Thorns

Daily Readings: Joshua 19-20, Mark 4, Psalm 64

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 

Mark 4:1-8, 13-19

9:30 PM: Check the current scores of a couple of games, respond to a text, check email one last time, click over to Facebook for two minutes, then Twitter, then back to ESPN. Put phone in airplane mode for the night.

4:30 AM: Out of airplane mode, check emails while getting a big glass of water. I would rather make sure nothing needs to be taken care of this morning before starting my God time that way I can maximize my time with God and with my kids once they wake up. I want to leave as late as possible for work knowing that there are no misc. things that need to be taken care of before my first concrete appointment. (Solid rationalization) Check final scores while here. Then Facebook briefly to see if there are any notifications…scroll down for 10 seconds while there before being mad at myself and stopping.

4:45 AM: Settle in for prayer, worship, and time in the word until 6:00 AM.

“Lord quiet my mind, help me focus on you…”

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain…

“I still need to get that project done today…and when I am going to finish my taxes that I already filed an extension on…and I really need to have that conversation with a coworker I have been putting off…”

“Lord quiet my mind, I want this time to be yours. Thank you so much for the incredible blessings you have put into my life that are so undeserved. Help me to be a light today…”

“I can’t believe my friend posted that on Facebook. Don’t they fact check anything? That is what is wrong with the world today…Lord help your world heal…Lord, quiet my mind. I want to be able to just enjoy your presence without feeling pulled in so many directions. Maybe I should write a post about that…”

Prayer…to do list…prayer…think about post…prayer…to do list…prayer…

“At some point I really need to fire off a few emails this morning before the day gets going. It is going to be a pretty full day. I have no idea when I am going to be able to call that person back…Lord quiet my mind.”

“I need to spend some time in worship.”

Pull out phone to cue up favorite worship music. Refresh email.

“Why the heck did I do that? It is 5:10 AM. There aren’t any new emails. I hate myself sometimes. I need to stop being such a slave to this thing.”

Attempt to worship along with playlist.

“God you are so good. Thank you for loving me and being patient even when I am being so silly. Your grace and love sustain me!”

To do list…worship…to do list…worship…to do list…worship…

Grab phone to do daily readings. Quick check of Twitter for 20-30 seconds to see reactions about the playoff game last night. Back to Bible Gateway app to start reading. Annoyed with myself…why did I do that?

“Lord, show me what you have for me today.”

Attempt to focus on reading the Bible and really taking in God’s word…

Thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn…

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain…

I imagine some of you can relate.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we cripple our own ability to be present whether with God, our family, or our friends? Why do we train our brains to desire anything other than what we are doing at the moment?

We live in a society where people don’t even allow themselves to relax and enjoy watching a basketball game, television show, etc. We need a second screen in front of us seeing what other people are saying about that shared social experience. We need a distraction from our distraction…wait, what?

The Lord said, “Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10

And yet even when I carve out that beautiful time to be still, even when I wake up early, go with less sleep, and really strive to prioritize time to God, I frequently self sabotage for 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there. It is not the sum total of 5-10 minutes out of the first hour and a half of my day that I choose to spend on petty distractions that robs me of truly enjoying my time with God; it is the mental clutter I bring upon myself.

We fill our brains with an overwhelming amount of stimulus and then wonder why our minds feel full and why we feel overwhelmed. We spend the last 2 minutes before bed flipping between 6 apps, 4 websites, and 2 more apps, and wonder why we can’t seem to turn our brains off and fall to sleep well.

Thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn.

Some days, I am great about not doing this. Some evenings, I am as well. However, there are so many when I self sabotage and hate myself for it.

I want a change. I want to declutter mentally. I want to be fully present. At home, at work, with friends, and with God. I want to be where I am.

In life you always have to want better for yourself badly enough that it is worth the pain of change. That is why breaking any addiction is so hard.

I hate my cell phone. I am ready for a change. I wonder if anyone reading this is ready for a change as well?

30 day challenge.

  1. When you get home from work, put your phone on the charger in your room and just be present at home. Don’t check it every few minutes. There is nothing that can’t wait for at least an hour or two without the world burning down around us. Human beings used to survive somehow without cell phones.
  2. When you are at work, put it out of arms reach. Get that thing out of your pocket! If it rings, you can answer it, but put it far enough away that you don’t accidentally grab it as an OCD tendency to check something that does not need to be checked. Only pick it up when there is a specific productive purpose.
  3. Leave it on the charger throughout your entire morning routine. Use a different source for music. Read an actual physical Bible. Don’t come out of airplane mode until a preset time where you are actually going to begin work.
  4. Put it into airplane mode an hour before bed and don’t touch it from that point forward.

