One of the primary themes that ran through each of the readings for today was that of heart preparation for the glory of God. And after careful reflection, I began to wonder, what are the best conditions or circumstances to learn and benefit the most from God’s word? Just yesterday, I heard from a dear friend whose son was held at knife point in Africa while working as a missionary and was almost killed because he was a Christian and refused to renounce his faith. In the first hour after hearing that news, I remember emotionally praying hard for this young man, for his safety and the safety of the entire team, and for the people he was working with. But did it need to take that event to get me praying like I did? Was it the situation or the condition of my heart that moved me to that praying place?
Is it really a sermon that makes the difference? On the surface, it would appear the answer is yes… after all, isn’t that the responsibility of the church? To make the message so easy to understand that we couldn’t possibility miss the point of the God’s word? I would argue that this approach has the potential of rendering God’s word less meaningful… more ‘Google-like’, by attempting to reduce the substance of God’s word to a collection of simple phrases that lack the depth that is necessary to truly understand God’s heart for His children. So, what are the best conditions to learn from God’s word? I believe the answer lies within ourselves and how we first prepare ourselves to receive God’s word, then work to maintain a heart of gratitude. This is exactly what James shared in James 4:8… “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” A grateful heart keeps us in connection with God with our heart focused what it should be through faith. As a teacher, my best lessons are useless, unless my students are open and ready to hear the message I have to offer… in so doing, my students get more out of my lecture with a much higher retention than if they are completely closed to what I have to say.
Jesus articulates the preparation of the heart beautifully in parables found in Mark 4. Specifically, Jesus explains four types of heart soils; the soil that is hard, soil that is shallow and rocky, and the soil that is kind to weeds. These soils are wild and untamed and are hostile to plant life. When a gardener works the ground to plant a garden he must first work hard to prepare the ground in preparation of planting. He breaks up the hard ground with instruments, removes the weeds, rocks, and anything else that would inhibit the growth of his seeds. Only after the soil is prepared will the farmer plant in order to maximize his harvest, and not a moment before. And if the gardener would desire for the ground to return to its natural condition, he would simply do nothing. By ceasing to tend the ground, the effect would be that weeds would overtake the soil the farmer worked hard to prepare.
This process is a key component often overlooked in this parable… that a gardener must first tame the wild ground. He must work a patch of ground that couldn’t naturally tolerate fruit and flowers that are desirable by transforming it into a fertile bed that’s ready to receive whatever he wants to plant within the new soil. The Holy Spirit can be seen as the Master Gardner who waters hard, dry ground and softens our hearts with the Word of God. He meticulously works and tills the stony ground of stubborn and closed hearts and prepares them to receive the Gospel. And when the Master Gardner plants the Gospel, a well-prepared soil is better able to receive the Lord Jesus in the fullness of love and happily obeys His commands. He is also busy removing weeds, pulling those weed-like idols from our hearts that would otherwise make the Gospel boring and unlovely to us. He does this so that the Gospel will grow unimpeded by the weeds of this world that normally thrive in the soil of our hearts.
Even with the best of intentions, if left to themselves, our hearts would experience weeds growing stronger, choking out the Gospel. But when the Spirit of God plants the Gospel in a good and well prepared heart which we have worked to prepare, it becomes useful to God and produces a harvest of righteousness for the sake of spreading the Word of Jesus Christ. Additionally, growth takes time, and I know for myself, I must work constantly at being patient. Yes, I am responsible for doing the work that is needed to prepare and guard my heart, but I must also allow God to work in His time, not mine! This is exactly what Paul describes for us in that passage in 1 Corinthians 3:9a: “For we are God’s fellow workers.” One of the most destructive forces at work in the church and our lives today is our unrelenting demand for instant results. We want to have immediate conversions and immediate responses every time we speak. We tend not to allow time for the Word to take root and grow, and come to harvest. Our Lord is teaching us the fantastic truth that He is at work always; that it doesn’t all depend on us getting it right to have Him love us.
Lord, I pray I will trust that as I do the work of preparing my heart and sowing the seed of Your Word wherever I can, that You will do the rest in Your time, as you see all things and know what is best for me to grow closer to You and with those people I have in my life now, and who I will come in contact with in the future.