In Jesus’ parable of the soils, some seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked the plants so that they were not fruitful. Jesus explained that the thorns are “the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things.” In previous posts I reflected on the significance of “cares of the world” and of “deceitfulness of riches,” and here I want to take a look at the final aspect of that triad: “desires for other things.”
There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair (my favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia) where the evil enchantress talks with the children in the midst of their perilous and difficult quest to rescue the lost prince. They have been given clear signs to follow that will move them along in their journey, but all the witch needs to do to distract them from their vital mission is to “innocently” mention that there is a city of giants ahead of them, in which they could enjoy hot baths and warm beds and be refreshed. Stopping at this city is nowhere mentioned in the directions they have been given, but once that suggestion has been spoken, they can think of nothing else but hot baths and warm beds. Apart from Aslan’s intervention, their quest would have been abandoned altogether.
I think that scene vividly captures the essence of this “desire for other things” that the thorns in Jesus’ parable are depicting. We too have been given a mission (Make disciples!) and the journey of carrying out that mission is often long and difficult. And in the midst of our disciple-making journey, we are constantly bombarded by “innocent” suggestions of worthwhile pursuits. Oftentimes, those suggestions are not temptations to explicitly sinful activities, but are merely reminders of good things–even Godly things. The problem comes when our attention is diverted to those good and Godly things and thus away from the mission that God has called us to. The thorns choke our fruitfulness by turning our minds toward other desires.
In the metaphor of a plant, thorns choke out simply by taking up space–soil and water and sunlight–so that the plant cannot grow and mature enough to bear fruit. In the same way, thoughts and desires for other things can fill up so much space in our lives that there is no time left to invest in that which helps us to grow and mature in Christ. Thus we do not bear fruit, not because of obvious sin but simply because our lives are too full of other (good) things and there is no space to grow and mature.
As John Piper says, “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world… The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.” (Hunger for God, pg 14).