This year we planted two tomato plants in our yard. One went directly into the soil in the ground and the other one went into a pot that sits against our outside wall. The difference in how the two plants grew was rather startling.
The first plant that went into the ground grew one tomato. The plant itself never grew and the fruit was rather dismal (even the one tomato got eaten by slugs.) However, the pot backed up against our house had a different experience. It not only grew bigger, but it grew loads of tomatoes, all rather tasty and none affected by the enemy of slugs…
So, what was the difference? I believe the major difference was the soil they were planted in. The plant in the ground was planted into soil that is hard and impacted, and the potted plant went into pure potting soil that is healthy and easy to maneuver.
Jesus got this. He knew that his followers did too as they lived in an agrarian lifestyle. So, one day he told them a story to help them realize how important it is to take care of the soil of our own lives. Read what he says in Mark 4:
3"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."
The soil really matters in how a plant will grow. It’s obvious that not all conditions are conducive to good growth. Hard impacted soil, like a path that is traveled often, will not even allow a seed to go into the soil. Rocky soil keeps the roots from going down deep, and thorny soil chocks the plants. It’s only the seeds that get into the deep, rich soil will grow a plant that will bear fruit and eventually reproduce.
Jesus’ followers didn’t get it. They shook their heads and told Jesus to make sense when he taught. But, when Jesus explained how important it is for us to consider our own soil in relationship to our growth, the lightbulb went on for them.
Remember that the seed is a mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, but when it is planted in fertile, rich soil it can grow to be the largest bush in the garden. We only need a small seed of faith to follow Jesus, but we do need the proper conditions for our soil.
In fact, seeds shouldn’t even be wasted on the soil of the path. Seeds that go into rocky soil will die when any kind of adversity comes its way. Seeds that are planted into thorny soil will get distracted and choked by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth. But, when the soil conditions are right, the one seed grows into a plant that will reproduce itself many times over, Jesus tells us, even a 100 times more than the one seed.
So, obviously, we want to have fertile, rich soil in our lives. But, not so obviously, what is the pathway for getting our soil ready for the seeds to be planted and the harvest to come?
Let’s go back to Jesus’ thinking: what does a soil need to grow healthy plants? Well, it needs to be areated: loosened up so that the soil is easily moved and the seeds can find their place to root. The soil needs to be fed fertilizer. Sun is vital in growing a plant. A seed needs water to grow. Finally, protection: in Seattle, the major protection is from slugs and rotting from too much water!
If our faith is a seed, then the fertilizer is God’s Word. Jesus tells us that he is the Bread of Life and his Word is our daily food (John 6). The sun is himself; a relationship with the Light of the World (John 9). The water is the Living Water which will sustain us (John 4). The aereation is the challenge we face which causes us to allow in even more of Jesus’ life and truth. Finally, the protection comes from the Lord as we trust him to watch over our lives.
I think most of us would agree that the soil of our lives is important, but for me the question is: What are we doing about it?
How are we intentionally feeding our soil and watering the seeds, seeking out the sun on a daily basis and walking through challenge with a recognition of its importance in our growth?
Sometimes we pay a lot of attention to that which others can see. But, in order to grow a strong, healthy tree, we need to pay even more attention to that which is not seen. The Apostle Paul knew this and wrote to the Corinthians in 2nd Cor 4:16-18:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Take some time to reflect on this passage. What is the unseen that the Lord wants you to see? Perhaps there is much under the ground that will bring you great joy and overflowing fruit as you continue to prepare the soil of your inner life with Christ.