Our message this week, is what I call “The thorns of life.” Genesis 3:17-19 says, “And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee saying, thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
WHAT IS A THORN?
It is possible that many city dwellers have never seen thorns in their lives. But try and picture a plant with sharp needles on its body. A thorn is a prickle or a sharp pointed growth on the branch or stem of a plant.
The passage above is what the Bible calls the curse of thorns. Thorns were not meant to be a problem until this curse was issued. Carefully interpreted, thorns and thistles mean hard labour or hard life. A life of thorns and thistles, if not rescheduled, can cause other problems.
Matthews 27:29-30 says, “And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.” This occurred before Jesus was crucified. What is known as a crown of thorns with sharp needle-like objects was placed on His head, causing blood to come out. They put the crown of thorns on His head to mock Him. It was also to give Him headache. But unknown to them, they were fulfilling a divine purpose. The kind of plants used for the crown of thorns was known to be poisonous. So, apart from the headache, the poison from the plant used for the crown also entered the blood of the Saviour.
WHY WAS HIS CROWN MADE OF THORNS?
His crown was made of thorns because He came to cancel and break the curse of the thorns of life. He wore the crown for you and for me and carried away the curse and spiritual poisons that made life a hell. When there are thorns in a life, the purpose is to cause worry, trouble, temptation, annoyance, pain, humiliation and persistent attacks. But since Jesus has suffered and shed His blood to remove these thorns, life will offer only two things: Thorns or flowers; depending on what you personally choose. The Bible says, “Behold, I place before you this day blessings and curses, life and death, I advise you to choose life so you may live.”
WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A PERSON PICKS UP THORNS OR FLOWERS?
What will determine what you pick up is the kind of vessel you are made of. A vessel is any material that may be used for any purpose. A vessel may be a tool, an implement, a weapon or something you use to perform a particular function. Romans 9:21-23 talks about one particular kind of vessel. It says, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”
2 Timothy 2:20-21 says, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
There are different kinds of vessels in the house of God. So you will do well to examine what kind of vessel you are. Let me clear one thing before we go deeper into this message: God will not accept any excuse from anyone for not being a useful vessel.
Recently, a man of God preached to an unbeliever to accept the Lord. He listened attentively and after the message, he said to the man of God, “You are talking about heaven and that at the end of the day we shall all go there.” The preacher said yes. The man queried further, “You say that there is enjoyment in that place and that eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, and it has not come into the mind of men what the Lord has prepared for His people.” The preacher said, “That is correct.” Then the man asked, “One final thing before I decide whether I will give my life to Christ or not. Will my wife be there?” The preacher replied that if she was born again, she would be there. Then the man said, “In that case, I do not want to go to heaven because I do not want to have anything to do with her whether in heaven or anywhere else.” This man did not know that even if his wife was the worst woman that ever lived, God would not accept such excuse from him.
The excuse of Adam for disobeying God was rejected. The excuse of Eve for disobeying God was also rejected. The excuse of Lot for wanting to stay in Sodom and Gomorrah was rejected. The excuse of Moses for not wanting to talk to Pharoah was rejected. The excuse of Aaron for making the golden calf was not accepted by God. The excuse of the ten spies for not wanting to go into the promised land was rejected. The excuse given by the Israelites for wanting a king for themselves was rejected. The excuse of Saul for assuming the post of a priest was rejected; also his excuse for saving the enemies of God, the Amalekites that were to be destroyed, was rejected. The excuses of Elijah, a fire man of God for running away after Jezebel had threatened him with death was rejected.
The excuse of the unfaithful servant who hid the one talent he was given was not accepted by his Master. Jeremiah told God that he was a small boy when God called him, but God said: “Shut up. Do not repeat what you have just said. I chose you from your mother’s womb.” All his excuses were rejected. So, no one should have any excuse for being a useless vessel before God. I have gone this far to let you know that God hates excuses. Those who have excuses for not being what God wants them to be are causing trouble for themselves for all their excuses will be rejected.
I ask you a question now: “What kind of vessel are you? Your answer will determine whether you will be picking up thorns or flowers from life. It is said that the same sun that hardens the clay melts the candle. Both clay and candle are materials but they happen to be of different textures. One can withstand the sun while the other cannot. What kind of vessel are you? You will not say I want to cook soup and then say the best material to use is a wine glass. It will crack because it is not the correct vessel to use. Examine yourself. What type of vessel are you?
When enemies fire arrows at you and such arrows prosper, it shows the type of material you are made of. There is no excuse for a Christian to be weak these days. There is no excuse for not moving the way God wants you to move. The Bible says that there are some vessels of honour and others of dishonour. There are some people who are spiritual conductors. They are signboards leading people to heaven, but they themselves are not prepared to enter. Some even block the way for others to enter. They are just like the bus conductor who never allocates a seat to himself. Do not be an unprofitable usher, an unprofitable vessel or a vessel unto dishonour. Unprofitability and dishonour attract evil.