For 30 days.

I am ready to be good soil again, every day, not just some days. I am ready to ruthlessly weed out the thorns in my life and help my brain slow down so that I am able to appreciate the little things in life that go unnoticed frequently because of my addiction to technology.

Who is coming with me?

Thought to ponder

If it is not technology, what is my thorn? What in my life sometimes rises up and chokes the plant trying to grow when the seed falls on the soil? How can I remove those thorns from my life?

I think of you through the watches of the night

Daily Readings: Joshua 17-18, Mark 3, Psalm 63

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:3-8 

Even since I left college, I have never been a good sleeper. I always marvel at the concept of sleeping through the entire night. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t wake up at least 3-4 times throughout the night and then roll around attempting to get comfortable.

If this last more than 20-30 minutes, now my mind starts wandering, responsibilities start flooding in, the to-do list for the day, week, or month begin to keep me up, and falling back to sleep seems an insurmountable task.

In the middle of last October God did a wonderful thing for me and asked me to stop fighting it. He asked me to just abide in him in these moments. He asked me to use that time in bed to spend time with him, thank him, lift others up, and just enjoy the presence of my heavenly father in the comfort of my bed.

There have been some nights since then where I have completely forgotten this prompting from God and failed miserably at this, but there have been many other nights where I have chosen to turn those seemingly frustrating moments of not being able to fall back asleep because of a sore back and active mind into beautiful time with my father.

I have imagined being curled up in his lap the way my children snuggle up to me around bedtime when we are reading books on the couch. I have imagined his smile as he puts his arm around me and enjoys the time we have together with no agenda other than being with his treasured child.

I don’t always fall back to sleep immediately when I shift the posture of my heart to one of abiding in these moments, but I wake up refreshed.

Psalm 63 was a great reminder this morning to choose to abide more often. It was a great re-centering of my heart on praising him on my bed and not just with my waking moments.

When I embrace that his love truly is better than life, as David writes today, and use those quiet moments to allow my heart to sing his praise, glorify his name, and cling to him; I leave fully satisfied.

Thought to ponder

When are moments throughout the day or night when I allow my mind to be cluttered and heart to stray from God, where I can actively choose to imagine this physical manifestation of God right there with me as a loving father looking down on his treasured child?

Strike the rock

Daily Readings: Numbers 19-20, Psalm 42

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Psalm 42:1-2

There are many times in life where I feel like this. Many times where my soul absolutely pants for God like a deer pants for streams of water.

This water imagery comes up twice in our readings today. In Numbers we see the Israelites without water and becoming desperate. They come to Moses broken and fearful. I am blessed enough to have grown up in a country where I have never known a complete lack of water, but even drawing on times where I have been extremely thirsty on a hot day and forced to wait, it can be a helpless feeling. I can’t even imagine being in a situation as desperate as the Israelites faced.

How often does our soul feel that same sense of desperation, where we long for the refreshing, life giving water that Jesus provides, but feel like it is just out of our reach? There are definitely times where my soul feels a bit like I am wandering in the desert, knowing the water I am looking for, but having it constantly elude me.

There are many times where I struggle because the weights of life brings me down, I have a hard time giving them over to God, and I want to make everything work out of my own power. In these moments my soul pants for God, but accessing his loving grace feels as hopeless as the Israelites felt.

Then Moses struck the rock and water came pouring out.

Our God is a God of the impossible. He is a God that can bring forth water from the stone and refresh us in the most dire of circumstances.

Frequently I am standing there with a staff and God invites me to strike the stone, but I hesitate. He invites me to strike the rock, but I still want to do it under my own power. I insist on turning to other distractions to fill up my cup instead of turning to him.

My soul continues to pant and these distractions never satisfy.

As I continued on to verses 3-5 in Psalm 42 this morning, they really spoke to me. When I feel deeply like the author of verses 1 and 2, it is so important that I move on to verses 3 through 5.

These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

There are few things that fill up the soul like worship. When my relationship with God is purely studying his word and communicating through prayer, it is far better than nothing, but there is very little passion. Passion, energy, enthusiasm, and unconditional belief that the God of the Universe has everything firmly under control only truly come to me through worship. I need to shout with joy at his works in my life. I need to praise him for all of the blessings he has showered down on me, both earthly and eternal.

When I am worshipping God with all of my being, I strike the stone and water comes pouring out.

Our God is there and waiting.

The stone awaits and the staff is in your hands today.

Strike the rock.

Thought to ponder

When has my soul panted for God recently? What can I do today to strike the rock?

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