In Jesus parable of the farmer scattering seeds, he describes the good soil at the end saying “And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it and patiently produce a huge harvest.” Lk 8:15 NLT.
Something bothered me about that parable. Jesus describes the different types of soil, but he doesn’t say how they got to be that way, particularly, how did the good soil, become good soil? Surely that doesn’t mean that we have to already be good people before the Word of God can take root in us.
One day, when pondering this question, I realized that just like a farmer has to prepare the soil for planting physical seeds, so the soil of human hearts has to be prepared before the spiritual seed of the word of God can flourish in it.
That leads to the question of how? How does one cultivate a heart that is receptive to the working of the seed. If one so chooses, how can you ensure that you are the good soil? You can plant a seed, you can make sure it is watered and has light, but you can’t make it grow. It grows because that is what God designed it to do; grow under the right circumstances, it grows by grace, a free gift of God.
So a seed is designed to grow, but only under the right conditions, with water, light, and good soil that is free of rocks and weeds.
Our spiritual growth is enabled by grace alone as well. We can’t make ourselves better people through will power. I can’t just wake up tomorrow and decide that I will be patient, kind, and giving. I can only be who I am. I can pretend to be those things and I may even fool some people some of the time, but in a careless moment, or under stress, who I really am will come out.
What is the fruit that the seed in Jesus parable is producing? Is the fruit saved souls? Or is the fruit something that is produced in the hearts of people, like the fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galations? The answer is yes. Changed hearts that bare the fruit of the spirit is salvation, anything less would be the other 3 types of soil that don’t make it to maturity.
Now the really troubling part is that I can’t make myself a better person. It is only the grace of God working in me that can make me a better person, but the soil must be receptive. It would be very easy at this point to fall into the trap of thinking that good soil means that we already have to be good people before God can save us. This is most definitely not what Jesus means here, and we know that because it would go against what he taught in so many other places.
We also shouldn’t mistakenly think that this is a one time event where God sows the seed and if you don’t receive it and it doesn’t grow to maturity then that’s the end of it. No, the seed is sown over the course of a lifetime, yes there may be specific events or markers along the road, but it isn’t a one time thing. I also think that our hearts can be different types of soil at different times of life. We may be all four types of soil throughout life.
If only God’s grace can cause his Word to grow in our hearts, does this mean that we play no part in it? No, I come back to the question, how can we ensure that we are the good fertile soil? The answer is that good soil is cultivated and that takes some doing on our part. We must create the right circumstances, the fertile environment, for the seed to grow.
Cultivating the human heart takes focused intentional time invested in spiritual practices that are sometimes called the classical disciplines. These disciplines are not attempts to please or pacify God. They have nothing to do with a merit based system of salvation where one must do good things to earn Gods favor.
The disciplines are tools; tools that open us up and make us receptive to the redemptive power of God that changes our hearts. Spiritual disciplines are how we cultivate good soil where Gods Word can be planted and grow to maturity and bare fruit.
So what are these disciplines? In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster teaches about the 3 main types of disciplines: The Inward Disciplines, The Outward Disciplines and the Corporate Disciplines.
The Inward Disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study.
The Outward Disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service.
The Corporate Disciplines are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
These disciplines have been practiced and taught for thousands of years by all of the spiritual giants throughout the ages. Many of them are obvious and regularly practiced by most modern Christians, like prayer, study and worship, but some of them are all but forgotten, like meditation, fasting, simplicity, and solitude.
Again, these disciplines are not to earn anything! They are to become something, fertile ground that bares the fruit of the Word of God.
I first read the book Celebration of Discipline in College. It is a very challenging book, but after going through a difficult and intense 9 months at work I have found myself shallow and dead inside. I plan on going through this book again and implementing the practices in my life to rediscover the spiritual depths of God and discussing them here.