Thorns and Thistles
I have very little experience with gardening. I think I have failed at just about every attempt to keep any plant alive for more than a couple of days. It gave me an appreciation for the fact that beauty is quickly fading and more fragile than glass, but also showed me that long term maintenance is not my strong suit. I find that plants and gardens are very easy to forget and very hard to reign control of once they have been forgotten. Nature just kind of has its own way of doing what it feels like without much regard for what you would like it to do, so, if it was my choice, I’d just let it do its own thing.
That being said, I know that with a certain amount of discipline and love for the garden, it can be transformed into a beautiful oasis providing for just about any need we could ever have. The issue is not the garden, the issue is neglect. Neglect has a very physical manifestation in a garden; one that can even destroy it. The manifestation of weeds, thorns, and thistles that come to destroy what the garden was made to produce. The thorn is symbol most frequently used in the Bible to represent sin and the curse, both in the undercurrent and in the apparent.
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 3:17-19 NIV
In the curse, God proclaimed thorns and thistles to be the physical punishment curse on the earth caused by the sin of man. Later on, in Exodus, God, speaking to Moses through a burning thorn bush, sets in motion His plan to bring about redemption. The thorns burn but are not yet consumed, as they are still needed (Acts 7:30 NASB). That’s where Christ enters. He takes off His crown of heavenly glory, descends to earth, and has our curse, our sin, our thorns placed on His head.¹
Thorns are a big deal, so when Christ talks about them, we should take a moment to really listen. During the Parable of the Sower, He said of thorns, “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants,” (Matthew 13:7 NIV) and shortly after, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (v. 22) Knowing that thorns represent sin and the curse, we can safely move to the conclusion that those things which come up alongside the word and choke it out are the sins of this life.
Whereas the hardened soil, which is eaten up as soon as it lands on the path, is a result of unbelief or previous unresolved pain and trauma, the thing which stops growth of the plant in this soil is the fact that it nourishes sin as opposed to the seed. The plant does actually manage to take root here, as opposed to the hardened soil which simply rejected it from the start, but its growth is first diminished and then demolished by the work of the weeds.
I am a picture perfect example of that sort of soil. When I first accepted Christ, I sprung up in ways that I would never have imagined were possible. I could see growth with each and every day, and I fell deeper and deeper in love with Christ in every moment of it. But just like in the Parable of the Weeds that follows shortly after this parable, the enemy sowed in weeds of destruction along with the seed of the gospel, and when they sprung up, they, first, stunted my growth and then, stuck at the root until there was nothing left. I withered. Like chaff, I was picked up and tossed by even the slightest breeze, chasing everything I could get my hands on, showing no regard for Christ who had given me the relationship with Him I had so badly needed. But, even though I was worthy of nothing more than being gathered up and thrown into the fire, Christ spared me when I called on His name. He uprooted me from the weeds that I had chosen to feed. He gave me a strong dosing of herbicide, a much-needed watering, and tended to me with incredible care. He still is, and I am eternally grateful.
So when we see that the people we have ministered to are being suffocated by thorns and thistles of every kind, we need to pray desperately to God on their behalf. That He would come in and uproot the weeds. That He would implant His words in their minds: the only effective herbicide. We do not need to try to uproot the weeds ourselves. That is something only the Gardener can do. We are merely plants in His garden. What we need to do is act as support for the young plant. We need to stand beside him or her, offering shade and structure, allowing God to work as He sees fit. Always with love. Always with patience. Always with Christ.
That is they key to dealing with weeds. To remember that their sin, and ours, has already been paid for. The crown of thorns has already been removed from Christ’s head. We now rest in His crown of glory and humbly await for His return when, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:41-43 NIV)
With the patience and unconditional love found only in Christ,
¹For more on this topic of the symbolism of thorns see: The Splendor of Thorns produced by Answers in Genesis