The American Dream: Living Among the Thorns

Why are we so busy in our minds?  Why do we feel we need to figure things out and make sense of a senseless world?  If you don’t know it by now, your mind is broken; it has been trained to focus on self and how self fits into a strange world.  How things affect you and what you think about things going on around you is what makes you who you are.  What is entertainment?  Is it not a way to occupy your mind, heart and soul; a way to fill the hours of a day with activity?  Maybe you aren’t aware of this fact:  what you dwell on and think of will eventually make its way into your actions.  All good and bad thoughts become manifest eventually if you allow them to.  Before  you “do” anything, you usually have “thought” about it!  Sometimes we react to situations, but even then we have trained ourselves by our thoughts as to how we would or could react to certain situations.  If you are angry for too long, violence erupts; if you are worried for too long, withdrawal sweeps over us; if you are self-consumed in your thoughts, selfish actions emerge.  On and on it goes.  Are we really that important that we should spend so much time on ourselves?  We are obsessed.

But, believe it or not, there is a good reason for the way our minds work regardless of how broken and warped they have become.  We spend most of our time inward, and then live out loud.  You are inevitably trapped and stuck with “you”.  Did you know that this doesn’t have to be the case?  I know it is hard to imagine, but let’s think about this for a minute.  Do you remember when you first fell in love?  Did not that person you fell in love with become your consuming thought?  You would imagine what it was like to be with that person when you weren’t together.  You could think of nothing else but that person when you were together or apart.  Love does that type of thing to us for a while, but over time human love becomes selfish.  What that person can do for us, what that person isn’t doing for us, how that person makes me feel, what I need from that person, etc.  You know it’s true.  By the way, in order to understand these truths, you have to be honest with yourself; so, if you are living in the illusion that either you can hide from yourself or redefine who you are by yourself then this won’t make sense.  But, if you are honest with yourself, get ready to learn some Truth about life!  So let’s take a little journey together and get to the bottom of this mystery.

Read the next little bit slowly and imagine, visually the scene.  Get a good idea of the picture.  Imagine that your mind is a vast stretch of fertile soil:  maybe a rolling vineyard, or a neatly rowed vegetable garden, however you decide but there is nothing growing on it now.  The soil is dark and fertile, tilled and soft, ready to plant.  Now, the planting begins.  So the field is your mind, now the seeds are thoughts that are planted.  You plant a lot of them yourself, and some come from the winds, and some are brought in by others.  All these seeds planted: take a minute to think of where they came from and which did you plant yourself?  If you try to think of all the seeds, it is impossible.  Did you count all the times that you watched a beer commercial and were told that beer=sexy woman.  Did you count all the commercials for toys you saw growing up?  Did you count all the advice from family, friends and Dr. Phil?  The list is maddening.  But, seeds can’t grow unless they are watered.  The heart waters the field.  Your heart is your desires, your yearnings, what you feel.  The heart waters the thoughts and the plant begins to grow.  What you set your heart on gets watered and grows.  Some people get obsessed with only one plant and the rest of the field be damned.   Some people try to water them all and can never give any particular plant enough attention.  Most of us are somewhere in-between.  Please take a minute and read the parable of the Sower:  Mark 4:3-8 and then read the interpretation: Mark 4:14-20.  We are living in a time that squarely puts us in the “thorns”.  Remember ever hearing a grandparent reveling in the “good old days, when things were simpler”?  The parable we just read has so many powerful implications, but I want to focus on “growing among the thorns”.

“Now these are the ones sown among the thorns; they are the ones that hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Mark 4:18-19

This verse tells us to be aware of the lies:  money can bring you happiness, achieving this and that will take care of the worries, having your desires will bring you to a place of contentment.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like the “American Dream” to me; what we all strive for…

Are you living the “American Dream” or wish you could live that dream?  What is the definition of this phrase?  Maybe something like this:  married to a beautiful and kind man or woman, a nice house to live in, 2-3 children, a nice car, a 52” flat-screen television (with man-cave options), plenty of nice dinners and travel experiences, a retirement portfolio, freedom from worry, etc.  What a load of crap!  Sometimes I get overloaded with the world’s ideas about success and happiness.  Have we not seen and experienced that this is all illusion?  But somewhere along the line, a seed was sown that this is what we deserve and should strive for:  a way to get ahead.  Movies are a huge influence as well as music.  What do we gravitate towards?  What type of movies do you like and why; what type of music do you listen to and why?  Think about it for a minute and you will see how these seeds really shape who we are.  Personally, I related to movies like “The Breakfast Club”, “St. Elmo’s Fire”, “Scarface”, and “Rocky”.  My music was Prince (when he still had a name instead of a symbol), Van Halen, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Ozzy, etc.  I was a victim of false hopes and dreams formulated in my young mind by Hollywood, T.V., and music.  My parents were not interactive to say the least; I was left alone to figure things out on my own.  I bet my story is very familiar to others as well; maybe not the same movies and music, but for sure the hands-off parenting and the influence of music in our lives.  We have become obsessed with “self-actualization” and self-fulfillment.  You cannot be fulfilled by self!  Self-fulfillment is an oxymoron.  Can’t we just shut it all down and have some peace?  The answer is a definitive “Yes”!

