by Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Before my wife and I had children, we lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where for the first time we encountered kudzu. Having never seen it before, we were, to say the least, amazed by it. For those not familiar with kudzu, it is a groundcover brought to this country from Japan earlier this century as cattle feed, for erosion control or as a flowering vine, depending on whom one talks to. Once here, it virtually took over the southeastern United States.
Sometimes on Sunday afternoons, we would go sight-seeing, occasionally stopping beside the road to take pictures. The advancing tide of kudzu was a favorite spectacle. It covered ravines, whole stands of trees, barns, power poles, abandoned vehicles—you name it and kudzu covered it.
Kudzu is a remarkable vine-like plant. Birds spread it over the southern United States—or wherever conditions are right—by carrying its seeds. Once the seeds have germinated, the kudzu plant sends out ten-inch-long runners that entwine themselves around anything it comes across. Additionally, it may well be the fastest growing plant around. In the heat of midsummer, when everything else is wilting, it can grow eighteen inches a day. It can bury whole landscapes.
Kudzu and You
What does kudzu have to do with us? Simply this—it is a weed! In Matthew 13 Christ gives us the Parable of the Sower and the Seed in which the sower throws his seed on four types of ground. In verse 7 the seed falls among thorns. Thorns are nothing more than prickly weeds. In the Bible, seventeen different Hebrew and Greek words are used to describe weeds, though they are often translated as "thorns," "thistles," "briers," and the like.
What do weeds do? They choke, entangle and steal. They hinder fruit from maturing. They may not necessarily stop growth, but they can slow it down to the point that fruit never ripens. The spiritual parallels are evident.
Christ explains in Matthew 13:22 that the seed that fell among thorns was the Christian who heard the truth, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the Word, rendering him unfruitful. These things are weeds!
Weeds have a few common characteristics. They are aggressive, often quicker than useful plants at reproducing and spreading. They steal, robbing the moisture and nutrients from the more desirable plants. Since they are typically fast growing, they eventually steal the sunlight, too, by towering over the good plants. Then they crowd out the tender young shoots, stealing their space.
In agricultural situations, especially tropical regions, weeds can cause up to a fifty percent reduction in yields. So why not just get rid of them? Easier said than done. A single plant of common ragweed can produce over 3000 seeds. A single pigweed plant produces over 120,000 seeds! And if conditions are not right, some weed seeds can lie dormant for decades, waiting for the right amount of moisture, light and heat before germinating. Studies have shown seeds from several varieties of weeds still able to germinate after ninety years! Add to this that botanists have classified 1,775 species of weeds in America alone, and what do we have? Weeds are a problem that will not go away.
Any farmer or gardener will verify that one hundred percent control of weeds is impossible. Even aggressive weed haters strive only to manage the problem. A gardener has to watch constantly for them and attack their appearance early.
My family tries to have a small garden every year, and during the summer we often go out after supper to inspect it. Despite our best efforts, invariably a few weeds will have popped up and need to be pulled. And if we miss a few days or even a week—look out! A controlled situation has literally blossomed into a problem.
Our spiritual lives work the same way. The world and the cares of it are all around us; we cannot totally eradicate its influences. But we can certainly manage them. What happens if we miss a day of prayer or Bible study? Spiritual weeds pop up. Weeds are entanglements, and they must be plucked up by the roots before they become firmly planted as habits.
Weeds in Your Life?
Recall the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. Among the parallel accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke, weeds are defined as: 1) The cares of this world, which one commentator calls "anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this life." 2) The deceitfulness of riches—not wealth in itself, but its drawing power, its allure. Abraham, Joseph, Solomon, Job and others of God's people show that He has blessed many with wealth. But it takes tremendous diligence and character to handle riches. 3) The pleasures of this life. The delights which worldly prosperity allows us to enjoy, in themselves, may be innocent. But do they draw off so much of our attention, so much of our time, that little remains for spiritual things?
When the sower threw the seed among thorns, he did not throw it on poor soil. In fact, it was just as moist and fertile as the good soil! Notice that the "thorns sprang up" after the seed was cast; the weeds were not significant beforehand. But when they "sprang up," they were not cleared away and growth was choked!
In Matthew 13:22-23 the only difference between the seed sown among weeds and the seed sown on good soil is in the action of the hearer. Both heard the Word, but only one acts on what he hears. Think about this. The seed sown on good soil could easily be overcome and choked out by weeds if action were to become inaction. What if spiritual laziness sets in?
What would happen if, let's say, a man has a vegetable garden and next to this garden is a small patch of kudzu? He cannot spray it with a herbicide because of the danger of it drifting onto his plants. What should he do? He must go out every day to monitor the situation and take whatever action is appropriate. Perhaps he needs to cut the kudzu back, or maybe it will be okay for another day.
The point is that the gardener must stir himself to be diligent. What happens if he tries to manage the kudzu from his bed or from the easy chair in front of his television? In a few weeks, he would go out to pick some red, ripe, juicy tomatoes and find that not only does he not have any tomatoes, but he does not even have a garden! Chances are, kudzu is climbing up the back of his Lazy-Z-Boy recliner!
What do we call someone who is spiritually inactive, even asleep? Laodicean! What Revelation 3:14-18 describes as a Laodicean is nothing more than a Christian choked by weeds. The Laodicean knows that kudzu is out there, but his attitude is lethargic. "I'll get to it later," he says. "My favorite show is coming on!" The Laodicean says in verse 17, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." What did Christ say the weeds were? The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the pleasures of this life!
Every day we have to "hoe" our spiritual garden. Prayer and Bible study we all understand about—we know how necessary they are to Christian growth. But we need to go even further and fight, root out, the weeds. Is that television show, novel, movie or sportscast an entanglement? Are we spending too much time trying to "make it" or "get ahead" or "keep up with the Joneses"? Do we allow ourselves to become easily sidetracked by "little things"? While sleeping late instead of getting up early to pray, is kudzu creeping over our fruit?
Occasionally, when I pray, I start out praying for others, maybe those who are ill or having trials of one type or another. The next thing I know, I am praying about myself and my wants! Lately when this has happened, I have said to myself, "That's a weed—get rid of it!" I have found it to have worked very effectively in putting me back on track in my prayers.
We can extend this technique to any part of life. Just ask yourself, "Am I asleep?" If you know you are not asleep, ask, "Am I coasting?" You may find that you have allowed other pursuits to crowd out higher, spiritual priorities. If so, you need to wade into your overgrown garden and begin pulling out weeds by the fistful.
Summer is upon us. It is growing season. If you are not checking your garden every day, weeds could now be springing up among your useful plants, crowding them out, choking them, preventing them from producing quality fruit! Pull them now and reap a bumper crop!