“Then he said to them, ‘Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand all of the parables?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I said on Tuesday that the parable of the sower isn’t about you. It’s not about me. Can we take things in just a little different of a direction this morning? It’s still not about you and me, but as Jesus explains the different soils and what they each represent, we can’t help but find ourselves in the story. We can’t help it because while this isn’t about calling us to evaluate what kind of soil we are now, we were once the soil in which someone else was trying to plant a Gospel seed. If we can better understand the perspective and experience of each different soil, we’ll be better able to sow seeds in a way they will be more likely to take root. So, let’s talk about dirt this morning.
Jesus says the first type of soil, the hard path, is the person whose heart the Gospel seed never even penetrates. As soon as it is sown, the devil swoops in like a hungry bird and gobbles it up. The reality is that some of the folks with whom we share the Gospel are simply not going to be receptive to it. Period. Their hearts are hard and there’s nothing we can do about that. In this instance our best option is to simply love them like Jesus does, be unfailingly kind to them, and pray for the Spirit to soften their heart.
In our own lives, while a hard heart isn’t necessarily something we need to be ever vigilant to catch in ourselves, keeping our eyes open for bits of spiritual calcification isn’t a bad idea. Just like we go to the doctor to keep an eye on the calcification of our physical arteries, monitoring the hardening of our spiritual hearts is an exercise that we should occasionally go through. Are there sins that don’t bother us as much as they used to (especially our own sins)? Are there spiritual activities about which we used to get excited and now can’t seem to muster the energy to care about? Does serving Jesus feel more like a chore than a privilege? Answering yes to any of these questions doesn’t mean we are at risk of losing our faith and revealing a heart in which salvation never really took root, but it could mean we are missing out on the full joy of our salvation and that is something to avoid if at all possible.
The next type of soil is the rocky soil. Here, the Gospel takes root and springs up quickly, but there is no depth and so when things get hard it quickly withers. When we are sowing Gospel seeds, folks with rocky soil hearts feel like exciting wins. They grab hold of our words and seem to experience a total life change almost overnight. They jump into church life with both feet and take off running. They’re soon serving and teaching and leading and things are great. But then adversity comes and just as quickly as they came on the scene they vanish from it leaving us feeling demoralized.
These are usually folks who receive the Gospel, but don’t receive any discipling and so aren’t prepared for the challenges it will bring with it. They are under the false impression that following Jesus will be easy. Sometimes we give that impression and leave them under it. There’s a reason Jesus called us to make disciples, not converts. The solution here is to make sure we are actually making disciples. Don’t just help someone across the line of faith, keep walking with them down the road a ways (or at least make sure they are safely entrusted into the hands of someone who will) until they are able to stand on their own two Gospel feet.
In our own lives, we need to be aware of places we believe things about God or the Christian life that aren’t true. We need to watch for places where our walk is shallow. We can tell this is the case because our prayer life is focused mostly on ourselves and when it’s convenient. Our Bible reading comes in Bible McNuggets without actually engaging seriously with the text in the context of a believing community. Our service in the church is minimal to non-existent. Our attendance is sporadic. Now, many folks who had a deep faith and have backed off from it will turn back in that direction in a season of adversity, but we shouldn’t rely too heavily on a root system to hold us when we haven’t invested in seeing it develop.
The third soil is the thorny ground. Here is where there is a genuine interest in the Gospel, but there are so many competing concerns and cares that it never quite takes root in a way that leads to real life change. These are the folks who respond with some interest, but have so many other things going on in their lives, that they just can’t–and won’t–make time for it. These are folks who want to trust God, but can’t fathom loosening their grip on the things to which they have otherwise been clinging to get them through life without Him. Worry, wealth, and wants will all effectively keep Gospel seeds from really taking root.
Like with the rocky soil folks, the real need here is discipleship. These folks need someone who can help walk them through letting go of everything but God and trusting Him with their whole lives. It won’t be easy even when they are interested. The rich, young ruler eventually walked away disappointed because he couldn’t bear the thought. Baby steps along with some spiritually directed big leaps is the way forward here.
And in our own lives, worry, wealth, and wants can force us to the sidelines where we were once fully in the game. The call here is for us to take stock every now and then of where we are and what is growing in our hearts. Are we letting anxieties about the world leave us looking for something that seems more solid than God to hold on to just in case He doesn’t come through? Is our giving becoming less generous or less sacrificial than it used to be? Do we find ourselves looking enviously at the lives of others–especially those folks who aren’t in the church or are loosely connected to the church whose lives don’t seem to get interrupted from doing what they want by church stuff all the time? Those are all weeds that need to get pulled. They are lies promising hope in places it will not be found.
The last soil, of course, is the rich, fertile soil. This is where the Gospel takes root and explodes with growth. This is what we want to see happen in both the people around us and in our own lives. But, this kind of soil only exists when it has been prepared. No soil is naturally fertile and free from competition with the good seeds we want to grow on its own. It takes diligent, intentional work over time to get it prepared. It takes diligent, intentional work over time to keep it healthy. Nutrients must be added back in regularly as they are depleted from the process of growing seed. Weeds must be constantly eliminated. They’ll always come back when given the chance. Rocks are occasionally forced to the surface by the movement of the earth that must be removed. And if we let it go too long without adequate water, a crust can form that is hard to penetrate. Whether we are looking at planting seeds or just tending our own gardens, we can’t slack off or we’ll pay the price. Let’s make sure we are staying fertile. That’s how life grows best.