The second danger is that busyness can rob our hearts. The sower tossed his seed liberally. Some fell along the path and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly, only to wither away with the first scorching heat. And some fell among thorns which choked out its fragile life. There’s a definite progression in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:1-20). In some hearts, the word of God does nothing. Satan scoops it up as soon as it is sown. In other hearts, the word grows at first and then fades just as fast. Persecutions and trials put the would-be Christian out of commission. But in the third category of unsuccessful soil the word sinks in a little deeper. The plant spouts up, almost to the point of producing fruit. It looks a lot like good soil. New life seems to be taking root. Everything is on track for the harvest. Until the thorns come.
John Calvin says the human heart is “a thick forest of thorns.” Jesus names two in particular. The first he labels “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19). Do you know why retreats and mission trips and summer camps and Christian conferences are almost always good for your spiritual growth? Because you have to clear your schedule to do them. You get away. You set aside your normal insanity for a weekend and find the space to think, pray, and worship.
For most of us, it’s not heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It’s all the worries of life. You’ve got car repairs. Then your water heater goes out. The kids need to see a doctor. You haven’t done your taxes yet. Your checkbook isn’t balanced. You’re behind on thank you notes. You promised your mother you’d come over and fix faucet. You’re behind on wedding planning. Your boards are coming up. You have more applications to send out. Your dissertation is due. Your refrigerator is empty. Your lawn is too long. Your curtains don’t look right. Your washing machine keeps rattling. This is life for most of us and it’s choking the spiritual life out of us.
The second thorn is related to the first. Jesus says the work of the word is swallowed up by the desire for other things. It’s not that possessions themselves are to blame. The problem is with everything we do to take care of them and everything we do to get more of them. Is it any wonder that the most stressed out people on the planet live in the most affluent countries? Cottages, boats, campers, timeshares, investments, real estate, snow mobiles, new cars, new houses, new computers, new iStuff—they all take time. We’ve heard countless sermons warning us about the dangers of money. But the real danger comes after your spend the money. Once you own it you need to keep it clean, keep it working, and keep up with the latest improvements. If the worries of life don’t swamp us, the upkeep will.
Jesus knows what he’s talking about. As much as we must pray against the devil and pray for the persecuted church, in Jesus’ thinking the greater threat to the gospel is sheer exhaustion. Busyness kills more Christians than bullets. How many sermons are stripped of their power by lavish dinner preparations and professional football? How many moments of pain are wasted because we never sat still enough to learn from them? How many times of private and family worship have been crowded out by soccer and school projects? We need to guard our hearts. The seed of God’s word won’t grow to fruitfulness without pruning for rest, quiet, and calm.