The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)
Most people give little thought to the act of breathing. It happens involuntarily and automatically. Children who pout and attempt to hold their breath sooner or later give in to these natural forces and against their stubborn little wills resume breathing. Most people do not give conscience thought to breathing, but for some it is never far from their minds. Those who suffer from chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD or emphysema are reminded with each labored breath of the necessity of breathing. They are reminded by the inhalers, oxygen canister and in some cases wheelchairs that are their constant companions. Severe respiratory problems impose punitive physical limitations and impact the sufferer’s quality of life.
God places a particular point of emphasis on breathing. He physically formed man from the dust of the earth, but man did not become alive until “[God] breathed into his [man’s] nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7b) (NIV). In fact, in koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word “pneuma” meaning “breath” is also translated to mean “spirit” and is used to describe the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.
Just as there are physical asthmatics, there are also spiritual asthmatics. In these spiritual asthmatics, the free flowing breath of the Holy Spirit is constricted just like the airways of a physical asthma sufferer. The sources of spiritual constriction are not allergens or airborne pollutants, but rather “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.” Jesus spoke these words and in other teaching discourses he warns of the asphyxiate effects of worry and undo focus on wealth, “you cannot serve God and money, therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:24b-25) (NIV).
In these passages we understand what not to do, but that is only half of the equation. In order to effect real behavior for every “no” there must be a more compelling “yes.” If not, we are left with something like the ill-fated anti-drug slogan popularized by former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, “just say no.” Jesus offers the compelling yes; “But seek first his [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
If we seek God’s kingdom first, he promises to meet our temporal needs; the source of much worry and anxiety even in the life of believers. Genetics and heredity often figure prominently in those who physically suffer with breathing problems. These things are outside of the sufferer’s control. Those who suffer from spiritual breathing problems have the ability to control their “breathing” by what controls their minds, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).