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FIRST-PERSON: Is your heart too cluttered?


EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Start to Finish by Mark Dance. Copyright 2023, B&H Publishing. Used by permission.

“As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit” (Luke 8:14).

When God’s Word competes with our wills, it will expose a cluttered, selfish heart. There are three common culprits of a cluttered heart: worry, wealth and wants.


As thorns can choke out healthy plants, so can worries choke out our healthy faith. I’m not talking about losing your faith; rather I’m talking about losing your joy with a slowly eroding faith.

One close friend who is a pastor once lamented to me, “Sometimes I wonder if my walk with God would be easier if I weren’t in the ministry.” Yes, even church work can choke out our spiritual growth. Every pastor I know wants their spiritual growth to outpace their ministry growth, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The origin of the English word for worry comes from the German word wurgen, which means “to choke.” If worry is suffocating your faith, stop now and prayerfully meditate on this passage. Ask God to guard your heart and mind with his peace.

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We must intentionally and consistently check our own spiritual pulse. Additionally, we need to ask a couple of mature believers to help us assess the condition of our heart.


I was 13 years old when I heard the news that Elvis died by essentially choking on his wealth. Elvis has sold the most solo albums in history and was nominated 14 times for Grammys. I have seen his fancy cars and his gold-plated grand piano in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, as well as Graceland in Memphis. All of his awards, toys, records, fame and money are a sad reminder of “the deceitfulness of riches,” that led to his destructive end.

None of us is immune to the false sense of security and worth that comes with wealth. Even pastors get caught in the trap. “If my salary was more” and “If the church budget was bigger” are statements that show that our trust is more in riches than in the King. Someday all our stuff will end up in the dump, in storage, or in our kid’s garage.


The Greek term translated “pleasures of life” points to an unquenchable sensual desire. It is also the Greek word from which we get our English word hedonism. Hedonism is a belief that pleasure, or worldly happiness, is life’s highest goal. Roman emperors were notorious for their hedonism, which became the cultural norm for the Roman Empire.

In the book This Is Our Time, Trevin Wax wrote that the biggest myth we surrender to is the pursuit of happiness. A Barna Research project found that 84 percent of Americans believe “the highest goal for life is to enjoy it as much as possible.” Sadder still was the fact that 66 percent of churchgoing Christians bought into the same lie!

As you well know, hedonism and materialism are alive and well in today’s culture and are an ominous threat to our churches and pulpits. Sports, school activities, work and hobbies often have a stranglehold on our lives. Our obsession with achieving and acquiring leaves our hearts barren, exhausted and empty.

As pastors, we are tempted to focus on the measurements of ministry success rather than on Jesus. Our egos sometimes crave bigger crowds and more attention, yet our primary motivation should be the love for Christ that drew us to our ministry call in the first place.

PRAYER: Jesus, I admit that my earthly desires have gotten in the way of my love for you. You are my joy and my salvation. Nothing is as great as serving and loving you. Lord, purify my heart from the worries of this world.