You Can Thrive

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:8,23

My prayer this morning is this, “Jesus, show me what you pictured when you spoke this parable. Paint it for me. Rise up in me and show me how you feel about the power of what You describe. You are God and can see into men’s hearts. What does a hundred-fold harvest look like as it’s growing? Let me want this more than I’ve wanted anything – ever.”

Picture this slow motion movie ~ The best of all seeds fall from the hand of God. They land in perfect soil ~ fertile, aerated, and treated. The moment they hit the dirt, germination happens and from the first moment, the promise of something great begins to happen.

I can picture it, can’t you? Don’t you want it? I sure do. I want pristine conditions for spiritual seeds. How incredible is it that heaven’s seeds can come and grow inside of me! God is generous to share them without me having to go to heaven first. “The kingdom is here, now”, Jesus said.

What makes my heart the perfect place to grow heaven’s seeds?  I am open at all times. Willing to listen. Willing to learn. Insatiably hungry. Willing to lay defenses aside. Willing to be wrong. Willing to change.   When seeds hit my soil, no demonic birds can steal it. No limestone foundation comprised of unresolved issues prohibit growth. No weeds are anywhere in sight to crowd out the free expanse of this new planting. Stunning results are assured. What will I become with heaven’s seeds growing inside of me? There is no mystery here. I become the tree in Psalm One; battered at times by the winds of adversity but never fearing annihilation.

Today, I move toward this goal by engaging my personal Gardener. “I am the vine, my Father is the husbandman – or vine dresser.’ John 15:1 ESV I know that my Father constantly assesses the garden of my soul. He searches me and knows what it will take to improve my soil conditions. He never passes judgment to declare me hopeless if I ask for help. He gives specific spiritual guidance. He reveals every rock and why it’s there. He changes my appetite if I love the things of this world too much. He is my compassionate Healer when worries block my ears from hearing Him. He wants my harvest even more than I do.

I’m a picture person. Right now, I see Him slowly walking the pathways of my heart. He’s tilling and inspecting the soil…smiling at the possibilities.

Your seeds are infused with resurrection power – the same that raised You from the dead, Jesus. Don’t let me limit what You want to do by being unteachable. Speak into my soul and be relentless. In Jesus’ name, Amen  

I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  Romans 7:17-20

If every true believer were asked which of the four soil types he preferred to have, every person would probably say they want the soil that allows seeds to thrive.  Yet, few of us have it.  We love what God loves and value intimacy, communion, holiness, love for the scriptures, etc.  So, why doesn’t our desire translate to possession?

The Apostle Paul spells out why. He admits that what he wants to do, he doesn’t do.  He knew that the obstacle was what was still so strong deep within him.  The flesh.

After reviewing this beautiful parable, my intense desire is stirred up again for fertile soil.  Yet, I know I can’t make it happen without God’s help.  I must admit my inability to grow righteousness through self-effort.  The sins of my flesh, resulting in bad soil, are never overcome without the Spirit.  With hardened soil, my flesh bends toward unbelief.  With stony soil, my flesh emotionally reacts passionately to the Gospel but can’t sustain it long enough to engage in the Spirit-driven lifestyle.  With weeds in my soil, my flesh worries and then take matters into my own hands.

Today, I cry out again for Jesus’ help to move beyond the desire for the right things to the pursuit of them.  God will give me the grace, and the grit, to take responsibility for my poor soil types, assess the reasons behind them, and then empower me to engage in true heart change.  The Spirit and the Word are the catalysts.  Scripture, blown across the darkened landscape of my heart, pulsates with new life.   Seeds of the kingdom germinate and before long, there is a hint of the harvest to come.  Once I taste of the fruit of fertile soil, I’ll never go backward.

Work the soil in me.  Break up fallow ground.  Make me ready for kingdom seeds. Amen

Download Parable of The Soils

Thorns of Worry

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. Matthew 13:7, 22

If you give enough water to anything in Georgia, you can probably grow it. Georgia is my home and though I’m a New England girl, I’ve been struck by how fast things grow here. That includes weeds. Leave some weeds long enough and they can become quite pretty, confusing the novice gardener. Weeds blend in and will take over the landscape. So it is with spiritual weeds.  Grown and tolerated over time, they choke out the possibility of good growth. The Word comes in strength and beauty but, almost instantly, its effectiveness is rendered powerless because of weeds. One kind Jesus identifies is the cares of this world.

