The Ground is the Heart: Stony Ground

Mark 4:16-17 (NKJV) 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.

In our last post we began looking at the main variable in the parable of the sower from Mark 4. This is a key parable. Jesus says that if we do not understand this parable we will not be able to understand “all parables.” Conversely if we do understand it, we have insight into the nature of how the Kingdom of God works in the earth.

The seed is not a variable. The seed is the Word of God. It is always good. The ground is the heart of man. It is necessary for the ground to be good ground if we are going to see the fruit God wants for us. There are two types of ground that Jesus describes. There is good ground and there is bad ground. The bad ground is divided into three types, but they are all bad ground. The first is the wayside. We may be bad ground in some areas and good ground in others. In whatever area we are not good ground, we will see no fruit.

This is the hard ground that has not been prepared for the seed. Jesus said that the see that falls there is immediately stolen by the devil. We can become pathway ground in many ways. The bottom line is that pathway ground people are unteachable. They here what is said but they do not really receive the Word into their heart.

The second ground Jesus describes is a little different. I was a pastor for 40 years. I have seen this over and over. Jesus says the stony ground people are the ones who hear the Word with gladness. I have known many people like this. They hear something that piques their interest and they get excited. The promises of God sound good but there is a problem. Jesus says they have no root in themselves.

The problem with stony ground is that it is shallow. Things begin to grow quickly but they do not have the depth to endure any kind of hardship. Jesus says that when affliction or persecution comes for the Word’s sake, they stumble. The King James Version says they get offended. I have personal experience in that.

As a pastor, I taught many things over all those years. I often had people come to me after a message all excited about the Word. They knew that message was meant just for them. However, when they found out that the devil did not just give up and things were not automatically changed, they would get angry with me! The problem was not with the messenger it was with the hearer. They were shallow ground. This caused them to have no root in their own lives. When a little dry time or a little trial came to them, they could not stand.

What can we do to guard against being shallow, stony ground? There is a clue in how Jesus describes these people. He says they have no root in themselves. If we are going to be good ground, we cannot think it will be sufficient for others to give us the Word. We must understand that we must build the Word of God into our own lives. We must be willing to dig into the Word for ourselves. We must do what Paul told Timothy was necessary for him.

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

I like the King James Version of this verse. The New King James says that we must be diligent to present ourselves approved to God. The King James Tells us how. We must study to show ourselves approved to God. Some would say Paul is speaking to a leader in Timothy so this is something necessary for leaders and ministers. Timothy was both but he was something else as well. He was Paul’s spiritual son. Paul was not just teaching him how to be a successful minister or leader. He was teaching him how to become a successful Christian man.

Every Christian must understand that the Word of God is food to their spirit. It is the one aspect of God we can see and hear in the natural. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:1.) Jesus was the physical human manifestation of the Word of God. Conversely, the written Word of God is a physical manifestation of Jesus in the earth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God is alive. It is like no other book in the world. It is not just philosophy or theology. It is the life of God injected into the book we call the Bible.

The nature of this life is that of a seed. Just as a seed carries the life of any plant, the Bible carries the life of everything God intends the believer to be. If we need healing it is in the Word of God. If we need financial victory it is there. Overcoming sin, relational problems, discouragement and depression are all in the written word of God. However, they are there as seeds.

Seeds do no good if they cannot get into the ground. Once they are planted, they need to be cultivated. They need to be able to grow roots. Roots allow a plant to find nourishment when there seems to be none. They also anchor them in the soil so that wind or other causes will not uproot them. The deeper the roots the stronger, more stable and more fruitful that plant will be.

We must not be the kind of ground in which the seed cannot find root. We must give attention to what we hear. We must study for ourselves. We must hear the word preached or taught, but that is not enough. We must read the Word. We must study the Word. That means we need to look deeper than the surface. We must look up the words, consider the historical background. We must meditate on the Word.

You might say, “I just don’t have the time for that.” Then you do not have the time to succeed as a Christian.

