Every now and then it hits me: there are thorns growing in the garden of my life. Thorns that threaten to choke out gospel life, the life of Jesus within. St. Mark tells us that some of these thorns are the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for things other than Jesus and his life.
Worries of this life. These can be terrifying days with wars, rumors of war, hate, sickness, family problems, unemployment, and lack of money to make ends meet. We are tempted to allow these concerns to consume us, to become idols that control us. Worry (the cares of this life) feeds our fears and if we don't cut it off, it becomes a powerful force that chokes off God's life in us. It chokes out the gospel. We start to believe our worries are accurate reflections of reality and we bow to them instead of to God. Our eyes become paralyzed. They become laser-focused on our trials and can't move instead focusing on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Like Peter, we sink.
This is when we need to turn to Scripture and prayer and to the community of believers so that they can speak truth to us. However, let me not limit truth telling to these avenues. Reading all sorts of literature including stories of saints who have overcome trials can encourage us. But let us cling to God and his word so that our minds will be transformed--because his word cuts deep into us and sets things right (Hebrews 4:12).
When I feel especially overwhelmed, when I worry there is no way out, I think about the Israelites with their backs up against the wall. Pharaoh's army is behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. At that time God did the unimaginable, the unthinkable. He made a way through the sea back then and he does the same for us today. Can you remember a time when God rescued you from a difficult situation even if it was internal?
When I feel trapped, my mind turns to the question God asks in Jeremiah 32:27, "I am the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me?" I know he is directing that question to me. I have to answer. Eventually, I have to say, "No, Lord there is nothing that is too hard for you, not even this situation." And so again, I place my trust in the goodness of God (note: placing my trust in God doesn't always happen in an instant. It can be a struggle, but these are things I think about when I am in a difficult situation.)
The Deceitfulness of Riches. We are all tempted to find our security in money instead of God. Jesus said we must choose whether or not we will serve God or money. "If I just have all my school loans paid off and am debt free, I will have peace." "If I just had a better job and got paid more money, I would have no need for anything else." We are deceived into thinking money will provide security. Think of the rich celebrities in our culture; many are tormented even though they are swimming in money. Allowing money or the lack of it to become an idol leads to self-deception and to the gospel being choked out in our lives. We must learn that we cannot find our security in money and instead trust in God who provides what we need.
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
You can be poor with money as an idol or rich with money as an idol. But let us remember what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6:32, "Your heavenly Father knows what you have need of."
The Desire For Other Things. As I alluded to in other posts, our desires for other things can choke out the gospel. We become selfish and self-centered. For example, we're in ministry and it starts becoming about us instead of God. Somehow in the process, we've lost our first love. We are more focused on our own notoriety and the largeness of our ministry rather than God. Somehow we kid ourselves into thinking we are living for God when really we are living to promote ourselves or to get a nice paycheck. We chase success (spiritual even) instead of God. We enthrone educational degrees, relationships, or a perfect body. These desires for other things choke out the gospel. But what does God say? To love him with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and of course, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What is choking the Jesus Life in us?