You've heard the most famous of Jesus' parables, the Parable of the Sower. In it, Jesus describes the sowing of the seed of God's word, and the different kinds of soils receiving the word. In his explanation of the parable to his disciples, Jesus tells us about one particular kind of soil:
"As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22, ESV).
I've never had a problem understanding the "deceitfulness of riches" part. Greed and materialism make God's word unfruitful in our lives.
But what are the "cares of the world?" I guess I always thought this was a sinful love of the world, but that's not what it says. So I looked the word up in Verbrugge's New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (which I heartily recommend...thanks Luke!) and learned what Jesus is saying.
The Greek word translated "cares" is merimna. It means "anxiety, anxious interest, concern, worry." So Jesus is teaching us that an unhealthy concern or anxious interest in worldly affairs chokes God's word and makes us unfruitful!
What form do these anxious concerns take in our lives? Politics is a big one. Current events and news, sports, finance, health matters, even entertainment and pop culture ("Who's gonna win American Idol????!!!! AAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!" Is this you?) Anytime we are anxious about these matters (or others) we are being choked by the thorns.
Don't quickly pass over the seriousness of this. Whether you call it outright worry, or concern or anxious interest, this is a sin that cripples one from bearing fruit for God and proving to be a genuine convert and real disciple! Worry is absolutely ridiculous for anyone who believes in the sovereignty of God. Worry is unbelief, lack of trust, fear, NO FAITH. Worry questions God's ability (even if not consciously). This is a serious matter!
So what are we supposed to do with our "cares"? The same Greek word (merimna) is used in 2 other texts that show us how God wants us to deal with anxiety.
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV).
Instead of being anxious about things in this world, we are to humble ourselves (worry is a form of pride; it takes the matter into its own hands rather than giving it to God) and cast our cares on God!
How do we cast our anxieties on God?
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV).
So God tells us to cast our anxieties on him through prayer to avoid being choked into unfruitfulness. Praise God! What a lesson, and that's just one tiny part of the parable!
Go bear some fruit!