Jesus taught his disciples the pathway to spiritual growth. He taught them how to connect and stay connected to God. He often used parables (stories designed to teach) to do this. In the “Parable of the Soils” (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus explained something about how we learn and taught us to depend on God for spiritual growth. He taught that we all have four different hearts and there is grave danger in all but one.
How We Learn and Grow
When my son, Michael, first started learning to play the drums his instructor would give him a beat to practice. Michael would come home after his lesson and practice the new beat (ad nauseum). The next week he would get another more complicated beat … and then, home to practice. This process was repeated over and over … it was never-ending.
I guess that’s the way we all learn, isn’t it? We start with the simple and move to the more complicated. And at every stage in the process, it’s practice, practice, practice – and the learning, and the practicing what we learn never ends.
Life has a kind of a beat to it, doesn’t it? A rhythm that moves us through life. It starts off simple. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s steady and safe and there isn’t much to the beat at first.
And there are people all around us who have their own beat. And these people have a way of intersecting with our lives so that the beats and rhythms come together. Each person adds their piece to the beat of our lives, and they make it better. They teach us. And the music changes – It becomes richer, and more meaningful.
It’s the way we grow.
Jesus understood this about us.
People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.” — Plato
The Four Soils of the Human Heart
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. — Mark 4:3
Jesus told a story that describes what it takes to grow spiritually. He compared our lives to a farmer’s field. The farmer spreads seed. The seed is the Word of God – It’s the nutrient that makes us grow. Some seeds fall on hard ground and never take root. Some fall on thorny ground and are choked out. Some fall on rocky ground and start to grow, but the roots are shallow and so it quickly withers away. Finally, some seeds fall on good soil and grow and multiply.
Obviously, the good soil is the ideal. The unspoken question of the parable is: What is the condition of your soil? In other words: What is the condition of your heart?
This parable always scared me. What if my soil isn’t good enough? What if the condition of my heart isn’t right? What if the rhythm and the beat of my life are out of sync?
But then I thought about this: What if I am and have been all four types of soil at different times in my life? What if the condition of the soil in my life isn’t totally up to me?
Who Makes Things Grow?
Here’s why I ask that question.
There’s this other place in Scripture where the apostle Paul was writing to a church in a town called Corinth and he’s talking about some problems they were having – he’s talking about the condition of their hearts.
Now Paul started this church in Corinth – he was their first pastor. When he left they had another pastor named Apollos. So, here’s a paraphrase of what Paul said about their spiritual condition.
I planted the seed (the Word of God), Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So who is Paul? Who is Apollos? We are servants here to give you the tools you need to grow, but God is the one who brings growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose – to help you to grow. We are the workers; you are the field (1 Cor. 3:5-9).
So God sends people into our lives to help us grow – sometimes nurturing us and protecting us – sometimes gently redirecting us – sometimes walking ahead of us to lead us – other times walking behind us to prod us forward. The more I think about growing up (whether its spiritually or physically), the more I realize how mysterious it all is – the fact that we ever grow at all.
Like Paul said – it’s a God thing.
Four Truths About Growth
1. It’s hard work.
The word “discipline” is related to the word disciple.
2. It feels good to grow.
You were created to grow. It feels good to get stronger and more capable.
3. We can’t do it alone.
We need other people to help us. We have to do it together.
4. It’s NOT linear.
We don’t grow in a steady upward direction. There are ups and downs. It’s a long journey and the soil is sometimes good, sometimes not so good. The important thing is that we never give up. God never gives up on us!
Jesus, the Rabbi
In this parable, Jesus used a well-known rabbinical wisdom teaching to describe spiritual growth.
According to The Mishnah,1 the ancient rabbis divided people into four categories, depending on how strictly they adhered to the Mosaic Law. Everything about a person was measured by their relationship to the Law.
1. There are those who know the law but don’t want to obey it (Apostates).
2. There are those who don’t know the law and, therefore, don’t obey it (Gentiles).
3. There are those who know the law and want to obey it, but don’t (Bad Jews).
4. There are those who know the law and obey it (Good Jews).
Jesus took this rabbinic wisdom saying and applied it to his followers – with a twist. Instead of the Law, it is Jesus’ words that we are to obey. Here, he is talking about the kind of heart it takes to be his disciple.
The Four Hearts
1. The seed that falls on the path = HARDENED HEART.
This is the person who KNOWS but DOESN’T WANT TO DO IT. What happens: Satan takes it away.
2. The seed that falls on the rocky ground = UNDISCIPLINED HEART.
This is the person who DOESN’T KNOW and DOESN’T DO IT. What happens: They wither away.
3. The seed that falls on the thorny ground = CONFLICTED HEART.
This is the person who KNOWS and wants to do it, but doesn’t. What happens: The world smothers them.
4. The seed that falls on the good soil = CHRIST HEART.
This is the person who KNOWS and OBEYS by DOING IT. What happens: They grow and reproduce.
The Four Responses
Here are the ways in which you can respond to each heart:
1. The HARDENED HEART – PRAY
2. The UNDISCIPLED HEART – STUDY THE WORD OF GOD
3. The CONFLICTED HEART – SERVE
4. The CHRIST HEART – SHARE
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” — Mark 4:8
CONFESSION: Sometimes my heart is hard. Sometimes it has too many thorns. Sometimes it feels shallow and weak. And sometimes my heart is full of goodness. I have all four hearts. And so do you.
I pray that God will always be working on the soil of your heart!