Joshua 1:8 (NKJV) 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Joshua needed to succeed, not just for himself but for the nation of Israel. God told him how to do it. He could not just rely on what Moses had taught him. He had been Moses personal servant the better part of his life. Moses was a great man of God. I am sure Moses taught Joshua everything he could, but that was not enough. When it came time for Joshua to fulfill his life in God, he had to dig deep into the Word for himself.

I think one of the problems the church is facing today is the abundance of things we must do and want to do in life. It is difficult to make ends meet financially, so many families must have two incomes to get by. On the other hand, there are more entertainment options than at any time in history. I like entertainment. I watch TV, I sometimes go to movies. I like to watch and sometimes play sports. At 65, I even play some video games. However, none of that is going to make me successful in my Christian life.

Life is about balance. Today it seems that Christians are increasingly defining balance as a great deal of work and play while we try and fit the Word of God in when we can. Does that look like what God told Joshua? We need “good success.” Just as Joshua needed it for more than himself, so do we. We need it for our families, for our community and for the world in which we live.

I think we need to ask ourselves if our faith can stand in the trial. Do we become offended and blame the Word of even the messenger? We need to have root in our own study, meditation and relationship with God. Just like Joshua, if we have that kind of root system, we will have good success.

The Ground is the Heart: Pathway Ground

Mark 4:15 (NKJV) 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

In our last post we dealt with the seed we must sow to see the process in Mark 4 work correctly. The sower sows the Word of God. No other seed will produce the fruit we need to see in our lives. The right seed will produce fruit that will result in our lifestyle reflecting both God’s will and his character.

Today I want to look at the other variable in this parable. As long as the seed we sow is the seed of God’s Word, we can be assured that it will produce exactly what it says it will and it will do so every time. However, the ground must also be good, or the seed will not produce even if it is a good seed.

What this parable is really talking about is the quality of the ground. There are two types of ground. There is good ground and there is bad ground. The bad ground is divided into 3 types, but they are all bad. We need to do what it takes to be good ground.

In this verse, Jesus talks about the first kind of bad ground. “These are the ones sown by the wayside.” What is “wayside” ground and what happens to the seed of God’s Word when it is sown on this type of ground? When a farmer was planting the seeds Jesus is referring to here, he would scatter the seed as he planted his field. Some of the seed would go where he wanted it to, onto prepared ground. Some of the seed would land on the path that was between the area to be planted and even on the road itself. Some would be caught by the wind and land wherever the breeze took them. This is the picture Jesus is describing in this parable.

The problem with the pathway ground is that it was hard. People walked on it all the time. As people tread upon it over the years it would become so hard that nothing could penetrate the soil. The seed that landed on the pathway simply stayed on the surface. The birds would watch this pathway ground and as soon as the farmer began to scatter his seed they would swoop down and eat it. There was nothing wrong with this seed, but it never got a chance to produce.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says that the hearts of some people who hear the Word are like this pathway ground. Their hearts have been hardened by the constant treading of life upon them. They hear the Word but before it has a chance to penetrate their heart, Satan comes immediately and steals the Word.

Just like the birds, Satan is watching. When he knows the Word is coming to a person, he looks to see if that Word is making its way into their heart. If it is not, he will come in and take the Word before it has time to germinate. No fruit can be produced because no plant is produced.

There are many ways that Satan takes the word. There are certain attitudes that we can identify that will cause us to be wayside ground. If we deal with these attitudes our hearts will be able to receive the word and it will produce fruit. These are not all the attitudes nor the only causes for why we may become hard ground, but they are ones that I have often seen in the lives of people who are. Let us look at three of these attitudes.

The first is the unteachable attitude. It may manifest as, “I already know that. I don’t need to hear it again.” Although this may be true, I have found that every time I hear the Word, whether I read it or hear it preached, if I pay attention, I usually learn something. If I do not learn something new, I reinforce what I already know. Real maturity is determined by how much we are open to learn not by how much we think we know.

