Perfectly straight rows. As I walked along one May morning this year in North Central Montana, the yellow stubble of last years’ wheat harvest stretched out across the expanse of the field in perfectly straight rows.
The wheat went along in these lovely lines and then in unison the lines of wheat curved, looking like a multi-lane highway taking a sharp turn, each line remaining perfectly parallel to one another as the rows traveled around a big pile of rocks. With only a quick glance you can see a few large piles of rock in nearly every enormous field in the area.
Life as a wheat farmer in this part of the world involves a war on rocks. As the farmers prepare their fields to till and seed, they gather all the large rocks and bring them to a few locations across their vast acreage. Then they sow their crop in deliciously linear rows which, of course, have to curve around the rock piles.
The surprising thing, at least to me, is that even though the farmers have spent days gathering rocks over the past 100 years, there are still more rocks in the soil. Every year at seeding time as the earth is churned up and tilled for seeding, it is time to haul rocks again. Fighting rocks is a normal, never-ending part of life as a wheat farmer in North Central Montana.
As I walked along this year and saw the rock piles I couldn’t help but think about the Parable of the Sower. You can find the story in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. “A sower went out to sow…” Some of the seed fell along the path, some among the rocky soil, some among the thorns and some in the good soil. Each of the first three places posed problems for the seed to grow and thrive.
In the past, I’ve always thought of this parable in terms of salvation. When someone hears the Good News, will they respond? If they do respond, will they stay the course? Essentially, I wrote this story off as no longer applying to me personally. But on this particular day, it struck me that we need “good soil” in our hearts our whole lives AND that it takes a lot of hard work to maintain good soil.
If the seed represents “a word of the kingdom,” it represents God speaking to us. Of course, God speaks to us when He invites us into His kingdom for the first time, but He also invites us into His kingdom every day. Jesus even taught the disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6)” If God is speaking to me, inviting me into His kingdom, I really want to be able to hear Him and receive what He is saying.
Just like the farmers in Montana who walk their thousands of acres scouring for rocks every single year, we must wage war on the rocks in our own hearts.
Jesus interprets the Parable of the Sower for His disciples explaining what kinds of things pose problems for our faith. The hard path comes from a lack of understanding and the enemy snatching the word away. The rocky ground is when we respond with joy but fade quickly when we face difficulties. And the thorns represent the cares of this world, life’s worries and pressures.
Any one of these three scenarios happen regularly in my life. When I leave the sweet connection of abiding in Christ, my ability to discern and decipher what God is telling me in my day-to-day life quickly fades and I lack the understanding to take God’s daily invitation to heart. Plus life is full of challenges. I need to be connected to the Good Vine to navigate both ordinary and extraordinary trials. Otherwise I cannot see God’s goodness in the middle of my difficulty. Lastly, the thorns represent life’s worries and pressures. Who of us does not face thorns daily? Life itself is a hard path requiring daily, deliberate action to keep our hearts as soft soil ready to receive God’s word.
If we face a daily fight, how do we wage a war on the rocks in our lives?
David offers us some wisdom. At the end of a long Psalm about how much God loves us and pursues us David writes the following:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
~Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
David knew that inviting God’s examination and conviction of our hearts and thoughts leads to life! Like a loving Father, gathering His child in his lap to tend to the child’s bumps, bruises and scrapes, asking God to search us is requesting His help to mend what ails us. A spiritual life marked by regular self-examination and repentance fertilizes and prepares the soil of our hearts. God’s correction and subsequent mercy and grace keep us closely connected to His heart and allow us to abide in tender relationship with Him.
Repentance is not scary. It is a gift granted to us. It gives us life and is the mechanism God gives us to remain soft hearted and to “hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:15, NIV84)”
While I highly doubt that the farmers in North Central Montana enjoy rock picking, I do believe we as God’s children can relish in the experience. Each tender conviction of the Holy Spirit is our Good Father lovingly attempting to remove our burdens from us. He is showing us a better way. So let us wage a war on rocks in our hearts and keep the soil of our heart plowed and ready to receive God’s word. May the harvest be plentiful in and through our lives!