God is offering countless opportunities for us to know, and grow in, a personal relationship with Him. These opportunities we can refer to as "seeds" that are planted within our heart, and whether these seeds are sowed by something personal that has happened to us, by someone speaking the Gospel to us, or something else that we have experienced or encountered that brought God into our mind; each occurrence has a potential to take root and develop into a living relationship with Him.
But, despite all of God's efforts to reach us and instill faith in our hearts, we often reject so many of the seeds that He sends our way. In The Parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks on this reality, and addresses four types of reactions that we have to the seeds that God tries to plant in our hearts. The passage--in the words of Jesus--is as follows:
18 "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. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:18-23)
I believe we each have the potential to demonstrate any one of these types of reception to God's Word, and so I will address each, in order to provide discernment toward the possible ways that we neglect God's faithfulness, or flourish in it.
1) Seed by the wayside
Matthew 13:19: "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." In this verse, we see Jesus acknowledge that whoever hears the Gospel and does not understand it, has been robbed of the seed planted in their heart by the devil. This may seem like a crazy thing for Jesus to say, but in reality, Jesus is addressing the real issue that lies at the heart of the matter. This issue can be given more light when we look at the verse relating to this parable in Matthew 13:4, which says, "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them."
The verse in Matthew 13:19 is in response to this first presentation of the Sower's Parable (Matthew 13:4), and we see Jesus illustrate that the birds came and ate the seed that was planted in the persons heart. Out of the four types of reception to God's seed, this type is the only one to not directly involve the ground. Why is that? I think it is an important point, and from my perspective, it is because this person represents someone who has allowed the creation to impede the Creator (this can be interpreted a lot more on top of what I will write, but you can do that on your own). What do I mean by this? I think it is integral to the wisdom that both verses provide to acknowledge that Jesus mentions a bird for the description of the parable (Matthew 13:4), and then connects that bird to being Satan in His reflection (Matthew 13:19).
This is important, because I believe Jesus is acknowledging our tendencies to allow the creation to impede the Creator; and by this I mean we give so much weight and importance to our own understanding of this world, that we allow it to take away the seed God is trying to plant in our hearts. The birds represent the pride of our own knowledge and intellect that can so easily arise within us--which is why Jesus correlates the birds to Satan--that it literally devours any potential for God to grow within our hearts; the seed doesn't have the chance to take root at all. If the "wicked one" is mentioned, we can definitively say that Jesus is addressing something deeper than just nature eating the seeds of revelation that God wants us to receive. Jesus is pinpointing the sin that Satan tempts each of us with: the pride we develop through the understanding and frame of mind that we create for ourselves. Once we have determined the world to be as we have made it to be, we will find no place for God, because the birds have already eaten His seeds.
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2) Seed on the stony places
Matthew 13:20-21: "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." The heart that Jesus addresses in these verses is relatively simple. The Gospel can be a source of positivity for many people, and that is not a wrong thing. Bringing light into a persons life through the Word is good, but if we have hearts that provide stony ground, then our faith will fail. As Jesus says, this heart condition endures in faith for a bit, but once things get difficult, or when people start pushing back against them, the plant that was growing is "scorched, and because they had no root they withered away." (Matthew 13:6).
This can be a dangerous reality to our faith if we are constantly looking for pleasure, emotional highs, and mountaintop experiences. God is a giver of joy, peace, and pleasure--but we should be seeking Him first, not the gifts. Always requiring something like happiness to keep faith, or the fleeting rewards of momentary feelings, can be destructive to the journey God is trying to walk through with us--the real journey. And the real journey of life is not always sunshine and rainbows; in fact, most of the times for most people, it's anything but that. We are extremely blessed here in Western culture, but in a way that blessing has created a lot of stony ground. Our culture constantly seeks the next burst of life, making it difficult for us to allow God to grow deeply within our hearts, and root Himself in a way that prevents our faith from withering. We will overcome mountains with God; but we will also travel through valleys, deserts, and pits... if we cannot keep the faith through those times of suffering, then our relationship with God will wither away.
