A few weeks ago, in the early morning I was reading the parable of the soils in Matthew. It’s a story that you’ve heard many times if you’ve been in church for any length of time.
He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “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, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” – Mark 4:2-9
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 4:13-20
I reminded myself that, as is always the case anytime this passage taught, it’s good to freshly evaluate the state of the soil of our hearts.
Right now I would say I always desire to be soil number four, but being soil number three is something I’m constantly pushing against. I love my comforts. Money beckons like a siren’s song. Just a little more…you’re still generous and it’s okay to keep a little more because all those other good Christians seem to be able to give generously *and* live a beautiful first-class, first-world life. Go ahead, you deserve it. Sound familiar? Or maybe I’m feeling free of the love of money, but I constantly stress and strategize about how to organize my life and the life of my family as perfectly as possible…the worries and cares of this life.
I can truly say though, that the most joy-filled days I’ve experienced yet in my walk as a Christ- follower have come when I’ve been firmly rooted in soil number four. Bearing Kingdom fruit, walking on mission with Jesus, listening keenly to hear what He’s speaking and then choosing to obey even when it feels risky, hard, weird, or outrageous; that’s where the real life is at.
I want to rewind the tape a little bit though and go back to the near decade-and-a-half of life where I was a chronic case of soil number two.
Soil number two talks about a heart that is full of rocks. This heart wants so badly to believe, and so eagerly signs up to take this leap of faith. The rocks though. The rocks prevent the roots from sinking deep so this little seedling of faith is immediately scorched by the heat of sin and temptation, or blown over by the winds of trouble, depression, discouragement, doubt, tragedy.
When I look at my teenage and early-twenties self, this is who I was. I knew about Jesus. I grew up exposed to God and the bible, and I was a faithful church and Sunday school attender. I thank God that my mom faithfully took me to Sunday school and church, stacking the kindling of the faith that would be lit into a blazing fire at the age of 26 when I finally met Jesus. That time when he broke through the religious fog of shame and condemnation and a poorly kept list of rules and regulations that hung over my head like a blustery, depressing cloud.
The first time I remember really being drawn to the love of God was at a Jesus Northwest festival that my aunt and uncle brought me to. This was something different than the formal Lutheran sphere I usually lived in. These people had passion and emotion. There was something in the atmosphere that was different. I think I raised my hand to receive salvation and I thought I had a new life.
Before long though, it was as if nothing had changed. I was back to the old Kristi. Struggling to want to read my bible or pray or think about God. It was more of an obligation because I thought if I didn’t, that I would fall out of grace with Him.
This scenario played on repeat in different variations for the next thirteen years. There were youth group professions of faith, Sunday morning raising of the hand when the pastor invited people to receive salvation, a couple more impassioned promises to follow Jesus at Christian music festivals.
Every time, the same result. Profess to follow, try really hard for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. In the meantime my playlist would switch from secular music to Christian and I searched for an emotional high that would assure me that I was near to the Lord. Then I would shortly be back to a life that didn’t reflect God’s love at all.
While reading this parable earlier this morning, it struck me; I had way too many rocks that I was packing around in my soil.
I had the rock of image. I didn’t want to be a weird Christian around my non-Christian friends.
I had the rock of a relationship that did not honor God. I didn’t think I could commit to the sexual ethic that God held for me, so usually that shame would make me shirk back from following him on the heels of yet another failure.
I had the rock of materialism and fast-tracking toward the American dream. When Jesus says you CANNOT serve both God and money, He’s not joking. My heart wanted wealth with some God on the side. God says give me your whole heart and I’ll show you a kind of wealth that makes your money look like child’s play. I couldn’t imagine not working as hard as I could, saving as much as possible and climbing up, up, up the ladder of American success.
It ultimately took becoming a mother, going through post-partum depression and experiencing tremendous marital strife for these rocks to be picked up and thrown out. Being a mother to a fussy baby, while simultaneously experiencing a very hard season in my marriage humbled me in ways I never imagined. It allowed a space to open inside the depths of my soul that was begging to be filled by a love that could transcend the gaping holes left by the rocks that had been taken away.
It was when I had been stripped of the rocks I clung to for safety, security and (false) hope, that Jesus and his atonement for my sin finally made sense. His crazy, wild, relentless love for broken, failing, never-good-at-following-rules, self-focused Kristi nearly blew me over. It was then that the deep roots of faith were finally able to take hold in a heart whose soil had been cleared out, stirred up, and made ready to receive His sustaining grace.
For so many years I couldn’t dig up and remove the rocks from my heart; the rocks that I clung to because I thought I couldn’t live without them.
Then, at just the right time, God stripped me of these rocks. In his mercy he afflicted me, which allowed that rocky soil to be cleared out once and for all, making room for his Spirit to dwell in my heart.
On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand -Edward Mote, 1797-1874