During a discipleship network meeting last night each person in the group shared about the sort of people they saw who were responding to the gospel. These included the homeless, the awkward and isolated, Christians convicted of their impotency to forgive, refugees, adolescents from deplorable family situations and so on. There was a stark contrast between such responsiveness and the run of the mill middle class church-goer and their sluggish movements to follow Jesus on the road of discipleship. In the midst of this dialogue the Lord had started to impress upon me that a season of rich fruitfulness was budding, and that it was time to intentionally seek out those who would vitally turn to him. In praying about how Jesus himself targeted the responsive I was led directly to “the parable of the sower”, better titled “the parable of the soils”.
The Parable of the Soils
“And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” ” (Luke 8:4-8, 15 ESV) This well known story contains distinctives in the form in which it appears in Luke’s Gospel. For Luke there is only one sort of productive soil and it bears forth 100 fold. Luke also focuses on the condition of the heart of the hearer of the word.
Though Jesus described four types of soil, standing for four types of people, he only ever anticipated a response from one kind. As I was praying about this parable a new dimension of the story opened up. I began to visually “see” the scene of sowing amongst the soils as Jesus’ first hearers would have seen it. I “saw” the hardened path, calloused against any penetration of the Word of God, then the ploughed earth beneath which could be seen exposed rock, then an area where the furrows were matted with weeds, and finally the zone where bright and abundant green shoots were springing forth. This last area, the good soil, was visibly characterised by thoroughly broken earth. The point was clear, only where the soil of our hearts is broken, only where there is a broken ‘ME’, will there be rich spiritual fruitfulness. This might seem obvious but we miss this deep spiritual message time and again.
The Mystery of the Kingdom
Jesus said to his closest disciples, ““Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13). I am afraid most of us have yet to be grasped by Jesus point that the coming kingdom of God is given only to those who will receive it; “the common people heard him gladly” (Matt12:37). I can think of no case where a Pharisee or Sadducee was healed by Jesus! It is not that he intentionally excluded the wealthy, but it was the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and ordinary folk, with the occasional Gentile, who proved to be those with fertile hearts for the Word of God (Matt 21:31). In our day this translates to “the least, the last and the (consciously) lost”. A friend recently made the rhetorical statement, “Is it possible that evangelism in an Australian context is actually easier than we have been led to believe?”, to which I replied, “Which Australians are you talking about?” He responded, “The broken ones.” I am reminded of the famous words of Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, “Go straight for souls and go for the worst.” This is not fanaticism, it is kingdom wisdom and insight we have largely lost because we do not welcome the broken ‘ME’.
The history of revival is filled with accounts of how God first breaks a heart before releasing his power through it. Perhaps the most famous case involves the prayer of Evan Roberts that led to the Welsh Revival and whose impact bore fruit around the world. Roberts simple prayer, “Oh Lord, bend me,” blossomed into the theme of the revival: “Bend the Church and save the world.”
As I was in a prayer meeting today and we were singing some songs about the cross I saw very clearly something of what this means. It was visually aware of a physical body broken through and through. Strikingly, what was exposed at the centre of this broken frame was not more fracture, but the very Word itself. As it was not tragic circumstances that led to the breaking of Jesus, but his heart obedience to the will of his Father (John 10:18), so it is not the “accidental” circumstances of life that thoroughly shatter our self-confidence moving us to turn to God, it is the hidden working in our lives of the “seed” of “the word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).
The foundation that is exposed at the core of the heart of every broken ‘ME’ is the Word who created the Word, was made man, ministered to the needy, was crucified, raised and ascended into heaven (Gen 1:3 ff.; John 1:14). The purpose of all divine breaking is the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:16; Rev 1:1). When such a revelation comes to us, when we see Jesus at the core of our being, the result is tremendous fruitfulness for God; the 100 fold of the good soil for the kingdom of heaven. Praise God this harvest is coming; but by an uncomfortable means.
I rarely find the spiritual climate of contemporary Australian Christianity is a challenge that God can use to break ‘ME’. I sense that this will soon change, for the Lord is going to raise up radical young disciples who by their zeal and willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of the kingdom of God will embarrass many of us older believers (Luke 14:25-33). This discomfort will sovereignly serve as a catalyst to break ‘ME’ in ways that will prove immensely fruitful for the growth of God’s kingdom (Mark 4:26-29).
Only a broken and humbled heart can give itself completely to God. If we would be good soil that bears forth 100 fold we must recapture a vision of ourselves as being part of “the least, the last and the lost” in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:48; Eph 3:8). This will prove to be a difficult and humbling experience. May our Lord Jesus, whose life was thoroughly broken on the cross so as to yield the power of his Word for the world, grant us the courage and wisdom to pray, “O Lord, break ‘ME’.”