The Parable of the Sower? Or maybe this parable needs a new name.
From what perspective did you learn to understand Jesus' parable of the sower? It is Mark chapter 4. A lot of us, were taught to read this parable from the perspective of the farmer, from the perspective of the person who is scattering the seed. After all, it is subtitled in our Bibles "The Parable of the Sower," and it starts with Jesus telling about the main character, saying "The sower went out to sow."
However, as I was taking notes and reading this parable for the book He Called: 56 Daily Studies and Reflections with the Words of Christ, I felt like the Lord was showing me to read this parable from the perspective of the seeds and the soil. From that perspective, this story gives us a framework for a quick, daily, spiritual assessment of ourselves.
Jesus goes out on a boat in the lake to make room for himself from the crowds of people who have come to hear him. There are hundreds or thousands of people crowding along the shoreline to see and hear Him. Jesus begins by calling out, from the boat to the crowd, "Listen! Behold!" In the Greek text, Jesus uses two words of emphasis here, in order to get the crowds attention. That word "behold" indicates that He is going to teach something very profound or meaningful. Then at the end of the teaching, Jesus closes with one of His signature phrases: "He who has ears to hear, let them hear." The way Jesus started this teaching and ended it with this emphasis and closure indicates it is very important to try to understand. Also, Jesus later talks to his disciples about the meaning of the parable, and he tells them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you..." but there are others who can see but they do not perceive; and there are those who can hear but they do not understand.
Jesus said they see and hear, but they do not perceive nor understand. Those second verbs, perceive nor understand, are written in a special tense in the Greek (called the aorist subjunctive). The use of this tense indicates that it is something that happens habitually.
Habitually. There are people who see and hear his word but they habitually, over and over again, do not understand it. I watched a sermon from Alistair Begg on this parable recently, and he said that this sentence and this concept should "keep us up at night," wondering, am I one of the people who is not able to receive and understand from God? Am I not able to go deeper with God? Am I missing something or not perceiving? Are there things God wants me to know and understand but I am not receiving them?
It could keep us up at night, but that is not what I want for you, my readers and listeners. It doesn't have to happen for you or for us if we understand the Parable of the Seeds and Soils, and if we use what we learn from it to do a quick, daily, spiritual assessment of ourselves. We just need to ask ourselves each day, or at least once a week - ask ourselves, what has my soil been like today? What is the condition of my soil? When we ask that question, we are actually asking ourselves to reflect on the condition of our environment, and maybe more importantly, the condition of our hearts.
From the Parable of the Seeds and Soils, we learn that there are four spiritual conditions we may be in, and we will refer to these as the soil on the path, the soil on the rocky ground, the soil among thorns, or the soil that is in good condition. In order to grow deeper with God, we need to make sure that the soil of our hearts are in an ongoing good condition to be receptive to what God wants to share with us. If anoyne has tried to grow a garden from seeds, or a vegetable garden, we know that we have to maintain the soil and monitor the environment to keep everything, like the tomatoes, growing. It is not a one and done plant the seeds and go. And just like that, we also must monitor the soil and environment of our hearts to keep our seeds growing deeper and closer to God in order to receive from Him his insights and truths, in order to be guided by Him, and in order for us to be productive spiritually.
1. First question: Is my heart laying on the path? Or we might say is my heart out dying on the sidewalk? Outside of the tilled field? This is the heart condition where the heart is hardened or becoming hardened. Our hearts can be laying out on the path due to a number of reasons. It could be due to poor influences we are allowing into our lives, like the birds who come and take our seed away. It could be due to our selective refusal to not obey God in an area of our lives. Honestly, is the condition of my heart right now laying out on the hard path? Be honest with yourself, are you on the path, or have you been out there on the sidewalk before? If so, if you have been out on the scorching sidewalk before, resisting God or having a hardened heart - when was it? And how did you come out of that condition to hear and understand God again (if you did)?
2. Second question to ask yourself: Have I been on rocky soil? Was I growing with joy with God at one time - but I've become more "shallow" and apathetic about it lately? Am I finding that hearing from the word has been kind of dull lately, and nothing is really springing up or coming from it? Let's be honest with ourselves, have we been in the rocky, shallow soil lately?
3. For the third possible condition, let's ask - "Have I been in the soil with thorns?" I think that this is where I get caught up a lot if I am honest with myself. The thorns, as Jesus described, are usually two things. It says it directly in the text of the chapter -- the thorns are the worries and stresses in our lives or the desire to chase worldly wealth or wordly offerings over the things of God. Am I failing to grow more deeply because of all the worries or distractions or messages or temptations that the world puts in front of me each day? Is that why maybe I feel like I am missing something? Is that why I am feeling weary and burdened or burned out? Do I need to take care of these thorns and ask the Holy Spirit to till and nurture my soil and rid me of the temptation to focus on thorns of worry or thorns of distraction?
I just referred to the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is the key to our getting back in a place in the farmer's field that is growing and joyfully learning with God. The fourth question: How do we remain in or return to the good soil? How do we renew our hearts to draw closer back to the things of God? The answer is this: We ask the Holy Spirit to re-condition the soil of our hearts; and we spend time in prayer and in God's word. Perhaps we go back to a small group studying God's word or we go back to church if we are well and able, but have been staying home. My mother was an avid gardener, and I remember if she had spent time with a plant and the plant was failing, she would take some of the soil and take a leaf or part of the stem of the plant to the expert gardeners or the horticulturists at the nearby nursery. They could test the soil and look at the condition of the plant leaves and tell her what to do, what changes she needed to make in the growing conditions, in order to enable that plant to return to healthy growing and to flourish.
Spiritually, that expert grower for us is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the tiller of our soil and the preparer of our hearts to receive what God has to teach us or to reveal to us. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us change our condition, to reset our posture towards receptivity to God. We do this by praying to God to draw us back to Him through the working of His Spirt. We ask God to soften our hearts, to open our eyes and ears so that we no longer are in a state of habitually hearing but not growing, or habitually seeing but not understanding anything fresh or new.
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