As the Soil Turns

(Mat 13:18-19 NKJV) "Therefore hear the parable of the sower: {19} "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

Sermons and studies on this parable usually focus on the "soil" as individuals and their response to the Gospel message. Thus, this "hard soil" which Jesus talks about here tends to equated with agnostics, atheist and those who could care less about God. For these people, the Gospel message is never even seriously considered or accepted. Rather, it simply bounces off their minds and souls and Satan quickly takes away the seed thrown its way.

While there is truth to this association and was definitely an application that Jesus had in mind, we can use that interpretation as a way of saying to ourselves "I'm not an atheist or agnostic. I care about God and believe in Him. I do not have any "hard soil" in me." So we quickly pass over these verses thinking that they do not apply to our heart's soil.

In Palestine, as farmers would prepare their fields, they would leave well worn paths which might happen to cross through their field. It was one such path that Jesus and His disciples were using as they were accused by the Pharisees of working on the Sabbath by picking grain and preparing it for consumption. (Matt. 12:1-2) As the farmer would scatter the seed by hand some of the seeds fell on these paths. Since it was not on ground which was plowed, there was no chance for the seed to get down into the ground before the birds would come and eat it.

What many of us tend to not realize is that there are these well worn paths in our lives which have crisscrossed our heart's soil. To paraphrase St. John, if we say we have no hard soil in our heart, the truth is not in us. Most everyone has areas in their hearts and lives to which we have not even given thought to allowing Jesus entry. Hung out on the door of these areas is a "No Trespassing" sign.

What are these hard paths in our lives and heart? At the foundation of it is simply our mental compartamentalization, categorization, and ego centric focus which excludes certain messages and ways of looking at things. To put it bluntly, we like to put God in a box, and so those areas outside that box we put off limits to God's intervention.

I was having a conversation with a friend several years ago. I don't even remember what we were talking about, but I do recall that I was basically in agreement. But then he made the statement, "My God doesn't operate that way." That struck me as not quite right. Though I agreed that God would generally not operate that way, I would not presume to say that God would never do it that way. The statement communicated to me that we tend to construct God in our own image, especially when God Himself doesn't seem to be fitting into my concepts of how He should work.

(Isa 55:8 NKJV) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD.

Peter was certain that a Messiah would not die on a cross. Paul had settled in his heart that Jesus Christ was not God, and His followers must be stamped out. Thomas could not comprehend the idea that Jesus could conquer death. By their laws added to The Law, the Pharisees could not see Christ as anything than an imposter. Each of these experienced God's actions in ways they had not conceived. For some like Peter and Paul and Thomas, their "hard soil" was softened and they began to experience God in new ways. They began to see and hear where they had not before. For others, like many of the Pharisees, their hard soil was not penetrated and they remained blind and deaf to who Jesus was and what He said.

How do we get this way and what do we do about it?

As we said, the hard soil is the paths which cut across fields. They are the well traveled areas of our lives and hearts and minds which have become hardened. This can take many forms. It can be a familiar hymn or passage of Scripture that we have "all figured out" so no attempt is made to make it fresh and new. We pass over it without giving it a thought, maybe even mechanically saying the words. Ears tend to tune out when a sermon is given on that passage. Christ can no longer use these as means to reach out soul and grow new roots in us.

It may be a callous in our heart due to abuse, violation, or tragedy. We don't want to get hurt again, so it is off limits to everyone, including Christ. I've known those who having experienced sexual abuse in a church gave up on God and steadfastly refuse to allow God into their lives. I know of those who because of the death of a beloved pastor, or a healing that didn't take place despite all the prayers and faith, have given up on God and shut him out of their lives. These people have trampled upon our heart and the ground is now packed and hard.

The only solution for this state is to be plowed. Until the ground is turned upside down, broken up, and thrown into disarray, Christ cannot enter with the seed. This is, no doubt, a painful process and the more packed and dense the soil, the more turmoil and difficult the plowing will be.

The most drastic example of this in the Bible is St. Paul. Christ literally knocked him off his horse with blinding light, humbled him so that he had to be lead into the city blind, and made him realize that he was not fighting for God, but against Him. The sorrow and regret that Paul had for those lives of God's children that he attacked had to be dealt with. He had to re-think his theology anew. God helped him see that maybe his god would not operate like Jesus did, but The God, Jesus Christ, did. A most painful and disrupting thing to go through.

God is going to have to do some major actions to break up the hard ground in your heart. Many of the painful situations we encounter in our life are sent by God specifically for this purpose. We can aid that process, however, by humility and contentment. Through these two attitudes we condition our minds to accept these things as opportunities sent by God for the healing of our blind eyes and deaf ears. With those attitudes active in our lives, the plowing of God is most free to work so that we can begin to experience God in ways we never would have done before had we stayed locked into our comfortable world.

The only way we can experience God outside the box is to tear up the box. This is not easy, nor do we tend to do it willingly. Most often God must bring about something in our lives that will turn it upside down in this area. Only then can the seed enter in and take root in that restricted place of our soul.

There is no more drastic picture of this truth than the two thieves on either side of Jesus as He hung on the cross. Both thieves were hardened by lives of sin, stealing, and possibly murder. Both were "hardened" criminals who deserved the death they were receiving. Yet, one thief began to have his heart overturned and a seed planted. He began to see not a man condemned to death next to him, but a man who was God, who could give life. He saw in Christ not defeat, but victory and found himself wanting to be part of that.

What greater example of faith is there than this thief who despite all that outward circumstances might have told him, saw a spiritual reality that was working through this earthly scene. His eyes were opened, his heart was humbled, and he saw Jesus for who He was. Consequently, in response to this thief's request of faith, Jesus answers "Today you will be with me in paradise."

On the left of Christ, however, the other thief remained hard. His pride would not allow him to see the reality that was happening right next to him. He could not see the victory that was being accomplished. He died right next to Jesus at a pivotal point in history and yet had no understanding of what was going on.

It is this picture in which we must place ourselves. One is tragic, more tragic than most. Yet it is a picture of our heard hearts, and those areas in our hearts which keep God out. Like this thief, we have allowed the events of our lives to harden areas of our hearts. Yet the thief on the other side had allowed these same events to plow his soul and heart. Consequently, he saw and he heard. He understood who Jesus was and believed. That is our decision as well. Will we in pride remain hard or in humility allow God to plow our hearts?

Through the next few weeks, I challenge you to pray a prayer that may very well be one you initially do not want answered. Pray that God will plow up the hard places in your heart. Begin to seek out those areas that we have shut God out in and work to overturn old habits, mental paradigms and emotional lock out. For some this means healing of past hurts. For others, enlightenment. Yet others need the grace of God to break free from ways of looking and doing things which shut God out from operating in their lives fully and freely.

This then is the first soil that must be deal with, for without it Christ cannot enter the soul and heart in that hard path. We will not see or hear God completely and fully. We will not be able to fully understand with a spiritual understanding. May we be granted the grace to see reality as God sees it rather than filtered through our own narrow minds. Amen.

In His grace,