Last week I had the opportunity to spend extended time alone with God up in the mountains near Idyllwild. On the final morning before heading home, I was reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the soils, and in particular the soil that produced thorns which choked the plant and made it unfruitful. When Jesus explained the parable to His disciples (Matt 13:18-23, Mk 4:14-20, Lk 8:11-15), He said that the thorns represent the “cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.”
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I have seen blackberry bushes or other types of fast-growing, thorny plants that grow wild in that region. Though as kids we loved picking and eating the blackberries, my father hated it when they started growing in our backyard, because they were very invasive. No doubt it is thorny bushes like that which Jesus is referring to in this parable–bushes that gradually crowd out other plants by taking up the soil and sun and water that is needed for the other plants to grow and reproduce.
This soil that produced thorns is something I recognize in my own heart, and that I see most often in the comfortable church culture in which I serve. It represents the sincere believer who intends to follow Christ and serve wholeheartedly, but gets sidetracked because life is so busy and full. But what makes this so hard to address or even recognize as a problem is that the activities filling their life are good things: education and family and ministry and friendships. The problem is not that they are engaged in a bunch of sinful or meaningless activities, nor even that they are doing the wrong things, but rather that there simply are too many things. And thus the result is that all of those good things crowd out the nourishment that is needed in their souls in order to be truly fruitful.
That reality is the very reason why an extended time of solitude is so necessary and profitable. Solitude clears away all the thorns and creates space for sun and water and nutrients from the soil to be soaked up by the plant–solitude sets aside the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things in order to be deeply nourished by God. But as wonderful as solitude can be, it is not meant to be an end in itself, but rather a means toward a greater end–that of entering back into the busyness and fullness of life and relationships and work and ministry, with the thorns cleared away so that the seed of God’s word can go deep and bear much fruit.