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The Heart of the Matter

Discipled to Disciple

But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. - Matthew 13:23

The Bible looks at the heart in much the same way do. When we talk about a core issue, we call it the heart of the matter. When we fall in love we say “I love you with my whole heart.” When we drive through the center of the country, we call it the heartland. We even refer to the best part of the artichoke as its heart. The book of Proverbs puts it this way: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (4:23).

Our hearts are the center of who we are. They define the approaches we take, the words we speak and the choices we make. They also determine how we respond to the truth of God’s word.

When Jesus gave the parable of the soils to the crowds gathered around them, He did so without explanation. Instead He said, “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” Jesus was challenging those who were present to consider the nature of their hearing. There is more to hearing than physical capacity. For the message to mean anything there must be understanding. There must have been some that day who only heard words, there were others who heard a life-changing message from God.

Fortunately, the disciples raised a question: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus explained that the parables were like a filter providing those who would hear with mysteries, knowledge they needed but did not already know, but preventing those who would not hear from any further understanding. Jesus explained that this inability to understand was an application of a judicial hardening prophesied by Isaiah for the purpose of keeping those whose hearts were already calloused from hearing and believing. The disciples and others like them were blessed because they eyes to see and ears to hear.

When Jesus explained the parable, He revealed the truth about the relationship between understanding and the condition of the heart. A disciple is a listener who has a heart to hear what the word of God is actually saying.

The word is seed sown by a farmer; the heart is the soil on which the seed is sow. Every time a person hears the word, there are four possible responses. If the heart is calloused and hard there is no understanding. The word falls on the hard surface of the path where our spiritual enemies can snatch it before it ever breaks through. If the seed falls on a heart that has a mix of stones and good soil, there is an initial response of joy, but, when times of testing come, the plant withers and there is no growth. If the seed falls on an area that is weed infested, it sprouts and grows but is soon choked out by the distractions of the wealth and worries of this world.

In each case Jesus invites us to analyze our hearts. Our response to the word reveals their condition. When we observe any of these failings, we are called to admit our sin and make a decision to change with God’s help. The idea is to move from a deficiency of heart to one in which the word can sprout, grow and bear fruit.

The fourth soil is the good soils. The seed of the word enters, is understood and actively applied so that fruit is born. In between the sowing and fruit-bearing is the understanding that only a good heart can provide. No wonder Proverbs tells us to keep our hearts with all diligence! Every time you and I hear the word of God we should look at our response and ask ourselves: “What kind of soil does this response demonstrate?” Then it is a matter of bringing that condition before God who can help us break up the hard soil, remove the stones, pull out the thorns and make our hearts receptive and responsive once again.

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