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 13:23
In gardening and farming, soil cultivation is an intentional practice designed to improve the condition of the soil. Similarly, cultivating the soil of the soul is an important dimension of Christian experience.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about a person’s capacity to hear and understand the message of the kingdom. The path, the rocky soil, and the thorny soil all represent problems in the human heart that limit receptivity. “Good soil,” on the other hand, yields fruit. Jesus is talking about the heart of a person—the center of one’s willing, thinking, knowing, deciding, and doing—in short, the soul. We often think about this parable in terms of the first-time hearing of the gospel, but it really applies to our whole spiritual journey. Throughout our lives we must take care to have “soul soil” that is receptive to the seed of God’s Word.
Across the ages believers have exercised the disciplines of solitude, prayer, Scripture meditation, and fasting, as modeled by Jesus, as ways to cultivate the soil of their souls. Solitude—the practice of withdrawing to private space—is not so much a discipline in and of itself, but a context for practicing other personal disciplines. Jesus himself both engaged with people and, at other times, retreated (see Matt. 4:1-11, Matt. 14:23, Mark 1:35).
Today, unfortunately, solitude is largely a lost practice in the church and in society as a whole. In a January 2009 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, essayist William Deresiewicz writes:
If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude. And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans. . . placed at the center of spiritual life—of wisdom, of conduct.
The message of the kingdom needs good “soul soil,” and that soil needs to be cultivated for fruitful and wise living. Solitude is an important practice—modeled by Jesus and essential for living well.
PONDER: How can daily or weekly times of solitude become a part of your regular spiritual disciplines?
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• AN EXAMPLE OF BIBLE MEDITATION •
How do we learn to discern God’s voice? In meditation. We take a truth… and let the thoughts of our mind mix with the meditations of our heart, and something inside is stirred. Christian meditation is like that. Unlike eastern meditation—which empties its mind—we fill our mind with a truth, examine it, let it examine us, and in that meditative mix, God speaks.
A common Christian prayer time involves Scripture study and worship (sprinkled liberally with confession, thanksgiving, and intercession). Our study tends to be information gathering while our worship is an expression of our spirit and heart. We need to link Scripture study with worship. Meditation is that bridge.
What does this look like?
As I read a passage of Scripture, I wait—I remain alert—for a quickening in my heart. When stirring begins, I stop reading and meditate on the verses. I ask myself questions like:
- What does this truth say about God? Why would God even say it?
- What would my life look like if I believed it were true?
- How does this truth… make me love God more?
- What do I need to change in my thinking or actions to align myself with its truth?
I begin by analyzing the idea presented, but after a time, I move from analyzing the text to gazing at God. I move from word-ful thinking to word-less admiration.
It doesn’t happen the same way every day or with the same intensity. Some days I’m stirred by verses in the first passage, and I skip the other passages. Other days I finish all the passages, I ask myself which stirred me the most, and I return to that. And gaze.
Adapted from “Beliefs of the Heart,” a blog by Sam Williamson.
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Agriculture is incredible. A farmer plants seeds, and with water, good soil, and sunlight the seed grows into a plant. Good soil is critical for producing a crop. Spending time with God and being open to hearing from him allow us to become good soil so that a crop may result from our lives.
Read Matthew 13:18-23. What are ways you can continue to become good soil? Read Galatians 5:22-23. Which of these fruits do you see in your life? How do those around you respond when they notice these fruits in your life?