Preparing the Soil

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times… Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Mark 4: 3-9, 13-20.

This parable explains the different responses which people have toward Jesus and his radical message. Four different responses are given, along with four different causes and four distinct results. The sowing of the seed symbolizes the spreading of the gospel. The seed which is sown is the word of God. In this article, I hope to help us consider this teaching not only through the lens of our own personal lives, but more so in the context of how we minister to those in Christian counseling and recovery. It seems that many times when we as more seasoned Christians contemplate this parable, we’re quick to retort, “I don’t have hardened soil. There are no rocks in my heart. I’ve removed all the weeds from my life.” But consider with me that maybe God isn’t wanting us to read this parable merely through a lens of self-examination, but more as a perspective of what’s happening in the lives of those we are called to love, serve, and minister to.

The first soil — those along the hardened path — are those whose hearts have never responded positively to the Lord Jesus Christ. The truth of Jesus makes no impression on them whatsoever. Satan immediately snatches the message from their hearts, so there is no response, no new birth, no fruit, no hope. From the perspective of Christian counseling and recovery, this first person is often someone whose life has been marked with shame, rejection, and abandonment. Their heart has become hardened, and they find it very difficult to trust anyone, including God. Deep down, they know something needs to change. But they have become so bitter, so resentful, and so wounded, they often find it easier to perpetuate a life of self-destruction than to accept the invitation to a new life in Christ. When seeds of love, hope, and restoration are sown, barriers of shame keep the seeds from taking root.

The second soil — the rocky soil — represents those who positively and joyfully respond to our Lord’s teaching, but with an inadequate grasp of its implications. These folks respond enthusiastically to the word because they think that it is a gospel which promises blessing, happiness, and prosperity in this world. The quickness of the response is an indication of their lack of depth, or their lack of perception as to what the teachings of Jesus really mean. This is not due to our Lord’s misrepresentation of the gospel. It is the result of selective hearing, of hearing only the good and pleasant things, rather than hearing of the costs involved in discipleship, of which our Lord often spoke. A simple reading of the Sermon on the Mount will show how Jesus carefully represented the blessings and the costs of following Him. Many individuals we minister to in recovery and counseling will have rocks in the soil of their lives. They are searching for a ‘religion’ that will fit into the crevices surrounding the bigger, higher priority rocks in their lives. They are hoping for a ‘quick-fix’, one that requires no sacrifice on their part. It’s not uncommon that this individual will strive to “clean up their life”, only to have calamity or crisis come upon them. The roots of their commitment are not sufficient to handle this adversity, so their so-called ‘faith’ merely fades away. More of their emotional, spiritual, and mental energies are devoted to taking care of the bigger rocks in their lives than to developing and nurturing the seeds of their young faith in Christ. And the rocks prevail!

The third soil — the thorny soil — represents those who have a more complete grasp of the cost of discipleship, but who have never rid themselves of the “cares of this world.” Their concerns for worldly trappings — such as wealth, knowledge, power, and beauty — outgrow their seeking first the kingdom of God, and thus their priorities become reversed. They want God to bless their self-motivated plans and priorities, with little thought given to yielding their lives to His plan and what He might be doing in the world around them. It is not that the people represented by this thorny soil do not understand the true costs of following Jesus. They are just not willing to pay the price. It is not a lack of knowledge which causes them to err, but lack of commitment and dedication. We encounter this, as we serve in Christian recovery and counseling, in the individual who is quick to praise the Lord, able to quote their share of key scriptures, appears very ‘Christian’ on the outside, but is hollow and unfulfilled on the inside.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about what I call the “Equal and Opposite Principle”. This principle purports that the more they strive to protect their ‘perfect’ image on the outside, the more likely that they are deeply wounded and shame-based on the inside. The cost of their not appearing to have it all together far outweighs the benefit of their becoming truly authentic and exposed. So there is an incongruence that drives their lives: “I must appear righteous, religious, and pure so people will never know how self-centered, broken, and dirty I actually am on the inside.” The fourth soil — the good soil — represents those whose hearts are prepared for the gospel, and whose lives are uncluttered with competing interests and values. In this fourth soil, the word not only brings forth life, but the plant comes to maturity and it bears fruit. This is the goal of Christian discipleship.

It is our hope and prayer that every individual we minister to in recovery and counseling ministry pursue an honest, authentic, transparent life in Christ. They will only know what this looks like as we genuinely model this in front of them. I feel that we as more mature disciples and as ministry leaders have a responsibility to cultivate these characteristics in the lives of those we serve. I’m convinced that, in all four of the examples in this parable, the quality of the actual soil is the same — able to receive seeds, grow and mature, and produce a healthy plant. The real issue isn’t the quality of the soil. It’s what has happened to the soil over time that makes it not productive. Hardness. Rocks. Weeds. Shame. Deception. Worldliness.

So please allow me to share a ‘parable’ of my own. The field is made up of the myriad of people I encounter every day. Each of their hearts is represented by the soil. Sin, and life in a sinful broken world, have introduced hardness, rocks, and weeds into their lives. My responsibility and calling as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be a tiller of hard packed soil. To be a picker-upper of rocks. To be a puller of weeds To be a cultivator of soils that are not yet ready to receive seed. Then Jesus will effectively be the farmer. Him sowing seed will be the spreading of the gospel of love and grace. The word of God will be the seed. I’ll merely be a laborer in the field. Getting my hands dirty, maybe even callused at times. Going home tired at the end of a hard day in the field. Getting up early the next day to continue the work.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37


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