Spiritual Growth: Preparing the Soil

Have you ever noticed the number of references the Bible makes to gardens, seeds, pruning, bearing fruit, and harvesting? These references served to translate a spiritual truth into more understandable terms for people. Today, however, most of us get our produce from the store and understand little about what it takes for it to grow. Although I understood the metaphor, these scriptures took on a whole new meaning when I decided to grow a garden of my own.

I had a lot to learn since I’d never grown food before. The timing of planting, weather conditions, fertilizing, and watering are all important, but good soil is the foundation of a garden. The quality of the soil can affect what will grow as well as with the quality of the flavor. I had selected the grassy field behind my house to become my garden. I had watched a video and learned how to amend my soil, so I thought I was ready to start. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer amount of work required.

As I labored to prepare the soil, I understood what the scriptures had been trying to tell me in a whole new way. Apart from God, our lives are like wild overgrown fields. Left alone we are unable to produce anything of real value. Its our choice whether to remain that way or to do the work necessary to become something new. Not every field is the same. Some may require very little work while others might be more difficult to transform. But we must prepare the soil of our hearts if we want the Holy Spirit to grow within us.

To start, the dead grass and weeds had to be cleared to make the soil visible. This took hours of raking to accomplish. Once I saw what lay beneath I felt even more discouraged. The ground was hard and unyielding with many stems and roots protruding from the surface. Days in the hot Oklahoma summer sun had caused the clay soil to become compacted and hardened. The seeds wouldn’t be able to penetrate the surface. They would only serve as bird food laying on the hard surface. I needed to break through the hardened topsoil to find the softer soil beneath.

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 

Matthew 13:3-4

Similarly, God’s truth cannot penetrate a hardened heart. These hearts, hardened by past experiences, can’t accept the message of redemption through Christ.  They will remain spiritually hardened unless someone breaks through the surface. Spiritual growth often begins with a broken heart. The painful experiences can often serve to penetrate our hardened defenses. Vulnerability exposes our softened heart deep within. It presents an opportunity for the seeds that have been sown to finally take root. Which is why the good news should be sown even if nothing seems to be growing.

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 

Matthew 13:19

After I broke through the topsoil, the tiller ran into rocks and chunks of hardened clay. I couldn’t till very deep in this rocky soil. If I stopped tilling I knew the roots of my plants would remain shallow. They would appear healthy in spring, but they would quickly die in scorching summer heat. A deep root system is necessary for plants to survive harsh conditions. That meant I needed to remove the rocks that would inhibit their growth.

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 

Matthew 13:5-6

Likewise, we must remove the things in our lives that imhibit our spiritual growth. When we try to blend in to the world around us our faith remains superficial. When we don’t prioritize our relationship with God it is revealed when times get tough. Our faith may look strong, but can it survive the hard times? Those who have developed deep roots are sustained by continuous access to the living water. But those with shallow roots run spuritually dry when they are unable to find a water source. Once you are spiritually dry faith can’t survive.

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 13:20-21

Once I had removed all of the debris from the soil I found that the soil below was already rich and fertile! In fact, I needed very little fertilizer because the soil already had almost everything it needed. The time of untended wild growth allowed decomposing plant material and insects to enrich the soil below. Everything that had been a hinderance had actually made the soil ripe for planting. How true that can be for people too!

Many times the strongest witnesses for Christ are those who came from a broken past. Evidence of a changed life is more powerful that a thousand sermons. Saul, a zealous persecutor of Christians, became Paul a zealous apostle for Christ. This was only possible after he had a personal encounter with Jesus. God repeatedly uses the weak and the broken to demonstrate his power and goodness. Alone we cannot remove the weeds and rocks from our lives. But Jesus is willing to clear our field for us if we will let him. Only then can we see that our past mistakes and our pain have actually enriched our lives. Our experience can provide a rich insight for reaching out to others who are hurting.

Even though the weeds had been removed their seeds previously sown still remained. This meant that my crops may have to compete with them for survival. They werent visible at first, but as my plants began to grow so did the weeds. They were aggressive and grew much faster than my plants. These weeds grew by robbing the soil of the nutrients intended for my plants and blocking their access to the sun. Some of the weeds contained burrs and stickers making it difficult to get to my plants for tending.  If left to grow, the weeds would easily smother my plants. Without access to sunlight or nutrients they would eventually die.

 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 

Matthew 13:7

The same is true for us. As we grow in our faith we are still susceptible to the temptations of this world. If we allow these to take root and grow alongside our faith it will be difficult to continue to thrive. When we focus on our situations, our fears, our desires, or the approval of others, we are feeding the weeds. These weeds rob us of the peace that God provides.  As the weeds continue to grow larger our faith struggles to survive. Eventually we become overwhelmed and cease to grow spiritually. To continue to grow we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and trust in the promises and power of God.

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 13:22

Just like growing a garden, faith is a growing and changing process. We must be aware at every step in the process of the obstacles that may sabotage our growth. The enemy is always lying in wait, looking for an opportunity to rob us of peace and stunt our spiritual growth. But if we continue to follow Jesus through it all our roots deepen, giving us a firm foundation. A mature faith can provide a steadfast resilience, allowing us to endure any circumstance with joy which can lead others to Christ.

Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 

Matthew 13:3-8

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 13:23

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