What Kind of Soil Are You? (The Crowded Ground Hearer)
Now we meet the crowded ground hearer. To the crowded ground hearer, the Gospel matters, but it does not matter enough – the crowded ground hearer is preoccupied, but not with the Gospel, but rather with many other things. We need to note that the soil is well plowed and receptive to the seed of the word. There is no shallow topsoil here, no rock ledge underneath – the seed is able to throw down deep roots. The problem is that other things are growing in the same heart. Deep from within this heart, the seeds of thorn plants or weeds also are present and they are numerous. They outgrow the good seed and crowd around the good seed so that it is not able to produce any fruit. The good plants are crowded and choked by the thorns.
The seed that is sown is the Gospel and the life that is found in Jesus Christ and as it takes root in your heart it will produce a growing commitment to the kingdom of God. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are to be people of one overarching focus: that focus is to be on the kingdom of God. Jesus commands his followers to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. The kingdom is God’s gracious reign in your heart and over your life that brings salvation. The response of faith to this kingdom and its saving grace is that you seek his righteousness, which is a life of holiness manifested in fulfilling the two greatest commandments: loving God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Note that with the crowded ground hearer, the thorns crowd out the good plants preventing them from bearing fruit. What these various thorns do is compete for dominance over the ground. This is a picture of the professing believer who finds that other concerns become more important than the Gospel and its fruit. Other preoccupations rise from within the life of the professing believer that on a functional level become more important than the Gospel and crowd around it so as to choke it. These thorns prevent the Gospel that is professed from bearing fruit. The Gospel is intended by God to enable you to embrace the priority of the kingdom of God and as such the Gospel produces in your heart and mind a godly stewardship over the affairs of your life. It enables you to properly manage, as citizens of the kingdom, your personal life, your relationships with your family, your job, your property and possessions, your money, your time, your hobbies, your schedule – all of your affairs in a manner that glorifies God.
There is a difference between a responsible stewardship before God over your life and its affairs and an inordinate preoccupation with your affairs. In fact, the first steps you are to take to exercise a responsible God-honoring stewardship over your affairs are the following:
Be sure that you are indeed believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that you are captured by this wonderful grace of God for you in the offering up of his Son to pay the penalty for all your sins so that you might gain a righteous standing before God as his dearly loved son. Here is where real happiness and contentment are to be found. This is where hearts come to know peace. Does this matter to you?
With the Gospel resonating in your heart – bringing encouragement, joy, hope and inward strength and stability – then you are to set your heart on being sure that you are indeed focused on God’s name being hallowed, his kingdom coming and his will being done. This is both what Jesus teaches should be the first thing on your daily prayer list and also the first priority of your life. You should pray for these realities, concentrate on them and long for them.
With these two realities (The Gospel and the Kingdom) dominating your heart – your thinking and your desires - then you can indeed manage your affairs without them managing or controlling you. Then you will have real perspective and the ability to establish the right priorities for your life and from those priorities make wise choices.
Yet in all our hearts there are thorns growing. These thorns are competing gospels, yes even competing gods. It is helpful to give the particular lists of these thorns found in each of the synoptic Gospels.
Matthew lists the cares of the age and the delightful deceit of riches or wealth; Mark lists the cares of the age, the delightful deceit of riches and the coveting of other things; Luke list anxiety, riches and the pleasures of life.
These may be summarized under three headings: the cares and anxieties of life, the deceit of wealth, and the pursuit of other of life’s pleasures. Yet they can be further summarized as anxious unbelief and misplaced covetous desires. These are the thorns that rise out of your heart and compete against the seed of the word for the turf of your heart. These thorns will so crowd around the Gospel amd your profession of faith in Jesus Christ so as to choke your profession and leave you without any fruit. What kind of soil are you?
We must be on our guard because anxiety and covetousness are often subtle in their power to seduce us and to draw the life of the word from our hearts and minds. The question that we need to ask is a simple one: are we managing our affairs from a heart of faith in Christ or from a heart filled with anxious care and covetous desires? If you are not managing your affairs from faith in the word then your affairs are managing you.