Worries crowd out my ability to hear the Word of God. Historically, I come from a line of worriers. My grandmother lived wringing her hands, literally, in her favorite chair. I’ve been taught, by example, to obsess over fears, to turn them around in my hands in every possible configuration until I find a solution. Weighed down by the impossibilities, I work myself up into a panic. How can I be still to hear God’s voice? I have too many cares and I lack the ability to concentrate.

As someone who used to live with panic attacks, I can give this advice. Weed when weeds are small! When anxious thoughts occur, grab them and kill them with the promises of God. The apostle Paul called it ‘taking every thought captive.’ I remember that fear is Satan’s biggest tactic.

Weeds of anxiety, fed over time, become strongholds. I develop a mindset of anxiety where, by default, my first response to any bad news is fear. I feed the beast without even making a conscious choice. Is the Word powerful enough to re-wire the way my brain works? Oh, yes. Can it demolish a toxic mindset and build a new one? Absolutely. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Cor. 10:5 The word for arguments is ‘logismos’ or logic. It’s the way I’ve learned to think and process. Paul wanted believers to be assured that the Word of God is a weapon that demolishes hopeless mindsets, fearful mindsets, and even cynical mindsets.

As any of us look back at who we were twenty years ago, may we be able to say of ourselves “To the glory of God, I no longer think the way I used to think. In fact, I can’t even get in my own skin anymore. My thoughts can’t travel those old paths. Whether pleasures or cares, may neither be the culprit that smothers the stunning landscape of spiritual gardening.

I don’t think I still fully grasp the power of Your seeds. Enlarge me view of spiritual transformation starting now. In Jesus’ name, Amen

A Foundation of Stones

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. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives 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. Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21

My husband’s best friend went to the Holy Land for the first time several years ago. One of the first things he related upon his return home was the challenge he faced when trying to walk in the Judean desert. He said, “It’s hard to concentrate on anything except the rocky terrain. If you take your eyes off your feet, you will fall.” But are these the rocks that Jesus is talking about in this parable?  Probably not.

In Judea, just beneath the depth of the plow’s blade, layers of limestone rock ruin chances of a successful crop. The seeds go into warm soil and germinate but when their roots hit the rock bed, they can’t go deeper. All the plant’s energy moves up. At the surface, all appears to be well as the plant grows at fast speed. The farmer thinks that it’s the best crop he’s ever had but shallow soil produces a weak plant. After a good first impression, the plant withers.

If I have a limestone foundation, spiritually, then I have a positive emotional reaction to spiritual things. I hear the truth, I’m even enthusiastic about the message, but in the end, they were just beautiful concepts. The roots didn’t go down deep because of bad foundations, such as ~

  • Major issues I preferred to ignore that choked out the Word.
  • Blind spots I was unwilling to see that made the message unpalatable.
  • Stumbling blocks toward God that arose under pain and suffering. Past pain unearthed some bad theology about God’s character and I chose to live in lies rather than truth.

What is the cure? Being willing to do what most children of God never do ~ allow God to expose spiritual limestone. Through prayer, study, and meditation, God shines His light on what has firmly embedded over time in my soul. That is why David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” Ps. 139:23 Oftentimes, I don’t even know what’s down there but God does. Though He may bring truth and conviction, grace comes on its heels. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Psalm 85:10  

The deepest part of me, only You know. Move in, clean house, and then re-arrange me with freedom. In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

Bouncing Off the Surface

“A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it.  Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path.  Matthew 13: 3-4, 19

     If I bring some seeds from overseas back to this country, I’m able to plant them and grow things here that have never grown here before.  The fruits of another land will grow in our borders.  This is what happens when Christ, the great Sower, sows heaven’s seeds in men’s hearts through the words of scripture.  The seeds are powerful and high reproductive.  If they are planted in the right kind of soil, they will bear fruit.  But their fruitfulness is proportionate to how I hear.  Change and effectiveness is all about the kind of soil these powerful seeds encounter.

