and
providential care, and of articulating our thanks to Him for giving us life,
shelter, food, clothing, and much more. “More” is the fact that we have
salvation because God sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to die for us (Jn 3:16). When we constantly recall this, we will not dare
to complain, because we realize that God has given us His all. We will learn to
walk humbly and meekly with Him, because we appreciate the greatness of His
love and grace, given that we have done nothing to deserve them.
Thanksgiving comes when we learn
to face reality. In the comfortable lives that most of us lead, our
expectations can be quite high. We expect lives with the minimum of hiccups,
or, in my case, no hiccups at all.
Yet, we forget that we live in a fallen
world, one that is far from perfect because sin has entered into it (Rom 5:12).
Perfection can only be found in heaven. And so, we should not be surprised when
we meet with problems, illnesses, or trials. These are all part and parcel of
As Christians, we need to ask God
for the strength to face up to them. They will teach us that this world is not
our home and that we should not place our hope in it. Rather, there is
somewhere far better that awaits us—a place where there is no sorrow or tears
Thanksgiving also comes from
putting things into perspective. Some things are frankly not worth getting so
upset about. In my case, they include fallen fences, loose guttering, and a
broken-down car. When I compare them to the greater challenges faced by many
other brethren—such as serious illnesses or persecution—my problems pale in
comparison. In fact, they become nothing at all.
We need to remember that all these
things, big and small, will one day pass. If this were all that there was to life,
then we would have reason to worry and complain. But as Christians, we have a
wonderful heavenly hope (1 Pet 1:3, 4).
CASTING OUR CARES ON THE LORD
Christians are not exempt from the
trials of life, but we can take heart from the fact that the Lord understands
our struggles (Heb 4:15). He invites us to come before Him, to His throne of
grace, to receive help in the time of need through prayer. This is a special
blessing and grace given to us as Christians.
Sometimes though, we complicate
things by speculating on what we can or cannot share with God. For example, we
may think that we should only pray for spiritual matters and may even feel
guilty for raising mundane issues. Yet, prayer should not be complicated, for
the Bible simply teaches us,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by
prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…(Phil 4:6)
And when we pray in the Spirit,
the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God and comforts us.
Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our
weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the
Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings
which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of
the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the
will of God. (Rom 8:26, 27)
When we think about it, prayer is
really a lesson in faith. Through it, we learn to communicate our worries to
God and to let go of them. It requires our belief that He has heard us, that He
loves us, and that He will do what is best for us. We do not need to anticipate
what God will or will not do—we should leave it to Him. Sometimes, this takes
I remember hearing, years ago, an
anecdote from the pulpit about a weary traveler who was struggling with his
journey home on account of the heavy load he was carrying. Still, when he
managed to get a ride, he persisted in carrying his baggage. This story
produced some knowing chuckles from the congregation because it brought to mind
our own human foibles.
The fact is, when we pray to God,
we are often like the traveler who continues to hold on tightly to his burdens,
afraid to let go even when we are offered respite. Elder Peter tells us the
remedy: “[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). So
we not only need to communicate our cares to God but also need to cast them
upon Him, that is, to leave them in His capable hands. And when we do, we will
have the chance to discover how amazing He is…
Returning to my earlier
predicament, I finally negotiated the purchase of a new car with a dealership
and was ready to trade in the old one. The collection day was the following
Wednesday. The only remaining problem was a spate of bad weather. I was
wondering how I was going to drive the old car with windscreen wipers that no
longer worked to the car dealership some sixteen miles away.
The five-day weather reports on
the Internet indicated increasingly bad weather, with rain forecasted for that
Wednesday and Thursday. I dithered about canceling the appointment but was in
no position to offer a suitable alternative date.
Despondent, I phoned my husband,
who was in Scotland at the time. His advice was to pray for good weather. I was
not sure about this—surely God was not at my beck and call to sort out
something as trivial as the weather! But he reminded me that, while God was not
at my beck and call, He is our heavenly Father. And so, armed with this
thought, I briefed my two sons that night to help pray for good weather.
The next day I checked the weather
report again. When I logged onto the web page, I laughed out loud. There, right
in the middle of the week, on that vexing Wednesday, was a bright yellow sun
symbol! I was astounded and humbled by God’s graciousness.
Praise God, the sun was indeed
shining when I went to collect the car. And it duly rained the following day. I
will never forget that God is our heavenly Father who knows our hearts and
understands our problems. Best of all, my children learned another wonderful lesson
about the power of prayer.
Life is full of trials, great and
small. They teach us to remember God’s grace and to give thanks for all that is
good. They also teach us perspective—that there are some things not so
important in the scheme of things. However vexing and worrying our earthly
worries may be, they will all pass. What is important
is that we focus on God and rejoice in the knowledge of our future heavenly
As Christians, we have the
privilege of being able to entrust our cares to God through prayer. Better
still, we can ask Him for strength to lead a triumphant life, one in which we
can overcome the thorns in the ground. Then, one day, when we have received our
heavenly reward, we will be able to look back and realize that the thorns were
really nothing after all.