Superficial Growth

As of January 2018, I will have taught at Great Commission Church for eight years. When I began, I didn’t really know what I was in for personally. I knew what it was like to be a “PK” (pastor’s kid) all my life, so I was familiar with the the good and the bad that go with that world. However, I never would have guessed how difficult it would be to keep my personal relationship with the Lord on track. I won’t waste your time with a comprehensive list of distractions, but I do want to highlight some of them – and it’s not only the quantity of distractions, but also the variety. It has been a carnival of distractions, a veritable wonderland of ideas, dreams, substitute visions, careers, passions, and hobbies – all of which have attempted to compete with my personal time with the Holy Spirit. These things all come with the same purpose: to choke out the Word from producing in my life.

I don’t believe that the devil has been particularly busy in plotting against me. I honestly don’t know, but I like to think it shouldn’t matter as Christ has given us victory over him -so the devil’s busyness against you shouldn’t stand as an excuse. I believe he does come to pull us off course, and can be successful. However, the root of the problem is not the devil, but rather what the devil uses, specifically the weaknesses that are in us. Temptation is only temptation if there is something already in us that agrees with what the devil is offering. This is why Paul commands us in Colossians 3:1-5 to “mortify.

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry…”

It stands to reason then, that what the devil uses against you are those things that still remain unmortified – those affections of the heart that still have a pull on you. These are the areas of heart and soul that tempt us with alternative plans instead of God’s plan. Jesus said the same thing in a different way in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:18-19).

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

In the parable of the sower there were other things that Jesus outlined that keep people from hearing the word, or walking in very much fruit. However, I want to highlight the thorns in particular. Jesus defined thorns as “cares of this world, deceitfulness of riches, and lust of other things.” We often think of overt sin as the biggest thief of faith and relationship with God, and granted it is definitely a thief. However, that has not been my greatest threat. What attempts to steal from me are the thorns. These are “good” things that don’t hurt anyone. Other people in your church or neighborhood will be more than happy to encourage you to grow up your thorns. They seem benign, but how they steal is more subtle: through loss of vision, loss of time, loss of calling, and loss of relationship with God. It has been these that have been my greatest distraction from following God during the last eight years. It always comes in a different package, but the end result is always the same – distraction and dilution.

A quote that has stuck with me since the beginning came from a preacher that I have great respect for named Alan Taylor. He would always ask, “How do you steal a man’s vision?,” to which he always would reply, “You give him two.” I have never forgotten that and the Lord frequently reminds me of it when I feel tempted to go down a dead-end, rabbit-trail that isn’t my calling.

Let’s talk examples. Since the beginning, I have had many alternative ideas about how to spend my time. Some ideas were more career oriented in nature, others were hobbies. Normally I’ve been more prone to bite at the idea of a “hobby” because i believe it won’t steal too much time. This is almost never true. Hear me out. I’m not saying a hobby is bad, but where is the line? How many hobbies does it take to neutralize you? I have found that it’s enough for me to be a good parent and spouse, keep up my relationship with God, and be obedient to His calling. That’s it! And really, if you trust Him to lead you into what you’re called to do, what else is there? There is a part of us that believe’s we should be in the driver’s seat – that’s the part that needs “mortifying.”

Hear are some of the things that I have had to say “no” to. Things that, at one point or another, I strongly considered part of my future. I have categorized them so you can see just how many ways these thorns manifest in our walk with God.


Career(ish) Ideas

  • Real estate developer
  • House Flipper
  • Side Businesses (lots of ideas there)
  • Mechanic
  • Airplane Pilot
  • Computer Programmer

Hobbies

  • Motorcycles
  • Continued Education
  • Reading
  • Video Games
  • Gardening
  • (Fly) Fishing
  • Boating
  • Hiking
  • Marathons
  • Falconry (Yes, you read that correctly)

Spiritual Things

  • Programs, programs, programs
  • Men’s group
  • Monthly Breakfasts
  • Extra Youth Activities
  • Concerts
  • Special Events
  • Community Outreaches
  • More Church Services
  • Bible Studies

Now, some of you are called to do the very things I just listed. To be frank, I’m called to do some of the things I just listed. The catch is, I’m not called to do them at my direction or my leading – I’m called to do them at His. Seeing this compiled list, it’s obvious no one in their right mind could make all these things work at once, but my heart has thought so at one time or another.

When these thorns took root in my life, they took over and lead me off track for varying amounts of time. When this happened, my prayer life suffered and my true calling suffered. Thankfully, I can honestly say that many of these things never took real root, so I didn’t follow through with actions. I attribute that to my prayer life and staying close to the Holy Spirit. He would always be knocking in the back of my thoughts with the question, “How do you steal a man’s vision?”

The most subtle form thorns have taken in my life have been “spiritual” things, or more precisely, things that sound spiritual. I want to viciously attack the rampant ideology in Christian circles that spirituality should be equated with busyness about spiritual-sounding things. These are thorns of a most effective kind. I remember being asked some version of the question, “What are you doing for the Lord?” with great frequency during my time at school in Tulsa, OK. The person that could rattle off the longest list of volunteer hours, mission trips, and ministry practicums was the winner. If, however, you were to say something like, “I’m spending a lot of time in prayer and seeking God,” you usually were given a rather discouraging blank stare. This thorn steals from everyone, from the quietest layman to the largest mega-church.

I’m convinced there are huge churches that have amassed a great following and have a voice in the lives of many, but have effected very little permanent change, growth or maturity. I’m equally convinced that there are small organizations that no one knows about, but they are being precisely obedient to do only those things that God has called them to do. I’m not challenging status-quo for the sake of challenging status-quo, but I’m merely trying to put our efforts as Christians into a grander perspective. Jesus asked the question in Mark 8:36,

What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

To simply apply ambition to spiritual things or ministry things does not make a person inherently more obedient or submitted to the will of God. In this area, I have had to be quite shrewd with myself, lest at some point I find myself busy about doing my own work in God’s name. Keeping yourself on track means spending the lion’s share of your time with God, and out of that let Him grow the fruit. Too many Christian’s relationship with God consists of the list of things they do for Him. This is a thorn-lead life that presents itself to others as a life of growth and maturity, but it’s not real growth – it’s superficial. You can keep busy spinning your wheels doing spiritual things and never truly face the mountains of fear inside your heart, much less your true calling. In truth, there is no such thing as a minister of God that doesn’t have time for a relationship with God, because they have nothing to minister except themselves. Self-led busyness for God is a struggle every Christian must overcome. Victory comes when we put a priority on only those things God brings to us, and learning to say “No!” to everything else. Exclaim it! Boldly say “No” to everything and everyone else except God. This is how we uproot thorns and keep them from being sown in the first place.

This may seem hard to some, but with it comes great freedom and liberty. Imagine freedom from obligations and responsibilities that God didn’t assign to you. That can be your reality, to only be about your “Father’s business.” Jesus said in Matthew 11:29-30,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What is the yoke Jesus asks us to take up? Learn of Me.” That’s it! Let Him teach you, show you, reveal to you who you are supposed to be. He is the only one who knows anyhow. He’s the best aptitude test I know.  The result will be “rest for your souls.” Do you feel that way about your life? If not, you can – and take it from me, you should!

Richard ministers regularly at Great Commission Church in Marshalltown, IA. He and his wife, Natalie, have three awesome kiddos - Joshua (6), Marshall (4), and Kaitlyn (1).

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