     When someone traveled through the countryside in ancient Palestine, they maneuvered through fields of crops.  Farmers didn’t want pedestrians walking through their plantings so they bordered each field with a foot path.  Consider what happened when many feet traveled those paths.  They became well worn, hardened, almost like concrete.  When a sower, carrying a bag of seed at planting time, scattered them in the air, some would inadvertently land on the footpath.  (hardened soil)  The chances of them penetrating, much less germinating, were slim.

     Jesus wants me to understand that this is the condition of men’s hearts.  Unbelievers always have hardened soil.  The seed of the Gospel comes and bounces off their heart that is calcified by spiritual blindness.  But, there are believers who can also have hard hearts.  What spiritual condition would cause the Word to bounce off the surface of my heart and fail to take root?  A heart of stone.

     Long ago, if I was raised in a violent home, if I suffered extreme criticism, if I knew at birth that I was unwanted ~ these things can cause me to retreat.  I know that it’s not safe for me to extend my heart.  I become accustomed to living behind a crusty shell of safety.  I don’t let people love me.  I can’t.  I even keep the love of Jesus out.  I believe Him to be unsafe and His claims too radical even though I am His child.  The seed of the Word comes but it’s too threatening for me to embrace it for my own sanctification.

     What is the cure for hardened soil?  God wants to melt my heart of stone and change it to a heart of flesh.  One that feels, beats, grieves, and celebrates.  “Is not my Word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”  Jeremiah 23:29   If I suffer from a hard heart, two things will soften it.  The Word of God and my willingness to allow God to dismantle the walls that I have built over time.  He’s not going to weaken my defenses overnight.  His pace is kind.  He takes me one step at a time.  He knows what caused me to hide and He builds the perfect bridge of trust, with just the right language, that will give me the courage to let Him in.

     Recognizing that I have a hard heart is the crucial beginning.  Choosing to trust Him is the next step.

Lord, I can know so much scripture and yet be so unaffected by it.  I bring my calcified heart to You.  Gentle Healer, come and find me.  I’m in here.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Sower and The Soils

A farmer went out to sow his seed.  Matthew 13:3

For me personally, the most powerful parable is the parable of the sower.  In this story, a man goes out to scatter seeds during planting time.  They fall in four different growing environments.  Three of them fall in poor soil conditions and good results are impossible.  Ah, but the fourth produces something stunning.

Beautiful sunset over green fieldThis parable has spoken to me so powerfully for the past several years that the truth of the soil types is on my mind constantly. I’ve almost become obsessed by the fourth soil type and I’ve grown to covet its germinating environment.  Let’s take our time with each part of the story.

Jesus related this parable to a crowd in Judea.  As He spoke it, they sat on a hillside – probably watching people sow seeds because the hills around the Sea of Galilee were ringed with fields.  Jesus knew how to bring a point home by relating a story in a context people understood.  As they watched it, He would reference it, and then go on to make His kingdom analogy.  Can you picture yourself sitting there before the Storyteller?  Is your heart childlike to drink in the meaning?

Would you join me in asking God to open your heart to Jesus’ message? Because of my life’s story, I am often resistant to the teachings of the kingdom.  I can’t believe Jesus’ claims.  I stumble over His way of doing things.  The seed simply falls in resistant soil.  What has to happen for bad soil to be transformed into a pristine soil environment?  That’s the stuff of what’s coming in the next few devotionals.

I close my eyes and envision what happens when God’s Word falls in nutrient-rich, aerated soil.  I see it unfold in slow motion.  As soon as it lands, life springs into the seed and the miracle of growth begins.  Seeds burst and the damp environment nurtures it to begin its life.  Ultimately, the cumulative effect is that I will emerge into the tree in Psalm 1; breathtaking, spiritually graceful, with my boughs hanging over the riverbank.  My roots are dug deeply into the resources of Christ and bearing fruit is instinctive – not laborsome.  Bad storms will come and go, they will bend my branches but no matter the ferocity of the wind, the tree will stand.  What God plants, nothing can destroy.

You are my Gardener, my Husbandman. Assess the soil of my heart.     Diagnose it and give me the courage to hear it and then let you  work in me until it’s right.  In Jesus’ name, Amen