Belief and trust in the Gospel will give you a passion for the Kingdom of God. A passion for the Kingdom of God will enable you to be a steward of the kingdom by managing all your affairs from a heart that trusts Christ and desires to glorify God. This means that as a believer you will be managing your affairs rather than your affairs managing you. Yet as we see from this picture Jesus gives us of the crowded ground hearer, there are other things growing in your heart that if left untended will choke out the life of the Gospel and the truth of the word of the kingdom and thus destroy your faith. These are the thorns that compete for the turf of your heart.
The two main kinds of thorns (or injurious influences) that crowd out the seed from the ground of your heart are thorns of anxiety and thorns of covetousness.
The Thorns of Anxious Unbelief
In several other places in the Gospels, Jesus warns us about the danger of being given over to anxious cares about the necessities or needs of life. You are to indeed be stewards of the necessities, but you are not to be preoccupied over them. In other words, you are to trust in your heavenly Father’s promise that you are more valuable to him than the birds of the air, which he feeds and the flowers of the fields, which he clothes. So as you go to work, establish a budget, make your plans, do your shopping, give your tithes and pay your bills and taxes, you are to do all this with faith resonating in your heart and not anxious care. For such anxious care is a cancer on your faith. It chokes out the promises of the word; the Gospel promises and thus destroys your faith, for your faith has no object on which to rest and from which to work.
It is the Gospel that highlights for us the Fatherly provision and oversight of God over those who trust in Jesus Christ that should banish from our hearts all anxiety. Anxious unbelief is a terrible thorn that chokes the word from growing in our hearts and thereby strengthening our faith in the Gospel. Take steps to combat this thorn and to root it of your heart – out of your thinking and desires.
The Thorns of Covetousness
Covetousness is the strong desire to possess an object. There are two objects of coveting to which the Gospel writers point. There is the delightful deceit of wealth or riches and then there is everything else or what Luke calls the pleasures of life. Wealth is an obvious object of coveting. Jesus speaks here of the delightful deceit of wealth or money and the lifestyle that money can bring our way. No it is not money that is the problem. It is our response to money or wealth.
As anxiety is a trust killer, covetousness is a treasure killer. They both eclipse the life and content of the truth of the word in your heart and rob faith of its object – the Gospel. Treasuring Jesus Christ and the grace he brings to you that justifies you before God who is holy fills your heart with true contentment and rest. This does away with wrong covetousness and establishes a godly and genuine desire and passion in your heart. Coveting money, earthly pleasure, power, prestige or even people is false worship. False worship’s aim is to destroy the true worship of the living God. To treasure the Gospel and the kingdom and the grace of God in Christ fuels true genuine worship and kills all covetousness.
Farming Your Heart as a Steward of the Gospel and the Kingdom
You need to be sure that you are fighting the dual sins of anxious unbelief and idolatrous misplaced belief. You need to fight for your faith so that you grow more confident and more content with all that God is for you in Christ (to reference John Piper). But how do you do this?
By making sure you are focusing on the reality of God’s grace to you in Christ.
The Gospel of grace dislodges anxiety because it assures you of the Fatherly care and provision of God.
The Gospel of grace dislodges covetousness by replacing it with a superior affection or desire – the treasure of God’s grace and glory.
By resisting the power of temptation through holding to the grace of the Gospel.
By availing yourself of the means or disciplines of grace through which you nourish the spiritual life residing in your heart due to the word being sown there.
Regular intake of the Scriptures
Cultivating a life of reliance on God through prayer
Worshiping God privately and corporately that includes the sacraments
Accountable fellowship with God’s people
A helpful resource for such soul-farming is the book by Donald S. Whitney “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.” It is a very challenging, encouraging and practical work on how you can more effectively grow by faith as you exercise with these spiritual disciplines.
These grace disciplines – using the means of grace – apart from faith will accomplish nothing, yet with faith they are necessary weapons to kill the thorns of anxiety and covetousness because they are means God uses to nurture your spiritual life. They are means God uses to allow his word to grow up in your heart. Disciplines apart from faith in Christ can become barren legalistic potholes. But these disciplines of grace embraced and pursued from a heart of faith are powerful means to grow your spiritual life and to weed the soil of your heart so that the word that you take in will bear lasting fruit. You need to be a deliberate and persistent farmer of your heart. Those professing believers who are prove that they are not crowded ground hearers. So what kind of soil are you?