By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
Along with light and water, healthy trees need good soil. Soil contains micronutrients
vital to tree health and helps to retain moisture so the roots can utilize it. A good tree planted in poor soil will struggle. In nature, the soil is called a planting medium. Soil, in our spiritual life, can be likened to the condition of our hearts. In Matthew 13:1-9, Jesus introduces the parable of the sower:
The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great
multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat;
and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them
in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some
seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell
upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up,
because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were
scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell
among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into
good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some
thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
We see in this parable of the sower, the condition and yield of four different types of soil. In fact, there is much more said here about soil than about the sower. The great thing about this parable is that Jesus goes on to explain it in verses 18-23:
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the
kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth
away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way
side (Mat 13:18-19).
The wayside or roadside is a condition of busyness. And I believe the more profound
question here is, “How are we spending our time?” Notice that the seed was sown, the word was heard, but there was no understanding. Understanding will not come in our spiritual lives if we have no time to invest in it. No matter how much light God shines on us, if we do not take time to sit in the glow, we find ourselves almost in the same condition as Adam and Eve, trying to hide from God’s voice and presence.
The wayside is also hardly packed ground. Many different people and ideas travel upon the wayside, trampling the seed and compacting the soil. This makes it almost impossible for the word to lodge. The enemy then comes and steals any hope of thoughts being germinated. A person on the wayside may hear the story but is down the road and onto something else before anything can register. There is no fruitfulness in this situation.
Ephesians 5:15-17 tells us, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as
wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but
understanding what the will of the Lord is. “Here Paul tells us to walk carefully and to redeem, or buy back, the time. If we are to understand what the will of the Lord is for us, we must buy the time to do so. It may cost us friends, it may cost us activities, and it may cost us opportunities. But this is foundational for our Christian walk. Continuing on in Matthew, we read:
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the
word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth
for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by
and by he is offended (Mat. 13:20-21).
The stony place is a condition of not being rooted and grounded. The more profound
question here is, “What are we paying attention to?” There is no root because attention is dispersed. The seed was sown, the word heard and even received with joy, but the heat of adversity brought offense because of the lack of depth. It not only takes an investment of time to grow spiritually, but it takes an investment of attention. A person’s attention can be dispersed in religious activity, church membership and programs, and a dozen other things. People pay attention to things that seem to bring temporary relief to their loneliness, their need for belonging, and their need for significance. But none of these surface things will bring lasting
change or suffice when your faith is challenged.
Ephesians 3:16-19 tells us, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Do we want inner strength wrought by the Spirit in our lives? Do we want to comprehend and be filled with the fullness of God? We must be rooted and grounded in His love; we must pay attention. This is part of walking our path of good works. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. “
Moving on to verse 22 of Matthew 13 we read, “He also that received seed among the
thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful (Mat 13:22).”
The thorny place is a condition of preoccupation with what we have and how we will maintain our lifestyle. The more significant question is, “Where do we put our thoughts?” There are thorns because our focus has been hijacked. The seed was sown, the word was heard, but the cares of this life were too great a
competition. Getting and keeping became the idol to which our thoughts paid homage. When our thoughts are fixed on the acquisition, use, or maintenance of material things, the seed of the word is choked. A fruitful spiritual life takes not only time and attention but thought.
If it’s not possessions, maybe it’s power or position that has become the hands that throttle your faith walk. Has worry about the future captured your thought life? Is it fear of what may be coming that has replaced an abiding faith in the One who Paul calls blessed: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2Co 1:3-4).
Have we rejected His mercy and comfort by setting our focus on the wickedness of the day? Do we have any comfort left to give to others facing hard times? Yes, we acknowledge that the days are evil, but even more so, let us recognize and cry out to the Ancient of Days, the One who holds all eternity in His hands. In Matthew 6, Jesus has some explicit teaching on this subject:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other;
or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and
mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall
eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the
life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for
they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father
feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought
can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like
one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is,
and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of
little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall
we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the
Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these
things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these
things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the
morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the
evil thereof (Mat. 6:24-34).
Jesus is not saying here that we should not consider the natural things of life. He is saying to seek the kingdom first. Do not let His word be choked. Do not let the concerns of this life become the majority of our thinking; let the Kingdom have that place. A person whose mind is on the Kingdom will grow to be a person of faith, clearly asking and receiving what they need.
We’ve seen that none of the soil conditions considered so far have been fruitful. In all
these instances, the seed was sown, and the word was heard. But various states of soil preparation and soil maintenance made it impossible to bear a harvest. In the first instance of seed sown on the wayside, the seed had no chance to germinate. The fowl of the air, the evil one, was able to snatch it right away. The seed sprouted in the next instance, but lack of any real depth in the soil produced an exciting burst of growth, followed by death. In the third instance, it seemed the plant was coming up, perhaps the best chance for fulfillment, but was choked out and became unfruitful.
We next look at the good soil in verse 23. “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Mat 13:23). This final example of soil is what Jesus wants us to be. Those that hear His word, understand His word, and persevere unto harvest.
Jesus seems far less concerned here that some only produced a thirtyfold harvest, and others a sixtyfold, and still others a hundredfold. His concern is that they bear fruit and bring forth. Whether we are talking about seed being sown or trees being planted and sustained, the soil condition is vital to health, fulfillment, and longevity. In John 15, Jesus shares a timeless truth:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it,
that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I
have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am
the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in
me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast
them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father
glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples (John 15:1-8).
I believe we must take responsibility for the condition of our own soil. The integrity of
the sower is never in question. The quality of the seed is not an issue. It’s what we’ve done to prepare our soil for planting that’s the determining factor here. Do we want to be fruitful?
Questions for Reflection
- The Parable of the Sower gives us the condition and yield of four different types of soil. The first is the soil of the wayside or roadside, which represents our busy-ness. Read Ephesians 5:15-17. How are you spending your time? Are you walking carefully, or are you being distracted by your natural life to the point you have no time to invest in your spiritual life? How can you redirect and buy back some time?
- The second soil is stony. The condition resulting from stoniness is not being rooted and grounded. The more profound question of the stony place is, “What are you paying attention to?” We focus a lot of attention on surface pursuits that may keep us from growing more in-depth in the Lord. Read Colossians 2:6-7 and ask yourself, “Am I too involved in important things that are keeping me away from vital things?” If so, how can you redirect your attention?
- The third soil is thorny. The cares of this world choke out God’s word. The more profound question here is, “Where do I put my thoughts?” Read Matthew 6:24-34 and ask yourself, “Have I been preoccupied with the cares of this life and failed to put the Kingdom of God first? Do I trust in myself rather than God as my ultimate provider?” If so, how can you redirect your thoughts?
- The fourth soil is good. This represents a life where the word of God is received, understood, and acted upon. Write down the harvest you would like to produce in the soil of your heart. What kind of yield are you after? Are you willing to do some regular spiritual maintenance to ensure your field is kept ready for the sower’s good seed? What might these maintenance steps be for you?
- The integrity of the sower and the quality of the seed was never an issue in this parable. Does the faithfulness of God inspire you to make adjustments in your life to more fully cooperate with Him? Write a short statement of gratitude to God for being such a loving and caring Father.