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055 Take Care How You Hear, part 2

We began last week to examine Jesus' parable of the sower as it appears in Luke's gospel, Luke 8:4-18. We established that God makes His words available to everybody, that the word is not just information but has the power to produce fruit in our souls and our character, and that whether we actually bear fruit depends on things that are within us. We learned that those who are distracted, shallow, or pursuing other agendas become "dull of hearing" and bear no fruit. And we noted that those who bear fruit by the implanted word of God are those who hear in an "honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15).

Here's the problem:

Most everybody believes that they have an honest heart. In truth, few of us actually do. If you're thinking "Well, I'm usually pretty honest," please do yourself a favor and think again. You may be, but you probably aren't.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick...
Jeremiah 17:9

The prophet Jeremiah described most of us. We humans in general are expert at deceiving ourselves. In my experience, that means Christians as much as it means anybody else. 

A few, quick instances:

We get angry at some guy on the Internet who disputes with us, and we think, "I hate unrighteous people," or "I hate stupidity." What's really galling us, though, is "He doesn't acknowledge my brilliance!" 

Those people who commit fornication are going to hell if they don't repent--but God is going to have mercy on me and my lustful thoughts because I really feel badly about them (after I enjoy them). 

That guy who just honked his horn at me really needs to calm down, but that slowpoke who's blocking my way really needs to learn how to drive.

So-and-so's wealth is obscene...but our wealth (which is in the top 2% of the world's richest people in history if we're just average, middle-class Americans) is not obscene. Somehow the line between "acceptable" and "obscene" always occurs at some point richer than we are; it's funny how that works.

We're always self-protective, always making excuses, always defending our own ways unconsciously, and--trust me when I say this--always wrong. We're not innocent; we just convince ourselves that we are, most often by highlighting somebody else's guilt.

You might be thinking, "Hey, that's pretty ordinary stuff. We all do that." Yes, that's the point. We all do it. And believe it or not, that's wickedness. It's the stuff that causes us to squabble and hate one another. It's the stuff that makes us elevate ourselves above others. It's the stuff that makes us ignore our neighbors and imagine ourselves better than we are. It's the stuff that makes us leave churches.

And, it's the stuff that prevents the word of God from bearing fruit in us.

So, if we want to hear whatever God is trying to plant in us and we want to escape self-deception, what do we do? 'Cause if we just leave things the way they are and take our chances, the odds are that the word God is planting isn't going to produce a doggone thing. That person with an honest and good heart--it ain't me, and I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but it probably ain't you, either.

The answer is implied but not stated in the parable. The difference between producing a crop and not producing a crop lay in how the soil was prepared. If it was prepared well, the seed bore fruit.

Soil never prepares itself; the farmer has to do it. Likewise, we're not going to be able to prepare our own hearts. We need for God to do it. We need to ask, and then we need to trust.

If a farmer is confronted with the problems in this parable, what does he do? He plows the field so the hard parts get turned up, and then he runs over it repeatedly with a disk harrow to break the big clods into small pieces. If the soil is too shallow, he uses a deep plow with a blade 2 feet deep instead of just 10 inches. If the field has got weeds and unwanted growth in it, he goes over it with a drag harrow that pulls all the unwanted roots out and overturns the weeds, and then he applies weed control.

The resulting soil is ready for planting:

  • it's pliable;
  • it's deep;
  • it's clear of foreign seeds.

What I'm describing, of course, is God softening our hearts through the ordinary hardship of life. God doesn't usually create the hardship, but He uses it to produce the effects that He wants. And if we're asking to be made holy to receive the implanted word of God, He uses it to plow us up, disk us, harrow us, and make us ready to receive the seed so we'll actually bear fruit.

Without that preparation, no fruit. With it, big crop. It's not a complicated choice.

If we're the dirt under the plow, the disk, or the drag harrow, it doesn't feel good. It feels like we're being churned up--because we are. But that's what is required in order to prepare the soil of our hearts for planting by the word of God. Furthermore, He's going to continue to work until we're actually ready to receive the seed, because God is merciful; so it might take longer than we like, maybe a lot longer.

There is no other path to holiness. I wish there were. There isn't.

Our role in this not complicated, but it's difficult: we have to ask for it, and then we have to sit still and endure it while it's going on. If we run away, the best that can happen is that we lengthen the process. 

So ask, and don't stop asking. And then settle in for the long haul, and be sure that you don't quit. Notice the word "patience" in Luke 8:15. It takes time. But God is faithful and knows His business, so be patient and trust Him. 

It's a good idea to read the great saints on the subject of how God produces holiness in us, because we'll need encouragement. The Catholic mystics, people like Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avilla, talk of a process that can last for decades--but which result in a heart completely given over to the will of God. They all endured such experiences. So have some of us.

Here is what I recommend that we do:

  • Cry out for wisdom. Repeatedly. (Read Proverbs 2, the whole chapter, in this regard. And then do what it says. All the time.)
  • Never trust your own heart. Ask God to rescue you from self-deception. Be as honest with God as you possibly can be.
  • Don't quit, even if it seems like your world has come unglued. You're in this for life, and God is faithful. It always takes longer than you want it to take, and it always hurts more than you want it to hurt. But it's not forever, you will survive it, and you'll be a lot better for it.
  • Here's a prayer that I've prayed more than once: "Lord, you know all that whining that I'm going to do while you're plowing me up? Please don't do as I ask those times. Just keep working 'till you're done." I honestly don't know if those prayers made any difference, but they did express my concern pretty clearly.

Do these things and don't stop doing them, and in the end you'll be the person God wants you to be, and you'll bear fruit of the Kingdom of God.

Here are some titles you might want to get your hands on to read regarding the process of being made holy by God. These will help you to appreciate the difficulty you're likely to experience on the path to holiness:

The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer
The Pursuit of Holiness, Jeremy Bridges
Guidelines to Mystical Prayer, Ruth Burrows (you'll have to visit a Catholic book store to find this one)
The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (or St. John de la Croix)
Hinds Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard

Dig in and be patient, and I'll be back in a while.

Phil Weingart


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