In her book “Allowing God to Change Us from the Inside Out” Joanna Weaver has this short story to illustrate a point about the need to protect and guard our hearts. She writes:
The quaint little village lay nestled high in the Austrian Alps. Surrounded by emerald forests and alpine peaks, it had become a favourite of tourists wanting to escape city life. Located in the centre of town was a glistening pond fed by a stream that wound down from the mountains high above.
Each summer, beautiful white swans floated across its sparkling depths as townsfolk and visitors sat on its grassy banks. The whole place was a paradise, some said. Absolute paradise. But one evening, as the town council met to review its budget, one member pointed to an expense no one had noticed before.
“Keeper of the Spring”, the line read.
“What’s that?”, he asked.
“Just an old man who lives up the mountain,” another answered. “Not quite sure what he does. Something to do with the spring and the city’s water supply.”
Perhaps this was an area where they could save money, they reasoned. And so they sent word that the old man’s services would no longer be needed.
At first, nothing seemed to change. The pond was not quite as clear as it had been but no one really noticed. But by the following spring when the swans didn’t return, several commented. Others wandered about the yellowish brown tint of water and the odor that wafted up when the weather was just right. Tourist reservations lagged and the town contemplated a national ad campaign. But no one thought anything about the old man on the mountain – until the day a curious few hiked up to the source of the spring.
Along the way they noticed rocks and debris blocking the waters flow but the real problem lay at the spring itself. Its once bubbling depths were now still and dark, clogged with rotting leaves and forest litter – the very things the old man had spent his summers working so faithfully to remove. And that’s when everyone realized. No one was more important to the town than the Keeper of the Spring.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Solomon likened our hearts to a spring. From it are the motives, emotions and attitudes that flow out and drive our words and our actions. Just as debris caused the waters coming from the spring to pollute its purity the same can happen to our own hearts.
In this blog I would like to look at how we can guard our hearts to ensure our words and our actions are pure? What are the rocks and debris that can pollute the wellspring of our heart? And what can we do to stop our hearts from being polluted by these things?
The things that can pollute our hearts are referred to as thorns in the parable of the sower. Jesus highlighted 3 things in particular that can choke our spiritual life and make us unfruitful.
Over in Mark 4:18-19 we read:
“Now these are the ones sown among thorns, they are the ones that hear the word and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.”
In order to become unfruitful he must have at one time been fruitful. Here is someone who has actually begun to bear fruit as a result of God’s word. He has made spiritual progress. He may have been in the church for many, many years and may be looked on as a pillar in the church but at some point in time thorns creeps in and choke him spirituality.
In Mark’s account of the parable Jesus highlights three things as thorns that choke the word:
1) the cares of this world
2) the deceitfulness of riches and
3) the lusts of other things.
Now the first thorn described here, the cares of this world, is not sinful by and of itself. We all have to invest so much of our time in jobs and businesses in order to put food on the table, clothe ourselves and our families and pay our bills.
The cares of this world are not wrong by and of themselves. It’s when we allow those things to crowd out our time for God that we miss the mark. How does this happen? I ran across this short story that does a great job illustrating how. It’s called Satan’s definition of Busy about a hypothetical convention of Satan and his demons wondering how they can weaken the church. It goes like this:
Satan called a worldwide convention. In his opening address to his evil angels, he said, “We can’t keep the Christians from going to church but we can keep them from reading their Bibles and we can stop them from having intimacy with God. If they gain that connection with God, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, but let’s steal their time, so they can’t gain that intimacy with God. This is what I want you to do angels: Distract them so they don’t develop that intimacy with God”.
“How shall we do this?” shouted his angels.
“Keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and come up with endless ways to occupy their minds. Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6 – 7 days a week, 10 – 12 hours a day, so they can afford their lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their family fragments, soon, their home will offer no escape from the pressures of work.”
“Over stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear that still small voice. Entice them to play the radio or mp3 player whenever they drive. Keep the TV, DVD player and their computers going constantly in their homes. Keep them scrolling endlessly on their iphones. Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day. Flood their mailboxes with junk mail.
“Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Don’t let them go out in nature to reflect on God’s wonders. Send them to amusement parks, sporting events, concerts and movies instead. And when they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled consciences and unsettled emotion.”
It was quite a convention in the end. And the evil angels went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get busy, busy, busy and rush here and there. Has the devil been successful at his scheme? You be the JUDGE.
Jesus summed up the way we should prioritise our time and our life in Matthew 6:33 where when He said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”
When we do our annual stocktake of our spiritual lives we should do a stocktake of how we spend our time. If time for prayer and study and praticising good deeds toward others is being crowded out of our lives we need to find out those things which are consuming our time. What is absolutely necessary and what isn’t necessary and how do we make time to better focus on the things of God?
The use of the word “cares” implies anxiety. On page 27 of the United Church of God booklet “The Fruit of the Spirit” it says:
These verses point to several distractions. One is … being too busy — having too many irons in the fire. Another is a complicated life that needs to be simplified. Another is worries that need to be replaced by trust in God.
The next two things Jesus points out as thorns, unlike the cares of this world, are actually sinful – the deceitfulness of riches (or materialism) and the lust for other things (or sensualism).
The person caught up in the deceitfulness of riches is wrapped up in maintaining his status and acquiring possessions which consume his interest, time and energy. He has no time for God. He is too busy serving himself. Material things are more important than spiritual matters. The way of covetousness is a violation of the tenth commandment and will inevitably destroy our relationship with God if not rooted out of our hearts.
I’ve heard a few stories of people in the church who got caught up in the desire for more and more, be it a bigger house or car or making great wealth to the point that it was choking their spiritual life to being merely a form of religion without any true substance.
Over in Mark 8:36 Jesus showed how foolish the pursuit for riches above all else really is if you’d like to turn there. Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
The last thorn that Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower is the lust of other things. The deceitfulness of riches is the lust for money and wealth but there are many other things we can lust for.
Lust is excessive desire or desire for things which are forbidden by God. We live in an age of addiction where the temptations that can lead people down the path the path of addiction are arguably the strongest in man’s history.
Lusting for things such as alcohol, gambling, cigarettes, drugs and pornography or anything else addictive can quickly develop into a deadly addiction that can choke our spiritual lives and we will need to take drastic steps to root them out if they gain a foothold in our lives.
Jesus talked about the need for such drastic measures over in Matthew 5:29-30:
“And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell. And if your right hand offends you, cut it off and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell.”
Jesus was using a metaphor here. He wasn’t saying literally cut out your eye or your hand as it is the mind that chooses to sin, not our eyes or our hands. What He was saying is that a casual approach simply won’t cut it to conquer such powerful sins. Serious drastic action will be needed to root out such evil sins out of out heart if they ever gain any kind of foothold in our life.
Just like the “Keeper of the Spring” we need to guard our hearts against the debris that can pollute our hearts and block the time and energy that we invest in our relationships with God and one another. Let’s be on guard against the cares of this world the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things. As Solomon said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”