“’Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on the shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. Other seed fell among the thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so it produced no grain. Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Mark 4:3-8) NLT
Have you ever ignored really good advice only to regret it later? The advice giver was essentially trying to sow seeds of truth into your soul. For one reason or another, the seeds were unable to take root. When this happens (and it has probably happened to every one of us many times), what is the reason for the failure? What if you’re working with lousy dirt? In the passage above, Jesus gives a parable that describes this very issue as it relates to whether or not we accept and believe the gospel. But I think this dynamic exists anytime truth is spoken into our lives. Jesus says that the issue is primarily about the quality of the soil, and he identifies three ways in which our soil could give us trouble.
First, we could be a footpath. Having been walked on repeatedly, the footpath becomes hard and difficult for the seed to penetrate. Feeling trampled? It could be that church going people have treated you with harshness and animosity. Or possibly the circumstances you deal with on a daily basis have caused you to doubt God’s love for you. Maybe you have been hurt or abused by someone in your past and one of your coping mechanisms is to be closed off relationally or to run from being under authority. Or, maybe your pride just gets the best of you. Is there a wall around your heart? If so, the seed intended to give you life or protect you from bad decisions can’t get where it needs to go.
Second, we could have shallow soil. Shallow soil is not very deep due to the proximity of rock underneath, and there’s very little room for water storage. The roots can’t grow like they’re supposed to. Improving the soil is hard work and time consuming, but it’s important for a tree to have strong roots when a storm comes. For those of us who are Christians, are we doing the work necessary to have strong deep roots? How strong is your faith? Trouble will come to all of us. Many of us have not taken the time necessary to prepare for those times. We have not invested in relationships with wise Christian men and women, studied the Bible regularly, or invested in relational God time.
Third, we could have soil surrounded by thorns. As the seed sprouts and develops, it could be surrounded by “bad neighbors” that prevent it from growing. Who is in your life that prevents the good seed planted in you from growing and maturing? Our natural instinct is to surround ourselves with people who make us comfortable. Abuse survivors are naturally attracted to other abuse survivors, many of whom have not recovered sufficiently. They instinctively look for someone who can understand what they have been through, and they assume that only another abuse survivor could do that. What an abuse survivor really needs is to be surrounded by healthy people who can show them what love really is (especially God’s love). Often we are attracted to people who are not good for us. These people are thorns that choke out our potential and prevent us from recognizing wise counsel when we hear it.
So how do we guard against developing bad soil? First, we must remove the hardness around our hearts. Maybe you need to forgive someone in your past so you can move on. Some of us need to go to counseling to deal with traumatic events in our past. For others, it means letting go of the fear or pride that holds us back. These things can be very difficult to do but it’s also incredibly important. Not dealing effectively with these things will keep us stuck and prevent us from reaching our true potential. Next, we need to treat the soil. Spending quality time with God relationally in prayer, studying the Bible, and building relationships with fellow Christians are critical ways to create a strong root system. We just need to choose to make the investment. And finally, we need to evaluate our relationships to see if they are helping us or hurting us. Are your friends hurting your ability to grow and mature? Are you in a dating relationship with someone who is not good for you? What can you do to remove the thorns that are choking out the seed that has been planted in you? It’s important to build relationships with those outside the church so we can draw them to Jesus. But those closest to you are your support system and most trusted advisors. If your advisors are not believers, you will probably have difficulty discerning the right path because of their influence.
When the good seeds are planted, will your soil allow them to grow? The trajectory of your life may depend on it. We have no idea what is coming down the road for each of us. What next step can you take to ensure that you are working with high quality soil?