Last week we explored the staggering possibility that we can hinder what God wants to do and be for us from coming-to-be in our life. This week we will learn how the soil of our soul can keep us from hearing the message God wants-us-to-hear.
Moses vigorously insisted that we are to “follow the Lord your God and fear Him . . . keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. (Deut 13:4-5) Why? Because God’s loving intentions for our life are not going to automatically materialize, if we are doing what is right in our own eyes instead of listening to His voice.
There is a cavalier attitude among many believers, who presume upon God, as if He is bound by His own goodness to make everything work out, to save us. If His help is not forthcoming, we become offended at Him. What remains unseen in the darkness beyond our dawn is the great shining vortex of His saving power, where we would have experienced His goodness and loving intent, had we been drawn there.
Just as we are irresistibly drawn to another when deep speaks to deep, we are drawn to God when likeness resonates to likeness. His likeness in us resonates to the same goodness in Him. But this goodness is not our own; it is the supernatural replication of His goodness sown in us, in the form of a seed. That seed is always a word He has sown into our soul — a small, dark, nondescript seed seeking receptive soil, so that it might break its outer casing to release His goodness in us.
No matter where we are, the word comes to find us . . . to implant a likeness that will resonate to God . . . drawing us to Him . . . to bring us from where we are to where we are meant-to-be. This is the potential of every word He sends, to implant this likeness in us.
Our receptive response to His word, giving it room to grow, is a picture of listening to His voice.
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If we do not listen to His voice, His divine intent for our good will not come-to-be.
John, the beloved disciple wrote to seven churches (Revelation 1-3), warning them of the dangers in their midst, of the potential for ruin, pleading with them to hear and receive a change of heart. When a word is received, it implants a likeness of God that changes us. But history tells us the divine intent for their good miscarried. God wanted them to be light, but their candle-stand was taken. God wanted them to be strong, but not one of those churches would survive. The word came, but it found no room to root and grow into maturity. Those churches heard the words John wrote, and no doubt read those letters often; but the resonance wasn’t there to draw them with a change of heart into the vortex of His purpose.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8: 28
God IS GOOD. But in our ignorance we make a terrible mistake to presume upon His goodness, while failing to grasp the crucialness of receiving the words He sends . . .
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In a long line of kings, Josiah stood out as one who did what “was right in the sight of the Lord.” He was passionate about ridding his kingdom of idolatry and restoring the Temple, which had fallen into disrepair. During that restoration, when The Book of the Law was discovered and read to him, Josiah rent his clothing in grief — realizing how far he and his people had fallen. No king fought to restore his people to the love and worship of their God more than Josiah. But a day came when danger loomed; in His goodness, God sent a word to warn Josiah, but the young king paid it no heed.
After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt came up to make war at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to engage him. But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you.” However, Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo. The archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem where he died…
2 Chron 35:20-24, NASU
No king who reigned in Israel was more deeply mourned by his people than Josiah.
Josiah’s story haunts us with echoes of our own. Who of us has not brushed aside a thought or dismissed another’s advice, only to wish later that we had listened? Have we considered that the thought we brushed aside might have been God’s word? That the human counsel we so quickly dismissed was a word actually coming to us from the mouth of God?
Josiah’s story IS the word of God seeking to open our eyes to the danger of not listening to His voice — and even more — to give us greater respect for the unexpected means by which His word may come.
The unseen brims with potentials for both good and for bad
I am so aware of how God is constantly leading me through a mine-field, softly warning me of the possible consequences of my actions and my thoughts — so that I can avoid pain and suffering that does not need-to-be. When God sees the possibility of a potential for harm looming, He intervenes, turning us from danger, urging us toward life. But He does not make our decision for us, nor does He suspend the outworking of consequences that He has warned us against.
Seeing the potential for Josiah’s harm, God sent word to warn him through Neco. Whether it was Josiah’s time to die, or not, the integrity of God demonstrates itself in giving warning. But Josiah did not listen to the voice of the Lord.
Josiah was faithful, and God is good . . . but God did not save Josiah from the consequences He had warned him against. As godly as Josiah was, why didn’t he hear what God was telling him? Why didn’t he resonate, to be drawn into the vortex of God’s protection?
Careless presumption in the soil of Josiah’s soul kept the word of God from rooting and growing into the goodness that would have drawn him in.
Bringing this forward to ourselves:
Careless presumption can affect even the best of us, preventing us from recognizing God’s voice. . .keeping us from God’s saving power
The potential of what that God wants to do and be for us depends more than we know on our hearing and heeding the words He sends.
