Traffic, Rocks, and Thorns
In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, the sower sows into four kinds of soil: the hardened soil of the road side, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil, each with different results. The Lord then explains to His disciples that these four kinds of soil represent four conditions of mankind. We should not understand this as four categories of people, but four conditions that any of us could have at any given time.
The Faithful Sower
Our condition often changes. Sometimes we can be very good ground. Then for some reason, we become the road side or any of the other soil types. Later, when we touch the Lord and allow Him to soften our heart, we become the good soil again. We are each one of the four soil types at one time or another depending on where our heart is and what the Lord is touching.
The Lord began this parable saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow” (Matt. 13:3). Because He is always the sower, the Lord is always going out to sow. No matter where we go, what we are doing, or what we are thinking, He continues to sow. No matter what kind of soil we are at the moment, He keeps on sowing. He sows waiting for those few moments when we are good soil so that something can get in and grow.
According to this parable, we must take care of three things that prevent us from being the good soil; traffic, rocks, and thorns.
First, we should guard ourselves from having too much traffic. This is the cause of the hardened road side soil. As people used the road, the dirt on the shoulders got packed and hard until it was impenetrable.
Traffic means that we are concerned about so many things. We may want to be successful and make a lot of money. Even if we think this is for the Lord, it comes with the danger of hardening the soil. If we are young, we may be filled with concern about our education and who we should marry. If we are older, we may be concerned with our retirement and our grandchildren. All these are legitimate concerns, but they generate too much traffic. If the soil gets hard, most of what the Lord sows bounces right off and becomes food for the birds. The Lord can do nothing with us when we are so filled with such concerns, but in this age, there is no way we can avoid traffic.
Our traffic does not stop the Lord. He just keeps on sowing. Maybe one hour of one day our heart will for some reason be good soil, and something will get in and start to grow.
If what the Lord sows begins to grow, it often grows right into a rocky area. This is the second thing we must guard against. This is not usually one big rock, but a number of small rocks. Whenever the growth of life within us touches one of these little rocks, it gets frustrated. Instead of the life growing, it is the rock that seems to enlarge. A rock we didn’t even know existed will grow to whatever size it needs so that it can keep the life element from reaching deeper.
Rocks always have a conflict of interest with what God wants. Idols have no life and therefore no interest, and so we can do whatever we want and there is no conflict with them. But our God is living and is full of interest. He has a purpose and wants to accomplish so much. The rocks within us never match what God wants. That is why they are called rocks. Whenever something God has sown into us meets one of our rocks, no matter how small, there is conflict.
I know many who were good soil in so many ways until it came to the matter of the church. Suddenly they were full of questions, arguments, and excuses. Concerning other things, their interest lined up with God’s interest pretty well. However, as soon as they touched the church, there was a great conflict of interest. God’s growth in them in this matter stopped.
It is only when our interests do not go along with the interests of the Lord that the rocks in us are exposed. When we want something contrary to what the Lord wants and insist that we must have it, the word sown into us is frustrated. This kind of stubbornness will always get us into trouble.
If we have a rocky heart, even though everything about us seems right, we are wrong. If we don’t have a rocky heart, everything may not be so correct, but eventually the Lord will adjust us to be so proper. If we are not protecting our self interest, the Lord will find a way no matter what our situation.
Once there was a church where even the leading ones and serving ones were full of self interest. They used all the right words and so seemed proper, but underneath were full of impurity. They cared for their dream of a big work and not for the saints. A young brother moved to that church so he could go to school, not realizing the situation. Somehow through all the years of his studies, this young brother remained pure. Only the Lord and he know how much he must have suffered. After he graduated, he moved back and expressed his desire to serve his home church. In spite of all the selfish impurity he had experience during his time at school, the Lord was able to keep him and grow in him because he had not been protecting his self interest. This brother is still a real encouragement to me.
