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 (Manna 55: What Really Matters)
Overcoming Thorny Ground
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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.


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 from smooth:

            The days of our lives are seventy years;

            And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,

            Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;

            For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

            (Ps 90:10)

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 us.

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.


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 life.

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 (Rev 21:4).

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).


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 practice.

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 hope.

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.

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Author: Audrey Chan