As a middle child, I have that whole peackeeper/let me save you thing going on. My wife gets annoyed with me at times because of the classic “I don’t need you to fix anything, I just want you to listen” problem many of us have. This mentality goes even deeper in me though and can be a real problem. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough in other relationships, or at work, and definitely not enough at my church. I often feel like I’m not doing enough in the world to make a real difference.
Have you ever felt this way? Maybe in one of your relationships you don’t feel like you are doing enough? At your church? In the world? Maybe we have been expecting from ourselves what we were not intended to do.
One of my favorite teachings from Jesus is the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13, specifically verses 18-23. These scriptures have come up several times recently and helped me realize my place in the world a bit more. The amazing point here is that Jesus describes four different types of soil, signaling that we are all soil. What does that mean? It means we are all responders and just have varying levels of faith and understanding. We all respond to what we see, what we hear, and what we feel or believe. It means that you may be expecting more of yourself than you are supposed to do. Let’s dig deeper..
The four soils are described like this:
- “The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.
- The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.
- The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.
- The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
These verses tell us the work that we actually can do in the world. Jesus said to be a light to the world and I think some of us, myself included, took that order to mean work tirelessly until we see a difference. While that mentality is not necessarily a bad thing, it also damages us eventually because we never see the result we expect. Our expectations exceed our abilities. This is the definition of broken hope in your life. We need to be more efficient with our time by focusing on the things we can work toward in order to keep hope in our lives so we can share that with others. Let’s review the soils and apply what our work in the world actually looks like:
- The first kind of soil on the footpath is where people hear the message but do not understand it. The work you can do is help cultivate the person’s understanding by sharing applicable, relevant messages with them. Sometimes spiritual disciplines and understanding has a sheet over it for some. Work around that. Manipulate the sheet and help them see.
- The second soil on the rocky path is where people receive the goodness of the spirit, but it is easily uprooted because their roots are not deep. Your work here is to help these people put their newfound spirit to work. They need deeper roots and the best way to do that is to get them involved. If you are in an outreach program share with them what they can bring to the table. If you are in a church and there is a need they would enjoy filling, tell them about it. Invite them.
- The third soil is among the thorns and is where people hear God’s word but it is choked by worries and fear. Your work here is to encourage these people new to the faith. Until they see that their new faith works through the troubles, they need to be affirmed until their love for it alone sustains it. Make your interactions with these people personal. Share how you made it through something they are going through. Keep them motivated and surrounded by people that will continue speaking life into them.
- The fourth soil is the good stuff. This is what people can become if they make it through the other kinds. These are the people who hear God’s word, they understand it, and they are moved to action because of it.
These scriptures may be viewed as more of a guide of who to spend your time with or who to speak into, but we all need that. We all need time with you and others. We all need you and others to speak into us. So where does the Sun come in all this? The Sun’s job is to provide the light. It provides all the nutrients needed to sustain life. The soil responds to the Sun based on the level of exposure and grows (or dies) accordingly. God is the Sun. He is responsible for providing the life, the spirit, in people. True life comes from the Word and understanding it. The soil is the people. That’s where we come in. We help cultivate the soil to make it good and useful. We get it in a better position to receive the Sun in a way that growth and sharing will continue.
Some of us have been living thinking that we have to do the work of the Sun. Like we have to provide all the light, everything someone needs to live a good life, and then cultivate the ground. But that is not our place. Our place is to see what condition the soil is in, cultivate it, care for it, and position it in the direction of the sun. Take the burden of the Sun off your back because it is too heavy for you to carry. It is not because you are a failure, it is simply because you were not made to carry that. You were not intended to be the Sun, and God loves you for doing the work you were made for. The work you can make a difference doing.