The primary pastor of my childhood and teenage years – the one who so encouraged me to pursue ministry and gave me opportunity after opportunity when in high school and college – was killed in a tragic automobile accident during my second year at Dallas Theological Seminary. I had previously arranged with him that I was to return for the upcoming summer to do an internship at that New Jersey church. The fellowship did have me come, though the internship was rather under the direction of the assistant pastor who had now become the senior pastor.
Though this man was not much younger than the pastor who had died, he had entered ministry later in life from a layperson’s career and was therefore not a veteran pastor himself. In our meetings he would often quote for me various lessons he had learned from our mutual long-term pastor during his handful of years with him.
This still somewhat raw, middle-aged pastor had been in the ministry long enough and in that church for enough time to have witnessed the sadness of people who drift away from fidelity to faith and service. Asking the older, long-term senior pastor about this when discussing yet another drifter, he told me that the only answer he got was … “Just read the parable of the sower and seeds to get your answer.”
True. So true.
That internship was 38 years ago. And now some four decades later, I have done even more ministry time than those two men combined, and I have lived to see this happen over and over.
I think this has to be about the saddest thing in a pastor’s life, other than perhaps presiding over tragic memorial services of dear people, while walking with their families. It is just terribly grievous to see people who at one point in life were excited about serving God within the church context, but then witnessing them drift away to even a status of total disinterest. Oftentimes I have seen the roots of the declension in their lives, yet other times I have been totally surprised. Social media exacerbates this painful observation. How can this current person who is flaunting a raucous life be the same person who was once a worship leader or classroom Bible teacher?
Another question is if the faith of that person was ever truly genuine in the first place. Have they merely drifted away, or were they never really rooted in the Lord? Ultimately, we cannot know for sure, though this passage would seem to indicate that a truly rooted person is going to produce some measure of fruit and not be indiscernible from the unbelieving world.
This parable is particularly uncomplicated, because Jesus himself gives the interpretation. The seed in the Word of God; the soils are the conditions of the hearts of those who hear it. For some, the Word never really gets started, whereas for others, there are besetting conditions – poor soil or external factors. In any event, we note from the parable that any problem is not the condition of the seed, but rather the condition of the soils.
The most convicting element in this parable for most of us who would be reading this devotional is some measure of identification with life’s worries, riches and pleasures. Pleasures of this life may oft allure, and enjoying the good gifts of God is not wrong, though making it a prime focus of life would be. It is perhaps easier, especially in a troubled and evil world, to have excessive worries that minimize our faith foundation. If this fearful fretting is in the area of financial security, we may find ourselves accumulating and trusting in riches rather than God’s sustenance.
Probably with those whom I know have drifted away, I should be bolder and share this passage with them, asking the question, “So where do you find yourself in this parable? We’re all in it somewhere … so, what person are you?”
What person are you?
Luke 8:1 – After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’[Isaiah 6:9]
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.