The thistle enjoys an exalted position in Scottish heraldry, and is loved by the little passive donkey Eeyore, a character in Winnie the Pooh written by A. A. Milne. Personally, I do not like thistles, but there is a reason for their existence.
The thistle is a troublesome pest! It is prickly, stubborn, and an unwelcome invader in our garden. We have been fighting to eradicate them for several years. Granted, like any herb, they may have some medicinal or food purpose and their flowers are pretty, but that is the only compliment they will get from me. Besides, the flower quickly turns into a seed head, bringing prickly reinforcements.
All we want in our garden is what we plant. As stated in Hebrews, “For the earth … bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7–8).
It is hard to get rid of thistles. You cannot just pull them up because the plant easily breaks off, leaving part of the long taproot to quickly thrive again.
So, why do thistles exist? And what can thistles teach us?
After Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, God informed them of the consequences. “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…’” (Genesis 3:17–18).
Jesus spoke many parables, and one of the best known is the Parable of the Sower. This parable relates that some of the seed “…fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them” (Matthew 13:7). Jesus explained the parable to his disciples. The seed falling among the thorns typifies “he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (v. 22). The parallel account in the book of Mark adds “and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19).
Cares and desires of riches and other things choke the word. We may worry about food, clothing, shelter, automobiles, our jobs, our health and our children’s education. But Christ tells us to quit worrying about the cares of this life and allowing them to get in the way of following Him—for when we seek His way first, He will take care of our other needs (Matthew 6).
The Epistle of Paul to Timothy warns: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6–10) And in Hebrews: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
We do not want to be spiritually unfruitful. Christ said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5–6).