Have you ever been listening to someone talk, but then gotten distracted and not heard what they said? Communication and good listening skills are vital to a healthy relationship. This applies not only to human relationships, but also to our relationship with God.
Jesus highlighted the importance of effective listening in a parable found in the Gospels. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. We call this one the Parable of the Soils or the Parable of the Sower. Jesus told His disciples that this parable is key to understanding all the other parables.
And He *said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? Mark 4:13
The Parable of the Soils is important because it exposes the hindrances to effective listening. It serves as a warning of what can happen if we don’t intentionally pay close attention to God’s Word. Of the four hearers in the parable, only one benefited from the Word he had heard.
Let’s find out how we can become that hearer.
What’s At Stake?
God desires all people, especially those who are His, to listen intently to Him. Why? He yearns for us to have a close personal relationship with Him. This kind of relationship requires good communication between God and us. We need good listening skills.
God speaks to us through His Word, through circumstances, through other people, and in other ways. Are we listening? Do we care? Our response to God’s Word will determine the quality of our relationship with Him. It also reveals our true heart attitude toward Him.
In the parable, only one hearer listened to God’s Word in such a way that it yielded a harvest or crop in his life. Only one pleased God by bearing “fruit”. Fruit includes all that a believer does to the glory of God. A disciple bears fruit by developing the character of Christ, by living a holy life, by doing good deeds, by giving to the poor, by leading people to Christ, and by giving thanks to God, to name a few.
Did you know that fruit-bearing begins with paying attention to God’s Word? It’s a process. Listening well is the first step and determines how well we will understand what God is saying. When we understand, we will trust God and allow Him to transform us to become like His Son. This is God’s purpose for His children. The more He transforms us, the closer our relationship with God will be. The Holy Spirit will help us through the process, but we must have a heart that is willing to say, “God’s Word is important to my relationship with God. I will pay attention.”
The Parable of the Soils is found in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. Each account includes some additional information not found in the other two. The overview below is a composite of all three passages.
The parable compares the results of sowing seed (God’s Word) on four different types of soil (hearts). The seed of God’s Word never changes. It always has full potential to produce a harvest in the hearer’s life. Only the condition of the soil (heart) changes. This is why Jesus issued warnings to listen both before and after the parable. He was clearly saying to those who heard that you determine what will happen to this seed. How you listen will determine whether or not you will benefit from this Word.
We would do well to pay close attention to the warning Jesus gave His closest disciples later as He explained to them the meaning of the parable.
So take care how you listen; take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; for whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him. — a composite of Matthew 13:12; Mark 4:24,25; Luke 8:18
Below is an overview of the Parable of the Soils based on the three gospel accounts. See if you can identify which soil your heart most resembles. Are you the good soil? Take note of what might be hindering you and ask God to help you change the way you listen.
What DOES That Parable Say?
First, let’s look at the three types of hearts that produce no harvest. These will expose hindrances to effective listening
1. Soil beside the road: This person hears the Word, and doesn’t understand it. Satan comes immediately and snatches away what was sown in the heart so the person will not believe and be saved.
2. Rocky soil: This person hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy, but because he has no firm root (in Jesus), it is only a temporary belief. He believes for awhile, but in time of temptation or testing, when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word (i.e. message), immediately he falls away.
3. Soil with thorns: This person hears the Word, and as he goes on his way, the Word is choked as the worry of the world, the deceitfulness of wealth, the desires for other things, and the pleasures of this life enter in. He does not let the Word bear fruit.
Now let’s see what the parable says about the only type of heart that allows the seed of the Word to grow and produce a harvest.
4. Good Soil: This person hears the Word with an honest and good heart. He accepts the Word, understands it, holds it fast and bears fruit with perseverance (steadfastness). He brings forth a 30-, 60- or 100-fold harvest.
Time For A Heart Check-Up
1. Which soil describes how the seed of God’s Word usually ends up in your life?
2. What do you need to do to insure that the seed sown in your life produces a crop?
The Parable of the Soils is the most important parable because it teaches us how to listen effectively to God’s Word so it can produce a harvest in our life. This will enable us to have a closer relationship with God. The fruit, harvest, or crop God wants in our lives is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus and shine His light in the world. Bearing fruit is a process that begins with paying close attention to God’s Word.
Has this article been helpful? Print it out and use if for reference whenever you feel the need to get a “heart check-up”. We’ll be writing more about how to improve your listening skills and your relationship with God in the future. Sign up to stay connected with us and get our blog, “God, You Said What?!” delivered to your inbox. Use the form on this page.
“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation.”
Copyright 2013 Word For Life Publishing, LLC