Over the last few years, my wife and I have found a new love for growing our own vegetables. We laugh today about how we started with a small box garden and crammed a bunch of vegetables into a small area with little sunlight in the corner of our yard. This year, we had 5 garden beds and a bunch of bucket plants that produced tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, corn and watermelon. We are so proud to grow and cook our own vegetables.
Last year when we moved into our new house in South Carolina, we were so excited about all our new garden beds that we just started planting plants everywhere. They begin to grow quickly, and then they all died not producing much fruit at all. We also live by a historic plantation and I would drive by and look at all the beautiful gardens and vegetables that would come from that garden. I was definitely coveting! But I also noticed something as I drove by – they were always working on their grounds. Every day, all year long, they worked on their dirt. And when it came time to harvest, their fruit came.
I realized that the only thing I was thinking about was the fruit. I focused on the fruit and got nothing, they focused on the roots and the fruit came abundantly at the appropriate time. So this year, I spent a lot of time and money working on creating a rich soil ready to receive and grow the plants I would put in the garden.
As I have been teaching college students for a couple of years now, I have found the same to be true. If I only focus on the end goal, we rarely get there as a class. But if we begin the semester working on our soil, our hearts, then we have a better chance of reaching our class goals by the end of the semester. And isn’t this the same thing in church work? When we only focus on behavior change, it rarely happens or lasts. But when we focus on the hearts of individuals, the fruit comes abundantly. Paul David Tripp states, “Fruit change is the result of root change.” Or as Jesus states in Mark 4:8, “Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.” (CSB)
So now, I start every semester off with the Parable of the Sower in my survey classes. We look at the four types of soil and what that soil might look like in our classes. I emphasize that the difference in all the four soils is the heart of the receiver. Those that have the best chance of producing fruit at the end of the semester are those who read God’s word with anticipation, pray for God to give understanding, and apply the gospel to every area of their lives.
As many of us begin the Fall semester in our churches, I imagine we will be quickly faced with all four types of soils in our church members and students. For those who are hard-hearted, let’s pray that God begins to break through to their hearts. Let’s notice them and greet them so they will begin to soften their hearts. For those with shallow hearts, let’s help them develop a plan for their growth that can sustain them all year. Especially if they have recently experienced salvation, let’s disciple them in the basics of the faith and connect them to a bible study community. For those who are engaging with God at a deeper level, let’s listen to their worries and help them prioritize their values so that God is first in their life. The decisions we make in the first two weeks of the new school year sets us up on a trajectory for the rest of the year. And as they begin to display fruit in their life, let’s teach them to abide with Christ and make disciples in others.
Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2002, 64.