Matthew 13 (NIV)
The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Whoever has ears, let them hear.
That line was never more meaningful to me than it became at our Church’s Annual Conference on Tuesday night, when I found myself in need of a hearing aid from God.
We had gathered to celebrate God’s presence in mission work, with seeds being cast over soil across the world through our conference. It included a processional of flags from across the world, of which I was privileged enough to get to lead in one side of the flag-bearers. As I carried the Afghanistan flag, I prayed the whole while for all of those in that country – our military men and women as well – to feel the power of God’s loving presence in their lives. No sooner did those many country’s flags spread out across the front of the auditorium than a tremendous storm began to blow in from the west.
The assembly of people were standing, singing ‘How Great is our God.’
The sky went black with an ominous cloud. The wind was rattling the wall of windows behind me. Large trees were bending. One loud thunder clap, and we lost all power, with nighttime settling on top of us early.
Immediate removal of musical accompaniment did not stop the crowd from standing resolute and continuing to sing of the greatness of our Lord. Soon, we had gone into “…then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How great Thou art.”
The challenge came more to the speakers, working to bring thunderous voices from their diaphragms, than it did to our color guard trying to orderly dismiss ourselves, or to ushers working to provide a candlelit nuance, or to workers rushing to open windows and doors for some air flow. The storm at our conference had subsided, but its passing over us wasn’t going to bring instant repair to a blown transformer outside.
As I stood in the auditorium, straining to hear, I began to see a parable unfold.
Jesus explained the meaning of his parable to his followers in this way:
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 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. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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. 22 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. 23 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.”
Often times, we ‘churchy-folk’ like to think Jesus was talking about ‘unchurched-folk’ hearing the Word for the first time, but my ears heard it differently this time around; my eyes saw it in a new light (albeit dimly lit).
As the storm came up, many of the people who were in the auditorium were glancing around nervously, peering out at the scary-look cloud, unable to sing. Frozen in fear. I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t worth giving some attention (and will admit that I did). But, truthfully, there was no additional cover to seek. Praising God in the storm was the very best action to be taken in this case. That seed of praise had been”[snatched] away” from some of the hearts there, though (vs. 19). They could no longer hear the praise over the storm or see God at work because they were blinded by their fear. A few exited immediately upon the storm blowing over.
Within minutes, many of those same ‘churchy-folk’ who hadn’t left, proclaiming God’s greatness only minutes earlier, became frustrated with the darkness surrounding them, the stillness of the warming air, the inability to hear all that was being said in the natural. They began to slip out, little by little, until the auditorium was about three-fourths its capacity. As Jesus said, “they [lasted] only a short time…they quickly [fell] away” (vs. 20-21).
The thorny hearts (vs. 22) became of greatest concern to me personally, to be honest (because, as thorns tend to do, they also reached out to choke out the life – or at least the ears – of those around them). I stood in the back with some friends and fellow flag bearers. If we had strained to hear before, we were surely straining by then. A brother in Christ from South Sudan had taken the stage to thank our conference for the hope we were providing to his people. He had grown up as a child who was taken to carry a weapon of war in the country of Sudan. Yet, he had escaped that life. He had wanted a new life for the generations to follow his, a life that brought hope and peace. He and others had suffered much, but trusted God much, for such a new beginning as that – a beginning that was symbolized in the natural when South Sudan became its own country. Despite the positive word this messenger brought, I also knew what had been encountered for the past year by this brother and another pastor brother in South Sudan with Visa problems to be able to bring it. After much disappointment and even greater patience, our South Sudanese brother had finally been able to come to the states, just so we could be blessed with this encounter. Let me reiterate that his presence among us was special – as though we were personally being thanked by God’s very own messenger. Yet, this messenger was a man from another place than ours, with a different accent than ours, with a low, humble voice that didn’t boom like some of the other speakers. He was working to convey God’s gratitude to straining human ears.
The thorniness didn’t allow some hearts to offer the respect our messenger-brother deserved. Some of those who had earlier exited stood outside the outer open doors, chatting and laughing about earthly “worries” (things that were apparently of greater interest than kingdom issues). After some time, realizing that many on the back rows had one straining ear on the stage and another ear being disrupted by these competing exchanges, a man I know in local missions respectfully closed the outer door. Not only did this act not serve to send a gentle message to the boisterous men outside, but it seemed to encourage the young ladies who were working the desk behind us to become louder, talking between themselves and bursting out in laughter over one of their cell phones ringing during the service. After several ‘teacher glances’ behind me that served to be absolutely ineffective, I closed the set of inner doors in front of the immature offenders. Almost immediately, the doors slung back open, with one of the young ladies slamming down the door stops without concern for the noise it created. She snapped at me, “We’re watching this. The doors need to stay open.” To this, the mother in me kicked in. Without taking the time to explain to her the gravity of our guest’s presence with us, instead, I replied, “Then watch with your eyes, not your mouths, so others can hear.” The seed was not going to be fruitful among the thorns, who deceitfully claimed to want to hear the word, but in essence, served to choke it out from others. I hate that I got snagged by them – as did many others who continued to slip out, leaving less than one-half of our original assembly.
An offering was taken, in which conference envelopes had already been prepared from churches. Many more left during that time, staying only to the point at which they felt their obligation to be there (to turn in their envelopes) had been fulfilled. (I’ve attended worship out of obligation before, too. What about you?)
13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
I pray that Jesus can heal my heart where my soul can learn to better receive His Word – that I can learn to discern with my heart, to see through spirit-filled eyes.
It’s interesting to me that those standing and praising until the very end of that celebration service – despite the darkness, despite the lack of sound equipment, despite the lack of many conveniences of our modern American day – appeared to be approximately one-fourth of the original group. This was the soil who heard the word through their hearts more than their ears (the same as 1/4 of Jesus’ 4 groups). Seeing how this service was about the mission field (which comes with many similar circumstances), I’m going to be bold enough to proclaim that I believe them to be the seed who will “[produce] crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (vs. 23).
Because Jesus also said:
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.
17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Oh, LORD, let me be a seer, a hearer, and a doer of Your Word.