Monday, November 10, 2008

Seed and Soil

The seed is the word of God . . . therefore, consider carefully how you listen (Luke 8:11, 18).

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There’s another one of those peculiar and enigmatic Jesus-isms. At times I’ve thought I had a handle on what that means, at other times not a clue. Everyone has ears to hear, don’t they? Apparently not.

Seeds of faith were planted in my life in different ways. One of those ways was listening to my parents talk when we were on long car trips. I remember a family vacation that involved hours on the road. My mom read a book to my Dad, John Claypool’s The Preaching Event. This was before the day when kids could disconnect from their surroundings with the help of ipods and earphones. I tried to act bored and aloof, but I heard every word of it.

And on one occasion they talked about how people hear the word of God when it is proclaimed from the pulpit. Is it an equal playing field, everyone hearing the same message with the same capacity to respond to what they hear? My mom’s answer was “no.” I can’t quote her, but basically she told my Dad that she’d sat in the choir for years while he preached and it seemed to her that some people seemed open to what was being said, almost hungry for it. Others were obviously bored. They couldn’t wait to get to lunch.

In other words, different soils. The seed of God’s word is scattered about but it falls on different kinds of soil.

After telling and explaining the parable of the seed and the soils, Jesus told his followers to consider carefully how they listen (Luke 8:18). We might think that everyone listens the same way, that everyone hears the same message. That’s not so. I often blame myself for that. As one who preaches occasionally and teaches often, I feel like I’ve failed if someone doesn’t “get it.” That might be the case, but not always. The word of God falls on different soils and whether it brings forth life depends on where it falls.

This week we’re going to spend some time thinking about the different soils, and asking what it means for us to consider “how we listen.” Some soil is hard and tightly packed. Some soil is shallow. Some soil is crowded. And some soil is good and productive.

As for how the seed is scattered, preachers are by no means the only ones who sow the seed of the word. The word comes through teachers, through our own reading, through conversation with friends in a small group, through a colleague or co-worker. God will see to it that the word is sent out. Ultimately, scattering is God’s work.

The question for us is about how we receive it. Something more than mere hearing is required. We need to listen. Having “ears to hear” means being able to truly listen to the word so that God’s voice is heard. That’s not always easy.

In his book The Voice of Jesus, Gordon T. Smith says that every Christian should be able to answer two questions. First, what is God saying to you at this time in your life? Second, how do you know it’s God? Good questions. Smith maintains that discerning the voice of Jesus is a critical spiritual skill. This week we’ll try to learn about how we can develop it.

Lord Jesus, give us ears to hear. Let your word impact our lives in productive and transformative ways. Teach us how to detect your voice behind the word written and proclaimed. We are eager for you to speak to us. Help us to listen, even now in these moments. Amen.

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