Don’t you hate it when you discover something that everybody else seems to already know? After all, how can you know it until you know it? A quote from John Piper struck me last Tuesday as I read it, in an advertisement for a book he’s written. He says, “Authentic worship and radical love for both God and people is impossible apart from right thinking.” Right thinking… how will I know if my thinking is in error? Besides studying God’s Word and playing close attention, I need to trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach me what is in error within me. Sometimes He points out the truth and I then immediately understand where I’ve been in error; but in matters of thinking patterns, attitudes and principles of understanding, He first allows a deep frustration to signal that this area is failing in some way. That is where I have been for a while now; a frustration that I cannot fix, a frustration that I cannot will away, a frustration that remains because I do not know what truth to administer in its place. Puzzle piece #1 is that my frustration is really a fear: that after all the liberating work God has done within me, I could still become a captive within myself, unable to hear God’s truth. [See “Falling onto God” for previous thought on this.]
I know for certain that walking it out with God still works. In this day and age where reason has mostly replaced faith, if we will trust the things of God and apply them as an authoritative prescription to our lives, it will heal us. Why don’t more of us live in the working truth of this? Are we supposed to feel that a moderate level of ongoing defeat is normal for a Christian today? Do we really expect God to save us from our selves, and not just our sin? Are we to expect that faith that is really lived, not just a saving faith but a substantive faith that expects God to save all the parts of one’s being, will transform us into life-giving individuals?
Once I clearly identified my fear (this took a while back in December) I went to the place in Scripture I know that deals with this issue of not hearing God clearly, of not being changed by His truth: the parable of the soils (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Many of us are familiar with the picture Jesus describes of a life that is barely rooted, a life that grows a little but is choked out and then a life that actually transforms from a barren plot of fertile soil to a lush crop that nourishes others, up to 100x as much as was planted. What is most troubling to me is when Jesus says this, quoting from Isaiah: “When they see what I do they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say they will not understand. Otherwise they would turn to me and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:12) This is astonishing: even when God Himself is speaking and moving they do not perceive it as Him. How could this be? Why would this be? Can we fail to recognize truth when confronted with it?
Matthew 13:15 records Jesus’ explanation for why the people do not see or hear Him: “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and turn, and I would heal them.” A calloused heart; eyes that have closed. That’s sure easy enough to do. All of us are guilty of looking away from truth sometimes, of not wanting to see the ugliness it reveals in us. But Jesus does not leave it as an arbitrary definition; He explains more fully what He means. In Mark 4:24, He says, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” The word for “listen” here is the Greek word, akouo, and means, “to attend to, consider what is or has been said”. It bears the distinction of understanding, not just the mechanical act of hearing. Throughout His teaching Jesus often declares: “Whoever has ears, let him hear!” (same Greek word) To attend to. This moves beyond pay attention; it means to gain understanding and by implication, to do something with that understanding. Apply what you understand. Therefore Puzzle Piece #2 is this: my ability (or inability) to hear and recognize truth is the direct result of the condition of my heart.
The parable of the soils, Jesus clearly explains, is a picture of the human heart, or specifically, the ability to transform the condition of the human heart. In each picture, the seed is the word of God, Jesus says. The seed will always be viable, life-giving, able to reproduce and multiply within that which it is planted. In each scenario the seed will be the constant, the condition of the soil will be the variable. Of course this story may represent the human life as a whole: over the course of your life, will God’s word in you grow up and reproduce itself or will it be crowded out by a stony heart, the fast-germinating weeds of a busy life, or the thorns of pain, resentment, or unforgiveness? In my own life this parable is not just about the ending picture of my life; it is about areas of my life on-going, pockets of thorny areas within me, patches of stony ground not well-plowed, and in the beginning, vast pastures of garden-gone-wild. There are various areas of my personality, my thought processes and the beliefs of my heart where God is at work. I try to always be listening, paying attention to which soil plot He is cultivating. I try to cooperate and work the ground He points out, pulling out stones as He identifies them, pulling out great root systems of weeds the enemy has planted and preparing the soil to receive the nourishing seed from Him: truth to multiply and inhabit that area of my being.
He is still working in different patches of my life and I expect we’ll be tilling, weeding, excavating and planting various plots until I move onward to heaven. But in these last two weeks, He is making it clear to me that He is out to show me a bigger picture of my life, the ground that has always been Tammy’s being, and how it has progressed. He has captured me with surprise. While I have feared that I should fail to find Him in some area of my life, He has drawn back the veil of time and shown me a picture of what He has been doing in me all along. Not my work, mind you. In the end, it never is about my work, only my cooperation with His work. But I shall not get ahead of myself. I am excited to share with you what He has shown me, but for sake of time and words here, I shall send it out next post. He truly blows me away.