[After a break of a few weeks, From the Archive Friday is back. We start the new year with a collection of articles written by Kristin Jack back in 2005. 2005 was designated the year of discipleship for Servants. Keep an eye out over the few weeks for the next two articles in the series.]
Recently I have been meditating a lot on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:1-15). It seems to me that this is a foundational parable for discipleship, one that we really need to understand if we want our lives to be fruitful for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, right in the middle of the parable, Jesus tells his disciples to listen carefully, for “to them the secrets of the Kingdom of God have been entrusted” (Luke 8:8b-10).
In this story, the seed being sown is always good, always of the best quality. It is God’s Word, and it comes to all of us.
The difference in the four soils is simply how they respond to that Word. The difference is in the character and responsiveness of the four soils. Every one of us falls into one of these four soil types. I suspect most of us fall into the third type – our lives a mixture of wheat and weeds – and are struggling to become the 4th type, the folk that produce fruit a hundred times more than was sown.
Jesus is pretty frank here about what stops us from living this productive, fruitful kind of life. We accept his Word into our hearts. We even treasure it, water it, and long for it to grow. But there’s a problem. It’s all a little bit crowded there inside our hearts. Sure, we’ve invited the Word in there to do its stuff, but it has to compete with a whole lot of other things that keep choking it out. It’s like a glass-house with really high quality tomatoes planted in it, but they have to compete with docks and thistles and crab-grass which are sucking the nutrients out of the soil and stealing all the sunlight. Come harvest (if there’s any at all), the tomatoes will be tiny, withered and few.
And what are these ‘weeds’ that are competing with the Word in our hearts? Again, Jesus doesn’t hold back from naming names. They are “worry, riches and pleasure” (Luke 8:14), or as Mark puts it “the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things” (Mark 4:19).
Elsewhere (Matthew 6:19-24), Jesus clearly tells us that there is only room in our hearts for one Lord: either God or money (and the things money can buy; together called ‘mammon’). Jesus is so up front about how toxic these competing ‘Lords’ are, it’s staggering that so that many Christians are still falling for health, wealth and prosperity ‘gospels’!
Now before you start jumping on my back about how unbalanced I am, let me acknowledge that wealth and pleasure do have their place in our lives. It’s just that that place must never become central, or part of our core motivation for living, or our raison d’etre.
You look puzzled!? But doesn’t Jesus want us to be happy?? Ah, no actually.
As you read through the Gospels you’ll see plenty of promises of joy, but none of happiness. And they are infinitely different things. Happiness comes from the Latin word hap, which means chance. Happiness is based on circumstances going well for us, things falling into place, the dice rolling luckily, our cards falling fortuitously. But what God promises us is far deeper than that.
Joy comes from knowing we are doing the right thing, from being who we were created to be and doing what we were created to do. Only the wealthy, healthy and well fed can know happiness. But even the poverty stricken and the persecuted can know joy (Matthew 5:3, 11).
Wealth and pleasure are at best tools we can use in the service of God and others. But such is their spiritual power, give them more space than that and they start to become idols and competing Lords. I’ve started referring to these ‘thorns’ (worry, wealth and pleasure) as ‘the three weeds that will choke Jesus out of your life’, just so I wont be so easily fooled by them.
Mirage is another word I like to use to keep these imposters in true perspective. When you were a kid, did you ever get fed those stories about rainbows having pots of gold at the end of them? That’s such an attractive little fable that I can remember a couple of times actually trying to find that gold! But it’s an extremely frustrating exercise. The closer you get to the rainbow, the further away the image retreats from you! It’s like that with all mirages actually – they look beautiful from a distance, but really have no substance you can grab hold of.
Happiness is a kind of rainbow. The harder you chase it, the further away it recedes. Real happiness (in its best sense) is always a by-product of something else we do, of being engaged in some purpose outside of or greater than ourselves.
The myth that ‘just a bit more money’ will make us happy is another huge lie many of us have swallowed. Recently I saw the results of a survey on life satisfaction that had been carried out in Australia, testing people’s self-perceptions against their incomes. One of the staggering findings was that over 20% of people pulling in 2 million dollars or more a year described themselves as “struggling” or “only just getting by”! How’s that for an example of the kind of deception that a mirage brings?
You see, part of the ‘deceitfulness of wealth’ is that it blinds us to how much we really have, and to how little the genuinely poor all around us don’t have. It makes us stingy, hoarders instead of givers. The whole advertising-marketing business is built on these deceptions:
(a) stir up in us needs that don’t really exist, and then
(b) sell us toys that claim to be able to fill the longing they’ve just created.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, 30,000 children starved to death today from lack of food, clean water and the most basic of medicines…