Dirt - It isn't all the same.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “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. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
~ Matthew 13:3-8
To the untrained eye and unknowing observer, dirt is dirt. To the farmer, dirt is ideally suited for specific crops. Some dirt is great for growing crops while other dirt is better for pasture land. Some dirt isn’t great for growing much of anything because it is unable to hold the needed moisture long enough to allow seeds to germinate and grow. Other dirt can grow just about anything because it is rich in the nutrients almost every plant needs.
Jesus knew he was talking to a group of people whose livelihoods depended on the local crops. If they weren’t farmers themselves, they knew farmers. Everyone was aware that a bad crop meant the entire community would have to scramble to find food until the next year. Everyone lived with the fear and worry of multiple years without a crop.
Given this, Jesus knew that his audience understood the importance of good soil in the quest to get a good crop. So when we described the seed which landed along the path being eaten by birds, they likely nodded along remembering the birds which had eaten the seed they themselves had sown too close to the path. And when Jesus talked of the seed sown in the midst of rocky soil springing up quickly only to wither away quickly, they remembered the local farmer who tried to sow a crop in rocky soil. His audience knew the hazard of weeds taking over a field.
And they all knew what a good crop growing in a well-cared for soil looked like. They had all seen the crop which flourished. They all knew the potential a single seed had to grow a plant which would grow countless other seeds to be eaten or planted again the next spring.
For me there are two challenges to ponder in this parable. The first is one I’ve often heard preached. It is the challenge to consider what type of soil most closely matches the conditions of our hearts. How have we received God’s truth? Is it gone before it even has a chance to take root? Or does it die out the moment it faces a challenge? Perhaps it gets a strong start but then you allow the worries of the world to push it to the back burner more and more until the neglect has you wondering if God is still out there.
Ideally, the condition of your heart mirrors the good soil which allows the seed of faith to take root and flourish. Spending time reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, gathering with other believers for fellowship and encouragement, and finding those two or three close friends who challenge you and hold you accountable to living the life to which God has called you…these are all part of preparing our hearts to be a place where faith can not only take root but grow and flourish. It’s a good challenge to consider as we strive to grow in our faith.
The other challenge in this passage is to for us to consider where we are investing our energy when sowing seed. All of the soil has potential to grow a crop. But three types of the soil need more work to bring that crop to reality. Often when we share the good news of Christ, we assume that we are always dealing with good soil. But if the ratio of the story holds true to those we interact with in this world, then we are only dealing with good soil around 25% of the time.
The rest of the time, we need to be prepared to put in some preparation work. We might have to chase the birds which would like to swoop in before faith can take root. We might have to provide some extra water and fertilizer to help roots grow deeply beyond the rocky soil at top, giving them a chance to be stronger than we ever imagined. We might have to weed away distractions. We might have accept when things are out of our control and sow seed again and again until it finally beats the odds, takes root, and manages to flourish in less than ideal conditions.
Ultimately, God has the power and ability help seeds of faith grow in any type of soil. We should never forget that truth. But we should also never forget the challenges in sowing seeds of faith both in our own hearts and the hearts of others. Some work will be easy and well received. Some work will be harder and take more time, effort, and patience. All the work will be worth it.
- Go out and plant some actual seeds. Pick up some seeds at your local garden center and invest some time in caring for them, helping them grow over the coming weeks and months. As you do so, allow God to speak you to about how he helps your faith grow and flourish.
- Go out and plant some seeds of faith. Share a story about how God has impacted your life or provided for you with someone who you don’t normally talk about spiritual things with.
- Say a prayer for farmers. Every year is a challenge for them and a huge act of faith to put a crop in the ground. If you aren’t closely connected to farming, ask around to see if you can get to know a farmer. Consider asking them if you can come and spend some time at their farm to better understand the work that goes into growing a crop each year.