You will now take these two prayer points:
1. Oh Lord, I do not want to be a vessel unto dishonour, make me a vessel of honour, in the name of Jesus.
2. Oh Lord, let all dirtiness be drained out of the vessel of my life, in Jesus’ name.
Every situation in life, no matter how horrible it may be, can be rectified by the touch of Jesus. A man’s life will remain empty until he has had an unforgettable encounter with Jesus. Nothing works except Jesus Christ is in it. If people say someone is prospering because he has money, that does not necessarily mean he is getting on. Except he is prospering in God, he is not really getting on. He may be making progress by human assessment, but so long as Jesus is absent in his so-called progress, everything really is zero.
Many people are like that clever soldier who did not want to stay in the army anymore and therefore employed a trick. He pretended to be mad and began to salivate and to drag his feet on the floor. When an order was given to the soldiers to stand at attention, he would bend down. His main desire was to be discharged. Everyday, when they showed him a paper, he would say, “No. This is not it.” Eventually a decision was taken to discharge him from the army. He was then given his discharge certificate. He read only the first page and yelled, “Yes. This is it.” His madness cleared away at once. But as he was matching away, congratulating himself for being smart, someone drew his attention to what was written on the other page of the letter. Turning to that page, he found that directives were given that he should be taken to the prison yard. Most people who are like that soldier never want to settle down and sort themselves out. They want something to fall down from the sky and sort them out. It is not so. God needs your cooperation. You cannot fight it out with the devil by your own strength or by your own brain. Look at the methods people have been using to sort out their problems. Undiscerning men and women patronise herbalists thereby complicating their problems and postponing their evil days.
A sister went somewhere to seek for help. The consultation fee was N30,000 and she managed to cough it out. As directed, she wrote her name on a piece of paper and handed it to the herbalist who set the paper on fire. She was told that after the paper got burnt, she would see her spirit from whom she could enquire why she was having those problems. She was then taken to another room decorated with glass and she could see herself in the glasses in several places at the same time. Soon she saw an image which looked like a lady but the voice sounded like that of a man. When she pointed out that that was not her voice she was told that it was the voice of her spirit. She agreed with their explanations but in the end, nothing happened. In effect, the N30,000 collected from her achieved nothing. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it,” the Bible says.
Perhaps you have been trying on your own strength, you have been struggling, you have been wasting time. It is time for you to submit your vessel, then you can be a vessel unto honour.
There are seven things that can come under the category of thorns of life and depending on the vessel you are, you can pick them up.
1. Sin. The Bible says in Matthew 1:21 that the Son of God was born to save men from their sins.
2. Sicknesses: The Bible says that Christ was wounded for our transgression and bore our infirmities on the cross.
3. Demonic oppression.
4. Unfriendly friends: They are all over the place and one can pick them up.
5. Bad habits: They can stick to one and land one in hell fire.
6. Lack of spiritual power: This can easily be picked up in the environment.
7. Spirit of failure.
A certain man fell into a pit and could not get out. But right at the mouth of the pit he received about 12 visitors. The first person to come and see him was Brother Sympathizer. He said, “You are inside the pit. I feel sorry for you,” and walked away. After a few minutes, Brother Logic came around and said: “Oh, you are inside there. It is logical that someone should fall inside there, because of the location. They should have put it elsewhere or a piece of wire should have been put round the top.” He then went away. Shortly after, Sister Holiness came. She said: “What are you doing in this hole? Only bad people and sinners fall into such a hole.” She then went away.
After a while Brother Mathematician came. He began to calculate how the man fell into the pit. He calculated the circumference and the depth, yet the man remained in the pit. Eventually Sister Historian turned up. She explained that it was in 1965 that the hole was dug. She then told the history of how many people had fallen into it. She left and the man was still there. Then a newspaper reporter came and wanted to interview the man on how he got into the pit. He wanted an exclusive story on the incident. Then he left. Brother Self-Pity came and urged the man to take courage. He said his own pit was a lot deeper than where the man was. “You have not seen anything yet,” he said and left.
After a while a Pentecostal preacher came. He said, “Brother, why are you inside that pit. Now, begin to confess that you are out of that pit.” He too departed. Then something happened. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the spot and did not waste time blowing grammar. He just took the man’s hand and dragged him out of the pit. Beloved, Christianity is not theoretical. It is practical. We have a policy in the Mountain of Fire and Miracles. It is as simple as a Yoruba adage that says: “If a man sees a snake and a woman succeeds in killing it, the important thing is that the snake has not escaped.” Beloved, only Jesus can withdraw the thorns of life and replace them with flowers. One big problem, however, is that many of us do not listen to God before we get into problems. Suppose you asked God’s opinion before you invested in certain projects or contracts you would have avoided a lot of troubles. God could have told you, “No, do not dare because the result will be unpleasant.” May be you want to go on a journey and the Spirit of God says, “Do not go this way but go that way,” whatever would go wrong on the road would not affect you.
