As I write, we are set for another week with sub-zero temperatures here in Northern Michigan. The good news is that by the end of the month, the forecast is calling for some temps in the 40’s and 50’s. I can’t even imagine how warm that will feel. I might break out the flip-flops and call it summer. It doesn’t take much, especially during a frigid winter like this one, to stir hopes for spring.
An annual spring tradition for many in Michigan is to put in a garden. Mine is currently under several feet of snow, but before long it will be thawed out and calling for the attention it needs to grow a good crop. The reality is that I am a terrible farmer. The amount of produce that I get from my garden pales in comparison to the amount of effort that goes into it. I just haven’t been able to figure out the right elements to successfully grow fruits and vegetables.
Jesus often compares growing your spiritual life to growing a crop. It is one of his favorite metaphors. The most straight forward telling of how the spiritual life works is found in the parable of the sower. You can find it in Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15. In this parable a farmer, the sower, scatters seed on a variety of different kinds of soil and has different results. In fact, he has all negative results until he describes the seed that fell on the good soil which produces a great crop. Jesus describes all the problems with the various soils and why they were not effective at growing food. I want to flip the parable a bit and simply describe everything you need to grow.
First, You need the Word of God.
The one thing that I have been able to grow in my garden is green beans. We usually enjoy several meals and freeze a bunch for the winter. Last year, they didn’t come up and so we replanted them with new seed. Before long…green beans. The problem was bad seed. In this story, the seed represents God’s Word, the Bible. It is good seed and the essential ingredient in our spiritual life. There is no growth apart from truth. It is God’s Word that tells us the gospel of our salvation. It is God’s Word that tells us the best way to live. It is God’s Word that develops wisdom within us. It is God’s Word that gives us our purpose to live for. It is God’s Word that can actually transform us into different people.
We live in a world that is bombarding us with its ideas and messages continually. The first and most important thing that we need to grow spiritually is the Word of God. It helps us to sort through all the other information that is coming at us and has the power to produce an amazing life. It’s like an apple tree filled with delicious fruit. It all sprung from a single seed. It is the seed of God’s word that can produce something wonderful in us. Read, listen to, study, memorize and meditate on the Bible.
Second, You need a tender and receptive heart.
The hard path in Jesus story doesn’t allow the seed to penetrate it. The seed never gets planted. There is no problem with the seed. The problem is the soil. Jesus explains that the soil is our heart, the very core of our being. Our life springs forth from it like a stalk of corn from the ground. Some people sit in church and listen to sermons all their lives and remain unchanged. Some people read their Bibles with great devotion, but seem to show little of the life of Christ in them. The problem isn’t the seed, but an unwillingness to receive it. The Word of God must be embraced to be effective. Knowledge of God’s Word is important but it is only effective when we are willing to say “yes” to God and obey it. Whenever you open your Bible or prepare to listen to a message, pray and surrender yourself to God and whatever he has to say to you. You cannot grow without an open heart that is willing to act on the truth.
Third, You need depth of heart.
This may be a bit less clear but Jesus parable of the sower describes it well. Some soil….some hearts are full of rocks and the soil is shallow. The seed never has a chance to put down deep roots and so when harsh conditions come, the plants don’t survive. A common sight when you drive around in farming country is to see piles of rocks on the edges of fields. Rocks and crops don’t mix. If we want to grow, we have to be like farmers and pull out the rocks in our lives that our hindering our spiritual growth. Ask yourself, what in my life is hindering my walk with God? What in my life is keeping me from time in his Word? What sinful rocks need to be thrown out because they are holding me back? This can be a painful process, but without it, we will suffer the same fate as the plants in the rocky soil. We will get off to a good start…we will follow Jesus with enthusiasm for a while, but we won’t have the deep roots that are necessary when trouble comes. So many Christians give up because they didn’t think life was supposed to be hard if they knew Jesus. Surprise! It is hard. Spend some time asking God what the rocks in your life are and start taking steps to get rid of them so that you can grow deep.
Lastly, You need a dedicated heart.
It’s all about the heart, isn’t it? A great study is to simply look up all the times that the heart is mentioned in the Scriptures. You will be blown away by how central it is to everything in your life. The last soil that struggles to produce a good crop is the thorny ground. Anyone who has ever tried to grow anything knows that there is a constant battle against weeds. Besides looking ugly, they thwart your goal to grow something because they take the water and nutrients of the soil away from your crop. Jesus says that we have weeds to pull too. Specifically, he mentions the worries of life, the deceitfulness of money and the desires for other things. They choke out the Word’s work in our lives.
My favorite author is John Eldredge and he says “If you do not have God and have him deeply, you will turn to other lovers.” Interesting. Jesus is talking all about matters of the heart in this story and the final obstacle to our spiritual growth is giving our hearts to other things. We turn to other lovers. We get worried about life. We think that more stuff, better stuff, different stuff is going to add happiness to our life and so we either get discouraged because we lack the stuff or devote ourselves to getting it. In the end it stunts our growth and disappoints. And then there are the myriad of things in this world that can grab our attention and grab our hearts and become the focus of our life. Some hobby, some interest, some pursuit becomes a goal greater than loving Jesus. We need hearts dedicated to the one who is completely dedicated to us, Jesus.
The Word of God, a receptive heart, a deep heart, a dedicated heart, when you have these things, you have everything you need to grow. You are good soil and ready to put out a tremendous crop. You will enjoy the satisfaction of a life lived close to God and your life will be a blessing to others. How is your soil? God is ready with good seed.