Mark 4:18-19, The Message
“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.
I’ve been watching an old British mystery show lately called Jonathan Creek. The premise is that a guy who designs magic tricks for a famous magician is an excellent lateral thinker and solves murder mysteries with a journalist. The plot-twists often revolve around the bread and butter of magicians – distraction.
The distraction often hides the deception. As cynical Jonathan is fond of saying, magic doesn’t exist, there’s always a trick. So, the waving of a wand, the recitation of ‘magic words,’ the legerdemain, the rotation of cabinets are all really just distractions to give the performers time or space to do the deception of the trick – produce the item, pop out somewhere else, guess the card, etc. This idea has found its way into our language: smoke and mirrors.
We need to be aware that Satan works the same way. Satan is known as the Deceiver, and Father of Lies, but we should understand that these deceptions are often hidden behind distractions. In fact, the distractions themselves are often lies. Jesus himself tells us that “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14) So, Satan doesn’t need to possess you with demons to thwart God’s plan for your life. Really, he only needs you to step off that narrow path or distract you enough to miss the little gate. And that is shockingly easy to do.
Seemingly small distractions that can derail our Christian walk are everywhere, all the time, and worse, they seem very reasonable and normal. They are called WORRIES: the stress of working too hard or long at work, pursuing status or reputation, concerns over physical fitness, health crises, finances, caring for the family, housekeeping, pursuing a hobby, education, pets, entertainment, vacations, bureaucracy, chores and so much more. Of course, you need to be concerned with these things, after all, they won’t take care of themselves, will they? But consider Jesus’ words: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:30-34)
The prescription: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) The warning: “For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23)
Our culture pushes us toward self-reliance and away from trusting God. But there is merit to embracing the philosophy of Bob Marley’s ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ and ‘Don't Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin. They played both of those songs repeatedly on my recent cruise. I was humming along while the hubby was frantically anxious about flights, COVID tests, storms that caused 4-day power outages 4,000 miles away back home, a sick cat, a car unattended in a long-term parking lot, aches, pains, schedules and work problems.
I cannot honestly say that those things weren’t worthy of concern. But I will say this: they were distractions. Excessive fretting distracted from the relaxation of a well-deserved vacation. It distracted from the glorious joy of the incredible, natural beauty of a bucket-list destination. It distracted from a good night’s sleep. And most of all it distracted from the opportunity to gain peace by trusting God.
The Message’s version of Matthew 7:14 puts it this way, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
PRAYER: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen. -Reinhold Niebuhr