Let me show you a beautiful parable that I can shed a little light on for you.  I am not saying that my particular focus on the parable is the whole story, but it is Truth that has been shown to me.  One thing first.  Truth is like a big, beautiful diamond: multi-faceted and glorious.  Imagine that diamond is huge and suspended in the air above the ground.  We all stand around the diamond and look into it and admire it’s beauty; it is glorious.  If you stand on one side of it and I on the other side of it, we are still looking at the same diamond.  But your perspective is different from mine; you are looking at it from your perspective and I from mine.  Is it not still the same diamond?  Such is Truth.  The Word of God is amazing like that; one person will be enlightened by one facet of the diamond from their perspective and someone else will be enlightened by a different facet from a different point of view.  But it is still the same diamond!  The Power teaches each of us differently, but that same Power unifies us by sharing together our different perspectives.  That is why it is so important to share with each other!  Alright, enough of me waxing philosophical with you.  Let’s read the parable:

“Then He (Jesus) said, ‘To what shall we liken (compare) the kingdom of God?  Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs (plants), and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade’.”  Mark 4:30-32 (notes added)

First of all, why is Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to the smallest of seeds?  When we were visualizing above about your field and your seeds, notice all the seeds were tangible and real in your mind (field).  You can see, touch, smell, and taste these seeds; they are very real and documented by your life’s evidence and your heart’s desires.  The kingdom of God is spiritual.  We spend most of our lives convinced that what we see is what we get.  Life is just what we see.  According to Jesus, this thought pattern is all wrong!  The kingdom seed is the least of all the seeds of the earth because it is invisible; you can’t see it.  Just like your spirit is invisible.  Do you believe that you have a spirit?  Did you know that Jesus came to earth to prove to you and I that the ultimate reality is spiritual and from God?  Well, that is why He calls it the least of all seeds on earth.  The “sown on the ground” part refers to your soul (your mind and heart); if you allow this seed to be planted and your heart waters it, look what happens.  It becomes greater than all the other plants.  The point here is that all those “thorns” and “weeds” become small in comparison to the tree that overshadows them all.  What is being stated here?  Jesus is trying to let us understand that if we focus our heart on Him and His kingdom, that He will make all the worries of life insignificant and overcome by the canopy of His greatness.  That is an amazing thought!  All the things that we desire, all the things we think are important, all the riches of this earth, and all our worries simply rest under the branches of His kingdom.  The kingdom of God rests in faith; if you read the same parable in Matthew, it compares faith to a mustard seed.  Faith is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”.  Hebrews 11:1.  So by focusing our attention on one thing (God’s kingdom), all else is subjected to it.  Now, how do we water and feed this amazing seed?

The seed has to be planted first:  the understanding that Christ is the Son of God and came to earth to save us because He loves us (the Gospel or the “good news”).  If your heart has responded to this message and you believe that simple fact, then the seed has been sown inside of you.  You water that seed with the Word of God from your heart:  reading His Word, reading what other Christians have written, sharing and talking with other Christians.  But you can’t grow a healthy tree with good ground and water only.  You need sunlight!  Where does that sunlight come from?  It comes directly from God Himself.  How does it get to us?  It gets to us through prayer and meditation and manifests itself in the form of the Holy Spirit.  How does one pray and meditate?  By being quiet!  Listening is the key.  You can’t hear God if your heart and mind are consumed by your own thoughts and desires.  You have to focus your attention on your King and Savior and keep quiet!

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.”  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  I Kings 19:11-12.

Really?  God speaks to us in a still small voice?  Another interpretation of the ancient Hebrew is “a delicate whispering voice”.  It is not possible to hear His voice with all the noise we allow into our hearts and minds.  This should start to make sense to us now.  One of my favorite songs says:  “Be still and know that You’re in this place; washing my eyes to see Your majesty.  Word of God speak.”  But everything in life is pressed against this notion.  That is why it is so important to get to know your Creator by prayer and meditation (prayer is you talking to Him, and meditation is listening).  If you don’t have that quietness in your life, then you will never understand the kingdom of God; it’s just that simple. Quietness in the heart is what the Bible calls peace.   But can we muster up the ability to be peaceful within?  Nope.  But Jesus can:

Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”  Mark 4:36-39

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  John 14:27

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  John 16:33

Note also when Jesus walked on the water and Peter tried to walk with Him what happened:

And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

So He said, “Come.”  And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him…Matthew 14:28-31a.

You see, the wind and the waves are life’s troubles and distractions.  Once Peter took his eyes off of Christ, he began to sink.  The key is to focus on Jesus and trust Him.  He promises that if we are quiet and focused on Him, that all life’s storms and troubles will be no match for His peace.

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Matthew 6:25-33 (abridged)

In the parable of the Sower, life’s worries and desires are “the thorns” and here they are represented by wind and waves.  Is the picture beginning to take shape now?  Christ Himself gives us the peace; all we have to do is seek Him first in our heart.  The options here are right in our faces:  believe what God says or call God a liar.  Which do you believe?  One thing is for sure: our lives today are so full of self-absorbed ambitions that very few can even hear God’s voice.  This is no philosophical, namby-pamby, feel-good message; this is Truth.  Can you hear it?  We all have to make time each day to pursue God’s voice.  Without it, we can never grow spiritually.  All through the recording of Christ’s life, He is constantly setting an example for us by going away alone to pray to His Father.  Jesus didn’t do anything that was by accident; He took full advantage of His time with us and teaches us through His words and His actions.  So we need to stop having a one-sided conversation with God; we need to listen to Him.  To listen to Him is to shed sunlight on our plant that sprang up from the seed.  If we do this thing that He advised us to do, then the plant grows into a beautiful tree and covers life with the shade of glory.  So let us stop letting self and the world around us crowd out the true meaning of life.  You are spirit; let the spirit grow by being still and knowing.

Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us;

The God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah”  Psalm 46:10-11