There is another older couple among us that has been married for fifty years. That is not a small thing. Many marriages do not last that long. How did they do it? Neither has self interest. The husband is for what the wife is for and the wife is for what the husband is for. They are both for the interest of Christ and the church, and have served together faithfully the entire fifty years. This is why their family is so well maintained and so much under the Lord’s blessing. The Lord desires such oneness.
The Lord desires we be one with Him. That is why He keeps sowing into us regardless of our situation. He knows we are already occupied with things, that we love the world, and we will continue to do whatever we think we should do, but he keeps sowing. He knows that every once in a while after spending some time in His presence, we will be out of our traffic and will have left our rocks behind. Then the seed will have a chance.
To be for the Lord’s interest means that we live for His interest, that our very existence is for His interest. When this is our case, the Lord is able to do so much in our lives. If this is not our life, whatever the Lord sows will sooner or later touch a rock, and that will always produce inner conflict. The Lord wants one thing and we want another. Either we will have to give in to the Lord or we will have to disconnect from Him. It is serious.
Learn from me. Don’t think I have no rocks. But when my interest and the Lord’s conflict, I tell Him, “I am happy You are the Lord. You had better conquer me. If You let me conquer You, what a shame to You.” What a joy it is to let the Lord have His way.
The third thing we must guard against is the thorns. The Lord said,
“Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.”
– Matthew 13:7
Thorns grow well in soil with no traffic and few rocks. They grow so well that they choke out everything else, including the positive things sown by the sower.
Thorns choke other plants out not by growing tall, but by spreading out. Once they invade a piece of land, they spread out to totally occupy it. Eventually there is no room for anything else to grow. The land becomes a useless field of thorns that no one dares enter.
When I was a boy in northern China, I saw such thorn fields. Some were quite large. No one would enter such a field because it was impossible to avoid the painful thorns. They grew everywhere in a tangled mess. All we children were warned not to play there. “If you fall,” they told us, “you will really get hurt. Stay away from the thorns!”
This is the Lord’s warning to us today: “Stay away from the thorns!” We like to think we are overcomers in resurrection, and no thorns can touch us. But this parable is a warning that if we are not careful, the thorns will come to choke us and take us over.
Eventually, due to such thorns, we don’t even know why we do not love the Lord anymore. We don’t know why we are not consecrated to Christ as before. For some reason our whole living has become different. We are no longer as prevailing because the thorns have invaded us and choked the life out.
The Lord defined the thorns as, “The worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matt. 13:22). They come in subtly, perhaps as logical questions. They ask, “Shouldn’t I have a normal, reasonable living? Shouldn’t someone my age live comfortably?” The more we entertain such thoughts, the more they choke out our love and consecration to the Lord. Eventually we may find ourselves living a very comfortable lifestyle just like our gentile neighbors, but far from the Lord we once loved and served so absolutely.
For some reason, once that ground is lost, it is almost impossible to get it back. The only way is by fire. The entire field must be burned to eliminate the thorns. That means a great trial or persecution in this age or the Lord’s judgment in the next (1 Cor. 3:12–15). Only after the thorns are consumed by fire will the ground be recovered. The Bible tells us:
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
– Hebrews 6:7–8
Such a purging is God’s mercy to us, but there is no glory to Him. Beware of the thorns. They start with only a little thought, a little consideration for the self.
Not only can thorns invade our personal lives, they can invade the entire church. If a church is so desperate for new ones that it is willing to lower its standard to do anything just to attract them, that church is in danger of becoming a field of thorns. Once again it starts small and seems reasonable, but it costs Christ His headship. If no one is keeping watch, a church can quickly lose its stand and become no more than another denomination, free group, or religious institution.
By the Lord’s mercy, He keeps sowing. He knows that every once in a while we will be free of traffic, rocks, and thorns. This condition may not last long, but because He is always sowing, it is enough. During such a time when we are refreshed in the Lord’s presence, what He sows finds the good soil and grows as He intends. If we are wise enough to prevent the frustration of traffic, rocky situations, and thorns, and then begin to carefully maintain and water what the Lord sows into us, we will have very good growth in the Lord.