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The Most Important Heart Test

I could be writing today about a mass murderer pilot, the religious intolerance of the Apple CEO and Seattle mayor, or Iran's takeover of the Middle East and nuclear diplomacy. 

But this week is Holy Week in which we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ nearly two thousand years ago. Those astounding and world-changing events revealed God's heart to the world.

Jesus' actions also demand a heart response from us.

Here is the most important heart test that you'll ever take.

When I was a young follower of Christ, I didn't think much about the difference in human hearts and the various ways they respond to the Gospel. I simply shared my faith with as many people as I could, and hoped they would accept the Good News that our sins can be forgiven and we can know and love God forever.

But I got different responses to the message. Some seemed eager to hear about Jesus and readily applied it to their lives. Others appeared interested, but their lives didn't change much. Others seemed to put up walls to the word, and still others were downright antagonistic.

So why the difference in responses?

Answer: People have different hearts.

Since learning that simple truth in my evangelistic life, I've tried to do a wiser job of discerning the hearts of those to whom I am talking--looking for the "open" ones and being more careful and patient with the resistant.

In retrospect, I should have paid closer attention to Harry Conn, one of our early Youth With A Mission teachers who taught us that Jesus' first parable was the key to all the rest--and certainly critical to how or to whom we share our faith.

That parable is the "Parable of the Sower." I'd like to share it in its entirety and then ask you to take the most important heart test ever mentioned.

This exam is not about your physical heart. It concerns your spiritual one, the epicenter of your motivations, desires, choices, and ultimately your destiny in this world and the next.

Here is Jesus' most important parable (Mark 4:1-20). 

The Parable of the Sower 

Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” 

9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ 

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?

  14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 

 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” 

First, an observation. Though most of us rarely sow seeds or know much about gardening, Jesus' parable to an agrarian culture was relevant and logical to them. They knew farming well so Jesus used a great analogy.

Secondly, he emphasized that if you don't get this parable, you probably will be lost in all the others he told (verse 13). In other words, if you don't have a good, open, teachable heart then you're not going to make much headway in God's kingdom. 

Finally, the point to the parable is that success in knowing God, being fruitful in life, and receiving eternal life is dependent upon our hearts. Of the four hearts mentioned in his story, only the last one produced fruit.

A qualifying point. I don't think Jesus' purpose in the parable was to establish that there are only four types of hearts in the world. Maybe there are more or combinations of the above. His point was that people respond differently to hearing the truth.

Yet he chose to highlight FOUR types of hearts.

1. The Hard Heart - Jesus likened this heart to hard, cement-like ground. In our part of the nation, we call it "hardpan" and it's really difficult to dig up.  In the parable he said the birds ate the seeds on this path (hard roadway) then in the explanation, he said Satan took the words away because the hard heart repelled them.

Lesson: Truth bounces off asphalt-like hearts and is easily taken away by deception.

2. The Shallow Heart - This type of heart isn't as hard as the first. It's more like gravel than dirt. When the seed germinates, there's little nourishment for the roots. It springs up quickly and dies. Jesus explained that the lack of depth in a shallow heart means it doesn't develop strength of convictions. It might look religious or moral, but when it's tested, it turns away.

Lesson: Slight religious preferences and morals without depth of conviction don't last.

3. The Distracted Heart - Jesus said this heart was like seed planted among thorns or weeds that squeeze out the crop. He explained that the thorns stood for concerns such as life's problems, pursuing money and material things, and other worldly desires. 

Lesson: If God and His kingdom aren't your first love and commitment, then the worldly stuff will take over.

4. The Good Heart - We finally come to the good heart which is like nutrient-filled, well watered, softened, cultivated soil.  I try to create this type of soil in my garden every spring. This dirt is soft, not hard--deep, not shallow--weed-free, not infested. Good soil is symbolic of a good heart which operates by: 

  • Repentance and humility (softness), not pride and narcissism (hardness).
  • Honesty, accountability and thoughtful meditation which create depth of thinking and discernment.
  • Supreme love for Jesus and His interests (Matthew 6:33) and a willingness to live and die for Him.
  • Fruitfulness which God gives (30-60-100 fold) in response to our faith and obedience. 

Before we were reconciled to God through Jesus' death and resurrection, we all developed hard, shallow and/or distracted hearts. Even as followers of Christ, we can, at times, harden our hearts, coast shallowly or let worldly concerns muddle up our minds, motivations and emotions. When we do, we must "break up our fallow ground" (Hosea 10:12) and get back to soft, pliable, committed hearts.

When we witness to others, we need to look for those with good, open, seeking hearts, but also be willing to persevere with the hardened, shallow, and worldly.

Paul once possessed a hard heart (killing Christians), but God turned it into a good one. As a young man, Martin Luther lived a shallow, religious existence, but God changed hm through the power of faith. St. Augustine was a wild, worldly teenager (354-430 AD), but was smitten with Christ and gave up his pursuit of hedonistic things. 

On the other hand, Demas once served alongside Paul with a good heart (Colossians 4:14), but later in life he turned to the world (2 Timothy 4:10).

Hearts are dynamic--not static. Only through God's grace and goodness can they become good soil for the Master Farmer to use for his glory.

Our family pastor told a good story on Palm Sunday. In Jesus' day, young men were required to memorize the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Those who did it best were chosen to apprentice with the rabbis, and in turn, become teachaers. All other young men who didn't make the cut were sent home to work with their parents in farming, fishing, or construction.

Two that were sent home were James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

One day, the greatest rabbi of all--Jesus of Nazareth--came to the Galilee lakefront. He saw James and John, who had been rejected as rabbi candidates, laboring with their dad.

Jesus saw their hearts. He saw good soil. He called them--the rejected rabbinical students--because he saw their good motivations and intentions and knew that they would respond.

They did, and helped change the world.

They had good soil in their hearts.

Now it's your turn to take the heart test. It doesn't matter whether you're the brightest bulb in the room or the world's best athlete or businessperson. The question is:

Is your heart hard toward God, shallow in spiritual things, distracted by the world, or seeking the truth (good)?

Jesus is calling.

Respond to His voice this Holy Week.



Reader Comments (1)

Praise God – today I get to share the gospel with a family going through hard times. I want to share this parable with them to help them identify within themselves which soil their heart is. Thank you for writing these blogs, they are changing my life!
April 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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