This is the second lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
I know that early in life I thought the Bible was a good guide to living, and protection from danger like the guardrails along a dangerous road. But that is really a stunted view of what Scripture has to offer. Living the Bible means the essential qualities of our lives are shaped by the truth of God. It is about life itself.
Living the Bible, in other words, is about the Bible—the word of God—living in us. It is a living word, because it contains life and prompts life.
As Psalm 1 puts it, the person who delights in God’s Word is “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” But this does not happen automatically. It is all too easy for us to read the word of God with no effect whatsoever if we are just looking at the Bible as a pile of facts. Or maybe we long for a time when Scripture impacted us deeply, but somehow that is less the case now and we wonder why. We all know people who need a spark of spiritual life, or they need the protection of the truth of God’s Word, but they look down upon the Bible. It is almost like they think the Bible is trying to take something away from them, rather than giving them life.
One day Jesus explained to his disciples why some people receive the message of the kingdom of God and others do not, and he used a comparison from the natural world, as he often did. A sower goes out to plant a crop, casting seed this way and that. Some of the seed lands on the hard-packed path the sower is walking on, some falls into soil that is pretty thin because of rocks and stones, some of the seed falls among wild plants like thorn bushes, and some actually lands in good, fertile soil where it has a chance to sprout, grow, and produce. Jesus then explains the meaning of his parable, point by point.
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 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. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
Jesus’ disciples must have wondered why some people heard “the message of the kingdom” and accepted it, but many did not.
This is assumed in the parable: the seed is good. It has all the potential for life and fruitfulness. The variable in the parable is the soils. The variable is our receptiveness to God’s words.
When we do not let God’s messages in, like a hard surface off which seeds will bounce (the path), absolutely nothing will happen. In fact, a hard and stubborn heart is exactly what the evil one wants.
When we listen to the word of God slightly, and let it penetrate in only a shallow way (the rocky ground), the effects are superficial and temporary.
“The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (the thorns) is a story told many times over. Someone wants to have a living faith in God, and may even enjoy life for a little while, but it is short-lived against the competition of worries and materialism. We see it in celebrity believers who speak about faith for a while, but then it fades away. Ordinary people experience it all the time. It is what happens when we spend large amounts of time accumulating more material goods. We are free to do that. But then we’ll have chosen one master over another.
And then there is the good soil. In times past when my wife and I planted a garden in the spring, the first task was soil preparation. Do it well, with rich soil, some peat moss for aeration, and a bit of natural fertilizer, mix it all together, and you can scoop up handfuls of rich-smelling soil. You know the seed is going to love that soil.
So living the Bible is an organic process. It is about a living word deeply taking root, and eventually we are amazed at the harvest. This will not happen if we view the Bible as merely a book of rules.
Some self-examination is in order here. Are we ready to receive the word of God like good soil? Or do things like our worry and financial stress compete with the truth of God? Are we letting the word of God develop deep roots, or are we being shallow with it? And are we guarding against hard hearts which won’t receive the truth of God at all?
Prayer: Lord, make our hearts and minds open to the implanting of the seed of your word.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.