When it comes to spiritual growth, everyone is either progressing or regressing. You are either growing, or you are drawing back. You are either gaining ground, or you are losing ground. You are either climbing, or you are slipping.
And who determines whether you will grow spiritually? You do. It is really up to you. While God wants us to grow in our faith and to deepen our knowledge of him, he also has given us a free will. So if you don’t want to grow spiritually, you are not going to. You will have 101 reasons as to why you can’t. On the other hand, if you want to grow spiritually, you will. You will make time for what is important.
Jesus told a parable that is best known as the parable of the sower. But I have chosen to call it the parable of spiritual growth, because that is its theme. If we do the things that Jesus identifies for us in this parable, then we will grow spiritually. And if we do not do those things, then we will not grow spiritually. So really, the choice is up to us.
In this parable, Jesus tells the story about a farmer who went out and scattered seed. Some of it fell on a path and was consumed by the birds before it could take root. Some it fell on shallow soil, which sprang up quickly and then died. Some of it fell among the thorns, and the plants that grew were choked out by them. Finally, some of it fell on good soil and produced a good crop.
Jesus then gave an explanation of the parable:
The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted! (Matthew 13:19–23 NLT)
The first category of people in this parable is what I call highway hearers, those who “hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it.” Jesus goes on to say that “the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts” (verse 19).
This is the person who hears, but his heart gets hard. And where is the easiest place to get a hardened heart? Is it hanging around godless people doing godless things? No, the easiest place to get a hardened heart is in church. That won’t make sense to some. But as I have said before, the same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay. The person who gets a hard heart is the one who hears the truth and rejects it.
The second category Jesus mentioned is the rocky road hearer, the person who receives God’s word, but it doesn’t take root. In contrast to the hard-heartedness or indifference of the highway hearer, the rocky road hearer seems to get it and respond wonderfully, but soon it is revealed that she has no roots or depth. This is the person who seems to be a Christian but walks away from the faith. It may be that he built his faith on an emotional experience. And when the emotions are not there, he gives up. Rocky road hearers build their lives on the wrong foundation.
Others are just impulsive. There are plenty of impulsive people in the world, and retailers depend on it. Some people have to have the latest gadget, the latest styles, and so on. And then they approach the Christian faith in the same way: Oh, this is cool. I will check this out for a while. But it is on an impulse. It is not real or lasting.
The third group consists of the thorny hearers, people who receive the message, but in time it is choked out by other things. This is very different from the person who blows it off initially, like the highway hearer. It is even different from the rocky road hearer, who seems to get it initially but then walks away. The thorny hearer’s decline is more subtle and, perhaps, more surprising. It doesn’t happen overnight, but in a gradual way.
Notice that Jesus did not say the message is crowded out by sinful things. The fact is that good things can occupy a person’s time as well as the bad. They may not be bad things to start with, but they become bad things because they get in the way of spiritual growth. It has been said that more people have been killed by food than poison. The second best is often the worst enemy of the best.
You determine what kind of “soil” your heart will have. Will it be receptive soil? Will it be soil that is embedded with weeds and other things that choke out any growth? Will it be soil with rocks that repel the growth and the depth? You determine what it will be.
Are you satisfied with your spiritual life right now? To answer for myself, I am not satisfied with my spiritual life. I feel there is a lot of growing that I still need to do. I feel there are a lot of things I still need to learn. I feel there are a lot of changes that still need to happen in my life.
The apostle Paul, after years of walking with God, said, “I don’t mean to say that I have already … reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection. … I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:12–13). In other words, Paul was saying, loose paraphrase, “I am not satisfied with where I am. I want to keep growing and progressing spiritually.”
The enemy of growth is contentment. Don’t settle with what you have. Move forward to what is still ahead.