Recently, I got so excited about some yard work. Yes, I was overjoyed actually; and not by just the results, but by the process. Let me give you a little background before I share the source of my joy.
In 6th grade, I had Ms. Mann as a science teacher. She was one of my favorite teachers that year. If my memory serves me correctly, she had a spring homework project/assignment for us in which we located a bud on a tree or bush that was just beginning to bud. We were to tie a piece of yarn near one bud and then draw that bud weekly and see the transformation as the bud opened. I chose to chart the growth of a lilac bud. That small assignment impacted me in a great way. It was amazing to see the beauty of that bud unfold. It is also when I was encouraged about my drawing skills and it was an assignment that I really enjoyed doing.
Fast-forward to Spring 2016. When I was walking around our 2.5 acres in Piney Flats, TN (so thankful for our home and property), I saw something that caught my eye. Whether it was a small purple bloom peeking out of the brush, or me actually recognizing the leaves, I found a lilac bush almost completely overgrown with honeysuckle. Right then, I had a desire to free that lilac bush but as the way things often happen, my spring and summer were taken up with other projects and responsibilities.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, the end of February 2017. We have had unusual whether here at the end of winter/early spring in East Tennessee. Much is budding and coming up out of the ground. We have had some crazy warm days as well as crazy cold days. On one of the warm days, I decided to tackle the honeysuckle and free the lilac bush. My kids got the job of clean up, so they were not as excited as dad was. But as I hacked away at that bush I began to see more and more buds of that scraggly lilac bush; buds, like I had drawn so long ago in 6th grade. My heart got more and more exuberant. Not only did I see the buds, I knew what was to come from those buds. I anticipated the beauty. I got the bulk of the honeysuckle off of the bush and then I notice that honeysuckle wrapped itself around long branches of lilac. The lilac was doing everything it could in years past to reach for sun as it was being strangled by the vine. I unwrapped each branch trying not to break the lilac branches. As I was clearing around the lilac, my kids kept commenting on me hacking away at the honeysuckle. They are fond of the honeysuckle smell and opening the blooms for a drop of the nectar. I seemed to get more adamantly opposed to honeysuckle and got more determined to expel it from that area.
When the bush was finally free, it didn’t look full and it did look odd because much of the bush was naked branches without buds but it was beautiful to me. I kept asking the kids, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Later, I asked the same of my wife. They didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm. It was beautiful to me and there was delight in my heart about it.
You see, something in addition to the anticipation of beauty was stirring in my heart. There was a lesson in it for me! The Lord was trying to teach me tenderly and I was encouraged.
In Matthew 13, it records Jesus sharing the parable of the sower. He teaches about the word of God. Specifically in that parable, He shares about the seed falling among thorns, “the thorns sprang up and choked them.” (Matthew 13:7). He explains the meaning in verse 22.
“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
Luke describe it this way, “ Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” (Luke 8:14) And Mark records it this way: “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-18-19).
So from these 3 passages, what chokes out the word are as follows:
Cares of the world
Cares of life
Deceitfulness of riches
Pleasures of life
Desires for other things
Well, the Lord was helping me see though the freeing of the lilac bush, that there are things choking out the word in my own life. Just as the honeysuckle was wrapping itself around the lilac, hindering its growth, this list is doing the same in my life with the word of God. I want that lilac bush to come to full bloom and beauty. The Lord wants the word to grow in good soil and bear much fruit and become mature. With each hacking of honeysuckle I was seeing the lilac’s potential but also “what could be” in my life if I let God deal with the spiritual honeysuckle (the list above).
The hard part is that I, and really all of us all are fond of the things that compile this list, whether we want to admit it or not. There are things that concern us that choke out the word. What are we anxious about? Does it really matter in the long run? Do the things we are anxious over or our anxiety help us in our spiritual journey? Do we care for our own comforts, wants, pursuits more than we value His word flourishing in our hearts? Do we spend too much time thinking about money? Where we will spend it? How much we have or do not have? How we think it may bring us satisfaction? Do we pursue our own pleasures to the detriment of our life in God? Is the pursuit of pleasure an idol in our lives? Do we desire things others have too much? Are we living covetously and describing it as pursuit of noble “achievement”? Just as my kids look so fondly on the honeysuckle and its pleasures, do we love the things of this life, even though they choke our life flow just as the honeysuckle was choking out what could be, choking out the buried splendor of a mature full-blossomed, lilac bush. Are our affections in the right place? Do we think fondly of the “chokers,” which are hindering our growth?
I got so excited to see that free lilac bush, not only for purple blooms but I saw that God wants the same for me, to be free from that which weighs me down and chokes out the word. I may look scraggly for a while but thanks to my 6th grade science teacher and my own experience, and faith in Christ, I know that as I let Him deal with the list of “chokers” I will produce lots of blossoms or fruit as the parable of the sower describes.
So Lord, deal with the “chokers.” Free us so the word can have full potential in our lives. Plant your seeds in the good soil of our hearts and let them grow, bearing fruit and producing “some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
Matthew or Julie Wine