Danger lurks in the soil of your heart. The Parable of the Sower (or Soils) tells of hearts that will not entertain thoughts of God’s word and good hearts that bear great harvests when His word is implanted (Matthew 13). Some hearts are shallow and bear faith that will wither when troubles arise. But there is another heart that I must vigilantly prevent being in me: the distracted heart. Jesus described a heart in which the word grew for a time but thorns also grew in the heart and choked out the word. This is the heart that “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.” (Matthew 13:22). Distractions are a persistent danger to God’s people and have always threatened us. How can we protect ourselves?
Five Principles for a Focused Life
1. Don’t let prosperity separate you from God
Wealth brings worries and burdens. Solomon wrote of the many hands that rise to claim the wealth of others in Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. Many rise to get their part of the wealth: accountants, lawyers, government, friends, and family. A bigger house, multiple cars, and many possessions require insurance to protect and people to clean and maintain them. More money doesn’t guarantee relief but often more problems. Lottery winners (Tampa Bay Online) Noreene and James Gordon, a north Tampa homemaker and a retired textile worker, claimed the February 2000 Florida Lotto jackpot of $52.4 million. They chose a one-time lump sum payment of $24 million. Things have changed since then. “It’s a nightmare,” she said recently, with friends and strangers knocking and calling for a chunk of her prize. “They don’t want a piece,” she said. “They want it all.” Her husband died in 2006, and she has suffered three strokes since the windfall. “People come out of the walls to take advantage of you every day of your life,” she said before ending the short telephone interview.
Wealth and comfort can separate you from God. This was a problem with Israel: Deuteronomy 8:5-14, 17-20. God described, in great detail, the great blessing of the Promised Land but concluded with a warning that they would forget Him in the good times. They would become complacent in the daily care of their homes and land and forget to serve Him. Pride can accompany prosperity: we think we have done this on our own and that, down deep, we can do fine without God. This was the danger Jesus identified in the Parable of the Sower: maintaining our prosperity and handling the details of daily life can choke out our faith.
This is a threat for all of us. This is not addressed to the “super rich” or the vilified 1% in America—it is the average American. The average American income, and even poverty level income, is much higher than the rest of the world. The poorest of us are very wealthy compared to the world. We have garages that are bigger than the whole living space of many people. We have garages and attics full of unused possessions, clothes filling our closets, and refrigerators, freezers, and pantries full of food. Our children have luxury items and people still do not seem to be satisfied or content. There are people in the US and other wealthy countries who complain about luxuries they have when others are living in abject poverty with absolutely nothing. It is the everyday American living comfortably who has to make sure that he does not forget God.
2. Don’t let adversity separate you from God
Job 14:1 describes man’s days as few and full of troubles. Trials and adversity should produce good fruits in the Christian’s life. James encourages us to “count it joy when you fall into various trials” because of the fruits produced, James 1:2-8, 12. Joy in not our first natural reaction and we should pray for wisdom to understand how to learn and grow from our trials. It is through trials that we receive patience, trust, dependence on God, and appreciation of His care. Trials help us sever our relationship with this troublesome world and grow homesick for heaven where all will be made new and no suffering abides.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described a heart that withered during persecution and trial, symbolized by the sun. Yet the sun, shining over the good soil, nurtured a great crop. Trials that withered the shallow heart helped the good heart to grow and bear fruit! Trials and adversity are a part of life, it is how we handle them that determines whether they will crush us or strengthen us.
Jim happened to meet the minister on the street one day, and during the conversation told him of all the troubles he had had during the past year. He wound up with: “I tell you right now, preacher, it’s enough to make a man lose his religion.” “Seems to me, Jim,” the minister told him quietly, “it’s enough to make a man use his religion.” Tan, P. L. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.
Trials reveal the genuineness of our faith, 1 Peter 1:7. We must remember that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
3. Trust God with the unknown things
We must realize that God’s greatness and wisdom exceeds ours and there are so many things in His domain of operation that we can’t grasp or know but trust that He has it in control. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us “the secret things belong to God.”
People spend much fruitless energy trying to identify with certainty the things that operate in God’s realm. Unless God explicitly reveals His actions, it is presumptuous of me to say “God did THIS.” Give glory to God that whether by chance or His purpose, the action took place but in humility remember that “His ways are past finding out.”
I don’t have to know how God will answer my prayers, I have to trust in Him to give all things to Him. God’s word promises peace to those who give everything into His care, Philippians 4:6-7. We often do not have peace because we do not really trust God to take care of our concerns or we insist on taking the burden back from Him. Peter tells us to cast all of our anxiety on God; an act of faith in His love, care, and ability to do something about that which is causing us anxiety, 1 Peter 5:6-7. This approach allows us to embrace the next principle.
4. Trust God to make all things work out for good
God promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28. This is a promise of God and I trust that He can do this even when I don’t know how He will do it and when I don’t see how He could make it happen. He is the master designer of a grand work of art and I am one of many artisans toiling on my very small part of the whole. If I do what I’m supposed to do God will make it part of something much larger and more beautiful.
Funny how we label things “bad” and “good” (sleep, day, events) when, in time, our labels may reverse. Some people lose a job but it opens doors to a great career. Some people get a terrible disease “bad” but attribute it to giving them a better appreciation for their loved ones and the little things in life and bringing them closer to God. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was an atheistic Russian writer who was imprisoned in a Russian forced labor camp (Gulag) but emerged with a belief in God and wrote, “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”
Don’t try to look for God’s fingerprints in your life, just trust that He is there and He works all things in your life for the good.
5. Remember heaven is worth every sacrifice
The word pictures in places like Revelation 2:1-5; 12-15; 21:1-4 remind us that God has prepared a place of rest that exceeds our imagination and dreams and is worth any sacrifice needed to get there. Like other great men and women of faith, when we focus on living with God eternally, we lose our grip on the things of this world as we grasp heavenly treasures, Hebrews 10:32-39. Considering the glory of living with God forever, Paul says nothing should separate us from it, Romans 8:18, 31-39.
Live a life not trusting in riches but trusting God, standing strong in trial, and casting anxieties on Him looking forward to eternally living with Him.