I raised 6 kids. One of the main characteristics of the teenage years is the tendency to think we know everything when we really do not know anything. Be careful when you hear yourself say, or even think, “I know that.” That is what my kids usually said when I was trying to teach them something during those wonderful years. Sometimes we remain “teenage” Christians for far too long.

Another thing to remember is that the Word of God is food for our spirit as well as a seed sown into our heart. I like a good steak. I am not going to stop eating it because I ate it once. I will eat it every chance I get. Every time I do, my body receives the nutrition in that food. Every time we hear or read the Word of God it is food to our spirit. Even if we do not hear anything new, we still receive the nutrition in the Word. Do not be unteachable ground.

The second pathway attitude is a heart which is closed. We may be closed for many reasons. We might not like the preacher we are listening to. The Word we are hearing may be something that seems to disagree with our group or stream of ministry. We may be closed to specific Bible truths because we have been hurt in that area by something in our lives. I have known people who can receive anything I shared about Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. If I spoke about the Father, they would shut down. Their experience with their own father would not allow them to hear about the Father God. Satan came and immediately stole the Word that could have saved them.

The third pathway attitude to guard against is the indifferent attitude. Sometimes we just do not care about what is being preached or what we are reading. All like some things more than we like others. My mother did not make me eat vegetables, so I do not like them. We would say, “I don’t care for any vegetables.” I think we need to care about everything that comes from the Word. Remember Jesus was the Word made flesh. If we do not care about the Word of God, what does that say about our love for Jesus.

I am not perfect in this, but I try to pay attention whenever I hear the Word of God. I try not to just read my bible to get in some time or complete a plan. I want to know what God is trying to say to me through his Word. I want every seed in God’s wonderful seed catalog to be fully produced in my life. If we love the Word, we will not find ourselves carrying an “I don’t care attitude” when we hear it or read it.

In Ezekiel 33:30-34, there is an interesting story. God says to the prophet, the people are speaking against you. He says that the way they were doing that was by saying, “Let’s go hear the prophet. We like his voice. It’s like someone who sings really well.” How is that talking against Ezekiel? They were looking at the Word of the Lord as entertainment.

This may be one of the most dangerous kinds of pathway ground in our day. We have made entertainment a god. Sometimes we see the Word that way. I think we should enjoy church. I think we should enjoy the preaching of the Word. I think we should enjoy reading the bible. However, everything is not entertaining. Some things are hard to hear. They are the things that usually help us the most. We need to be careful that we do not reject a Word of God because it is not entertaining. Too many people leave churches because they are not getting fed. Could it be they are not getting entertained?

We need to guard against being pathway ground. We need to deal with these attitudes as soon as we recognize them. If we do not, Satan will come immediately to steal what we have heard. He is watching to see how we receive the Word, no matter how it comes to us. Do not be pathway ground.

The Sower Sows the Word

Mark 4:14-15 (NKJV) 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

Before our holiday break we were looking at one of the most significant parables in the Word of God. This is the parable of the sower from Mark chapter 4. We have learned a few things that are important. Since it has been a while since we began this study, let me list them. Please look back on the posts from December if you need more to get up to speed on what we are talking about.

1. In verse 13, Jesus says that if the disciples cannot understand this parable, they will not be able to understand any of the parables. The converse must also be true. If we do understand this parable it will unlock the main way Jesus taught in the New Testament.

2. Verse 26 says that the whole kingdom works on the seed principle. If we sow the Word, it will produce. Good seed in good ground with proper cultivation will always produce what the seed was designed to produce.

3. A natural seed contains the DNA for the whole plant. Every piece of fruit, grain or whatever the seed is from, is in the seed. The Word of God is the same. Every Word seed contains within itself the spiritual DNA that it is designed by God to produce. There are salvation seeds, healing seeds, holiness seeds, prosperity seeds. Anything the human being needs to be productive in any area of life is contained in the seed.

4. God can do anything he wants to do, and he will move in miraculous ways we may not understand. That happens according to his. He will always honor the seed principle of the Word.