There are two groups of Christians who listen to God: The weak listeners and the aggressive listeners. Who are the weak listeners? The ones who do not clear their decisions with God before they act. Weak listeners will come to church, but will not give a second thought to what God is saying. They just hear but the message does not register neither do they understand it.
God wants all of us to be aggressive listeners, who come to church with their Bibles opened and their pens ready. During Bible studies, such people have their hearts and ears fully open. They are very inquisitive and are always probing, searching, comparing what they hear to what they already knew. Such people are constantly thinking of how they can apply the Scriptures to their lives. They ask themselves: “What I read this morning, what does it mean?” They are like the Berean Christians. When we fail to find a way of hearing from God and we are aggressive about it, God will use different methods to get our attention. Some of the things we call problems are not problems as such. They are God’s ways of gaining our attention.
If you have been rushing too much and God wants to slow you down, He may use some of the following methods:
1. He can make you restless. You just notice that you cannot rest. You do not know why. You do not feel easy inside. If this happens the best thing to do is to stop and listen to God. But if again you do not listen, He will apply another method.
2. He can use unusual vessels, for example, unbelievers. I remember a brother who, before he got born again used to drink a lot of palm wine. After he got born again, he reduced the quantity but did not stop altogether. He looked for Bible passages to support his action. You can always support anything with the Bible, if you choose to. But then, the Bible says that some do this to their own destruction. One day, this brother was drinking and a believer who passed by said, “Brother, you are the one preaching to us about this type of thing. What are you doing with palm wine?” He said it was because it contained yeast and he understood that for clear eyes one might drink palm wine, particularly that with sediments.
Unbelievers sometimes point out to us the wrong we are doing. Some may say that they pick on us because we are believers. But it is good to listen to criticisms, particularly from those you regard as your enemies. Sometimes they are right. God can use them to gain your attention. Any other vessel can be used just as God used Balaam’s horse to get his attention when he refused to listen.
3. God can use a word from others, even other Christians, to get our attention. Like Nathan the prophet went to David and said: “You are the man who did this,” and David had to adjust himself. Sometimes God does so through unusual blessings. So, when you receive a breakthrough, when you are thanking Him, sit down and find out what next He wants you to do.
Another way He gains our attention is through unanswered prayers. Sometimes all our prayers are answered. But when a particular need arises and heavens are like brass, then God gets our attention. Silence from heaven often signifies that we should conduct self-examination.
Sometimes God uses disappointment to cause us to listen to Him. At times, when have what we call great disappointment, God wants to use it to have our attention if we cannot be reached in any other way. He can also use unusual circumstances like in the case of Moses in the burning bush. He had never seen this type of thing before, so he drew near to have a close look at it and God spoke to him. Another method God can use is through failure. Sometimes God can be responsible for our failures. The Israelites had just defeated Jericho, but they could not overrun one small town called Ai. When they failed woefully, Joshua sought the face of the Lord. Then he knew that there was sin in the camp. When we ruin God’s purpose for blessing us, failure will come so that He can gain our attention again.
He can also use financial crisis to get somebody’s attention. God sometimes dries the finances of somebody so that he can listen. I know a man who when he was riding in a bus, he was cleaning benches in the church. After God blessed him and he had five cars, he started coming late to church. When asked why he was coming late, he said his driver was reporting late so he could not leave home early. When he was travelling by bus, he was always one of those arriving early. God started withdrawing the cars one by one until He gained the man’s attention again.
God can use tragedy to get a person’s attention. Just as He did to the Israelites in the jungle when He sent serpents to bite them. Then they sat down and listened to Him. God can use sicknesses and affliction to get attention. He does not use the same method for everyone. Do not wait for Him to use any of His methods to reach you. Instead, pray and purify the vessel of your life.
Now lay your right hand on your head and take the following prayer points:
1. O Lord, any area in which the vessel of my life is weak or it is not strong enough to receive the kind of blessing You want to pour on it, help me, in the name of Jesus.
2. O Lord, in which ever way the vessel of my life is not strong enough to accept the blessing You want to pour on it, help me, in the name of Jesus.
3. Satanic poison go, in Jesus’ name.”
4. I break every curse that may be affecting my head, in the name of Jesus.
5. Open my ears so that I may be hearing from You clearly, in Jesus’ name.
6. Place your hands on your eyes and say: Spiritual blindness go, in the name of Jesus.
7. All you enemies of my breakthrough, be disgraced this week, in the name of Jesus.
8. I refuse to pick up thorns from life, in Jesus’ name.
9. I shall laugh last over my enemies, in the name of Jesus. (Repeat this seven times)