My husband and I love to listen to audiobooks on long car rides. The only problem is he has the gift of super hearing. The app we use offers the option to speed the reading up to 3.5 times the original speed. My husband is able to listen at a rate that would rival the best auctioneer and somehow still comprehend what he’s listening to.
At the speed he chooses, I can hear the words of the book, but I’m not really listening and comprehending. Hearing something is easy, but listening, really truly listening, and allowing it to sink into your heart is different. We see in Matthew 13:1-23, listening deeply and understanding is how the seeds of the Kingdom of God truly flourish. This is a Kingdom that flourishes when the people listen well to the King and respond with wholehearted devotion.
The parable of the sower is Jesus asking, “Are you really listening?” In this lesson, Jesus shows that not everyone deeply hears what he is saying and ultimately, we can miss the Message. It’s helpful for me to walk through the different soils Jesus talks about and ask myself, “Am I listening? Am I really listening deeply and understanding?”
The rocky and shallow soil does not allow the seed to sink in. In this scenario, we listen to the message, but it doesn’t sink into our heart and transform us to love God with all that we are. This is intellect only. It’s possible to be in contact with the Word of God often without it making a personal penetration into the core of who we are. In other words, this is listening to Jesus’ teaching with a hard heart.
The shallow soil has no room for roots to really sink in. The roots of the plant are in the topsoil so when the sun scorches the ground, the plant can’t take the heat and it withers. This represents a hearer who responds with emotion only. When the hard times come we waver because the comfort we used to have is gone and there is nothing deeper to drink from and be refreshed.
The soil where the seed gets choked out by thorns represents hearing the message of Jesus with a divided heart. We are hearing and trying to deeply understand Jesus, but we are also trying to serve other things. Jesus makes it clear, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Here the message is being choked because we are devoted to Jesus but we can’t give him everything.
Gardening has never been my thing, and not for lack of trying. I have an embarrassing history of plants that didn’t survive my care (or lack thereof). But thankfully I’m not the Gardener in this teaching, Jesus is. I am the soil. He is the one doing the planting and He is the Gardener who can tend to the plants and cause fruit to come forth. I just need to be close to Him so that He can do the things only He can do.
Timothy Keller said it this way,
You are the soil and He is the Gardner. The soil’s job is not to get rocks out. The soil’s job is not to pull the thorns out. That’s the Gardener’s job. It’s your job to receive the seed, to hear the word. In other words, of course, you’re not strong enough unless you go to the Gardner right now and say ‘Oh Lord, I’ve got thorns in my life please take them out. I’ve got rocks in my heart, please pull them out. I will go back to the Word. I will hear it, I will listen to it, I will reflect on it, I’ll think out the implications, I’ll obey it, I’ll give myself to it so I can see the power of the Kingdom come through, I’ll hear you, I’ll listen to you, but I need you to pull the thorns and you have got to pull the rocks.’ And what is Jesus going to say in response? He’s going say, ‘Of course, I’ve been waiting for you. I took your thorns in my brow and I took your rocks and they buried me under one. I’ve taken those things, that’s what I’m here for.
The question we can ask ourselves in response to Jesus’ good teaching is, “Am I listening? Am I really listening deeply and responding?” And if I’m not listening well and responding to what the Good Teacher is saying, I need to spend time with Him, with the Gardner. I need to pray that He would remove the rocks and thorns from my heart and deepen the soil as only the Good Gardner can.