Along with this, we see that this person of the stony ground "stumbles" because of "the word." When we pick up our cross and follow Christ, there will be pushback--and honestly, I don't blame people for it sometimes. To be certain of a thing that someone else cannot see is truly a mystery that God has set about for a reason; but if we are to follow Jesus, we must preach His name despite it. The heart of stony ground will shy away from the challenge that God provides us with: "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" (Mark 16:15). We may not understand all the works that God has planned, or the methods in which He will do them, but we know what we have been commanded, and that is to go and preach the name of Jesus Christ nonetheless.
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3) Seed among the thorns
Matthew 13:22: "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." The final negative heart condition that Jesus mentions is the seed that is choked out by thorns. In many ways, I believe this condition to be a threat to believers and non-believers the most. We see that, unlike the other types of conditions, something is already growing within the heart--the thorns. Where the wayside lacked the understanding, and the stony ground lacked the perseverance; the thorny ground demonstrates a love for the world, rather than the Word.
This heart condition threatens us the most because the cares of this world are all around us, and some are tangible before our eyes. There are countless things that can create thorns in our heart in this world: sexual sin, unhealthy attachments, dark mental states and wild emotions, gossip, hatred, jealousies, selfish ambition and pride (the list can go on)… In more ways than the other two, we as mortal people have the potential to grow any type of thorn in our heart. And what makes it worse, is that thorns sprout up so easily within us. Some of us are so engulfed in the ways of the world, that the realization that thorns are bad does not even register; the conscience seems to become compromised.
When we look at what thorns are, they are plants that do not bear fruit and have the potential to damage those who come into contact with it. When we choose to partake of the world and lust after it's temptations--money, power, immoral sex, status and reputation--we give our heart over to the thorns and allow it to take root within us; which will always damage those involved in some way. As Christ addresses, we become unfruitful when these thorns take over our heart. And for the thorns to choke out the good seed given by God, it requires time and commitment to that sin--from us--for it to grow. When we continually invest ourselves into things we should not be doing, we are compromising the ground of our heart that should be used to bear fruit. And as we plant thorns in the ground meant for God to work in us, we naturally become more unfruitful as Jesus says--in essence, furthering ourselves from being like Christ.
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4) Seed on the good ground
Matthew 13:23: "But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." The good ground that Jesus identifies is the heart that has received the seed, understands it, and bears fruit. For this to happen, the other three instances had to be overcome--this is, after all, our own heart that we are talking about. We have a choice within us: we each have the choice to allow the birds to consume God's seed; we each have the choice to make our ground shallow, and our root of faith weak; we each have the choice to allow thorns to grow within us. And the reality of it is, we all have experienced the bad ground. If it was up to us alone, there would not be any good ground.
But praise be to God, the Sower does not just throw one seed at our heart and give up. As I said before, God gives us countless opportunities to know Him, and in each opportunity we have a choice to make. Will I choose to trust in God, or will I not? God is working in our heart because that is where our life flows from, and if we are to allow Him to change our life, we have to let Him change our heart. This is why God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26). Our natural tendency is the heart of stone, but when we humble ourselves before the Cross, we allow God to give us a new heart--one with good ground. Jesus Christ changes our heart so that we can accept what God wants to do in us, and through us. The love of God will transform you and I when He lives within our hearts, and it is by His love that we can produce the fruit that Jesus speaks about.
So once again, you have a choice to make. We do not know what the future will hold, and no day is guaranteed. But in this very moment, you have the opportunity to choose to trust in God with all your heart. I have no idea how God may work in your life, but when we choose to repent and trust in Jesus, all will work for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Jesus Christ died at the cross, and rose again after three days, so that you and I could have good ground for Him to grow in. May we choose Him today, and allow His fruit to grow within our hearts. Amen.