Good soil is tantamount to good growth and good produce. The better the soil in our gardens and fields the better our plants and trees. It's a simple concept. I'm sure that is why Jesus uses this concept to illustrate Kingdom of God principles. Mark, most likely one of Paul's traveling companions, recorded it like this:
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:1-9
Earlier when I read this passage the soil is the part that stood out to me. We could ask questions about the sower and methods of sowing. We could discuss what types of seed and what they could represent. But let's focus on the soil. Now, I don't have any super clear answers about the soil, but the question I keep asking myself is, "What can I do to tend to my soil?"
How can I be active and intentional about cultivating my soil so God's seed in my life can produce mature fruit? I believe God is always throwing out seed. But when the seed falls into my life, is my soil ready for it to take root and flourish?
The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable to them. We can glean some clarity from His response.
The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
Nothing can grow on a path. One reason is because the soil is too compacted. The seed just lies on top of the ground and cannot take root. Another reason is because of the traffic. The traffic tramples the seed into ineffectiveness. Maybe the first thing I can do to cultivate my soil is slow down. I can detour onto the "road less traveled". My curiosity and critical thinking skills need time to wander. Rather than assuming what I should do is what others are doing, perhaps I should ask God how He would like me to put His word into action in my life. The path is for moving quickly, not for producing fruit. If I stash seed where I am moving quickly, it will never take root. This is not about cultivating the soil on the path. This is about taking the seed from the path to the cultivated soil before it gets trampled or stolen.
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.17 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.
When the soil is too shallow the roots have no strength. The seed grows roots; however, the roots do not have enough depth to support the plant through strenuous seasons. What gives depth to my soil? Plowing to break up the compacted soil gives depth. Plowing also mixes the nutrients deeper. Removing rocks also deepens my soil. This sounds unpleasant and difficult. I try to avoid unpleasant and difficult things. Maybe I need to embrace them. Unpleasant and difficult times give me strength for the less-than-idealistic situations. I can complain about my rocky places. I can tell God that since I follow Him I shouldn't have rocky stuff in my life. I can believe that because I am a Christian I should have to face difficult and unpleasant things. OR I can consider it pure joy whenever I face any kind of trial because I now have an opportunity to plow and to remove rocks (James 1:8).
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
When the soil has weeds the seed can't grow well. The weeds steal nutrients and block the sun from the seed. What causes thorns to grow in my soil? This is probably a matter of priorities. When I give money, status and comfort priority to God's word they stifle the seed's ability to produce fruit in my life. I can complain that I do not get anything out of reading the Bible, the preacher's message or my friend's encouragement at small group. OR I can realize the responsibility to clear the weeds is mine. When I am extra worried and over stressed, I need to pull some weeds. When I am not gleaning anything from Bible reading, church and small group, I need to take the time to cultivate my soil. I probably am too concerned about my comfort and security and need to recalibrate my trust in God. My prayer is that I would grow deeper in my trust in Him and prioritize His word over money and happiness.
20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
That sounds awesome! That's what I want in my life. I want for my life to not only provide for myself and my family but I also want to be a blessing to others. Fruit is not just for me to enjoy. My life needs to be about more than just myself. Ironically when I am only worried about myself and what I want, my life is less productive. The worry chokes out God's Word. My obsession with my own comfort can give me permission to side-step difficult and unpleasant things that would otherwise deepen my soil. And my desire for quick solutions or the easy life will never allow God's word to take root in my heart.
Good soil takes time to cultivate, but it is simple. Simple and easy are not the same thing. God never promises that I will feel great all the time. In fact happiness has never been a promise. For me, a pursuit of happiness has been a trap that keeps me from cultivating good soil. Instead I am learning to pursue purpose. Purpose will lead to joy and fulfillment. Happiness is mostly outside my control. There is purpose in cultivating my soil and doing what I can to allow God's word to produce fruit in my life.