5. Farming, both natural and spiritual, takes time and commitment. The seed, the ground and the cultivation are at the center of the farmers life. Everything revolves around them. Though the natural farmer has other things in his or her life, if he does not take care of the seed, the ground and the cultivation, he will have no crop and he will eventually die. The same is true of the spiritual farmer.

Today we want to focus on one basic truth. The sower sows the Word. We must understand that the seed Jesus is talking about is the Word of God. Those of us who are teachers are called by God to help people understand what the Word of God says. When we are doing our jobs correctly, we give out the fruit that has been produced by the Word in our own lives. That fruit contains the seed of the Word of God. However, as good as our teaching may be, the teaching is not the seed. The sower sows the Word of God.

I remember when we were young during what has been called the “Jesus movement.” I believe millions were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit out of denominational religion or no religion at all. We were filled with excitement and love for the Lord. What we did not have was any idea about what the bible said. We quoted the word this way, “Somewhere in the bible it says something like……..” As excited as we were and as real as our experiences were, that is not sowing the Word. Many of us took the next step and learned what the bible said. We grew and catapulted the Charismatic renewal into a wave of the Spirit of God that changed everything. Those who did not, eventually lost the “fire” and faded back into the world.

We need to know what the bible says. We need to know what is the Word of God and what is not. Paul, in writing to his son in the faith Timothy, says this.

2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NKJV) 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

In many ways, Timothy lived in a much more dangerous and challenging world than we do. He did not have two thousand plus years of Christian teaching and tradition to look back upon and study. He had the Old Testament. The writings of Paul, Peter and the rest were not yet accepted as the New Testament of the bible. Even so, Paul tells him that the only way he will be successful is to be diligent to study the Word of God that he had. The same is true for you and me.

Every culture and each generation have philosophies and ideas that grow up around the Word of God. Many of them will be the revelation of the day that God fully intends for us to understand. They can be powerful, liberating and lead us into God’s will for our generation. However, as good as they are, they are not, in themselves, the seed known as the Word of God.

Apples can be baked into pies, cobblers and strudels. All are wonderful, and all come from apples. However, without apples there are no wonderful desserts. Without apple seeds, there are no apples. We need to use the teachings, but we also need to know how to break them down to the seed from which they come. If we do not, we will eventually run out of “apples.”

The sower sows the Word. Science cannot create a seed. They can put all the elements together, create the shell and make something that looks like a seed. It would seem that it should work like a seed, but when it is planted it does not grow. The reason is that it does not contain life. Only a seed contains the life that is designed to be released when it is planted. I have heard that seeds found in Egyptian tombs that are thousands of years old have been planted and grew. Why? The reason is that they contain that intangible something called life.

We need to know the difference between a good teaching and the seed itself. Studying a good teaching will lead us to the seeds that produced it. What we need is the seed. I have always told those I taught to never accept what I say as the truth. I encourage them to go to the Bible for themselves. When I was learning, one of the things I did was go back to the bible to see if I could find the same path to that truth that the teacher did. If I could, that truth became deep revelation and the fruit that came from it gave me life personally and more fruit to give to others. This process has produced things that have lasted my whole life.

I love to look at many translations of the bible. We need to be wise in this. Some are not very faithful to the original texts. I am not a King James Version or nothing person. I believe the King James has its own problems. I do believe that some of the older translations came from texts that were closer in understanding than some of the newer ones. On the other hand, sometimes newer translations give us a picture that is more accurate to our understanding than those written in the languages that were modern centuries ago. What is the solution.

I believe we need to do what Paul said. We should study until we are sure we have the real seed. For the older translations, we need to use the tools we have, such as bible dictionaries, to be as sure as possible that the translations are accurate. With newer translations, we need to be sure that the vernacular used does not change the true meaning. God can work with problems in translations if we desire to find the real seed of the Word. If that is our heart, he will make sure we find it.

The sower sows the Word. Nothing else will produce the fruit we are looking for. You can only get apples from live apple seeds. Nothing but the seed found in the Word of God will produce the life of God in us.