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Ears that hear but don’t hear
Scripture often speaks of the grave danger of ears that hear but don’t hear. Josiah’s ears could hear Neco, but they couldn’t hear God speaking through Neco. The young king could hear the words, but he couldn’t hear the message.
God puts a book into our hands with a message we desperately need — we hear the thoughts of the author, but do we hear the pleading of God?
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God’s word and the soil of our soul
We make “hearing God” so complicated. Jesus made it simple. We “hear God” when the soil of our soul is receptive to and protective of the word God sends.
And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. “Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. “Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. “And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
After the crowd had dispersed, when He was alone with his disciples, Jesus explained the parable, clarifying that the seed is the word of God.
Following through with His analogy, the ground the word falls upon would be the soil of our soul. . . and the tender shoot seeking root in us has many names . . . but it is the supernatural goodness He sows into us from Himself. . . that resonates to Him.
Looking out upon the crowd gathering to hear Him, Jesus saw hearts that had become dull, ears that could not hear and heed the message being given to them, eyes that could not see what was being shown to them.
Using the everyday language of parable, Jesus brought the mystery of hearing and understanding what God is saying down to the level every person in His audience could understand.
Four Different Kinds of Soil
In His parable, Jesus diagnosed the condition of his listeners — illustrating what He saw taking place as the word was being sown in them. He described four types of soil — three of which were inhospitable to the word, one which gave it room to root and grow.
I am intimately acquainted with all four soils, because each describes a season in my life, or a continuing place in me.
- “The road” represents the hard-packed ground beaten down by much traffic, where the word can take no root. When I become overly familiar with some truth, hearing it over and over again, it is like the soil of my soul becomes compacted, beaten down by the same old thing. Then, when God begins to speak a relevant truth, in that place, I dismiss it: “Oh I already know that.” That fresh personal word finds no place to root in me. Some have been so beaten down by life, that when He comes to you with a precious word, you haven’t been able to receive it. Some of you have been trampled, and every God-sent word is being stolen from you… by that which mocks your dreams. “The road” is that hardened place where His word is being stolen: keeping goodness, strength, faith and hope from coming-to-be.
- “Rocky soil” — I’ve never seen it like when I was in Israel. Rocks were strewn so heavily across the ground that it was impossible to plant a field without laboring intensively to dig them out and move them. In those embedded surface rocks I see a picture of my preferences, my erroneous assumptions, the opinions I won’t budge on. Rocky soil is not hardened against hearing God, but having begun to hear, the fixed opinions and staunch preferences limit the potential revelation of His goodness from gaining root. Sometimes “rocky soil” is a thin layer of receptive soil covering an impenetrable ledge. That hidden ledge is a picture of our flat hard unbelief, just beneath the surface –unworkable. The word comes and we receive it, and it begins to unfurl in us — but our hearing is superficial and temporary, with no lasting effect.
- “Thorny soil” is the place in us that genuinely hears what God is saying — the word roots and shoots — but His message does not survive the competing demands of our busy lives. The soft suggestion is not carried out as our resonance to God’s prompting fades. The goodness of His strength and presence is momentarily experienced, but quickly forgotten. The sweet goodness has found its way to us, springing up to give us a taste of His light, but we allow it to be choked out, so that it never sees maturity.
- “The good soil” — Jesus looked out and saw the good soil in some of those before Him. I know that His word finds root in me and that I hear Him, but the soil of soul that allows this is not to my credit — it is to the credit of His diligent work in me. Where I have been hard, He has brought the blade of the plough. Where there are rocks, He labors intensively digging and blasting and bearing them away. Where there are course spreading weeds competing for my attention — He forcefully pulls them out. He uses painful consequences to make me intentional about recognizing, honoring and protecting the words He sows in me. The good soil is that teachable place in us that is quick to yield and repent, that is not resistant to correction, that welcomes every word because it anticipates the harvest of goodness to come.
If you struggle with “hearing God,” ask Him to show you what kind of soil you are. Repentance is seeing the truth so clearly that you ache to be what you know you should be. And the neat thing is, the moment we begin to long for it, God begins to work the change.
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Where does the potential “to hear God” lie?
For a long time I thought we all had the potential to hear God, that it lay like a dormant ability in ourselves, waiting to be awakened. But now I see clearly that:
The seed defines and holds the potential of what is meant-to-be, not the soil.
But the soil determines what will become of that potential.
The acorn brings the potential of an oak tree to the ground upon which it falls.
But the hospitality of the soil determines if that tree will ever be.
God honors us with the significance of being the womb for His seed, to bring forth the legacy of His likeness in the soil of our soul.
Little in my life is more sacred than this.