Clearing Cluttered Hearts

Few of us have much understanding of farming conditions in Israel. In many countries, we see vast fields surrounded by tidy fences or hedges. Crops grow in an almost sterile environment with hardly a weed visible. Rarely does the plough encounter a stone larger than a potato.

Picture of fruit trees in a typical field near Beth Shemesh, Israel.

Fruit trees in a field in Israel.

One summer I worked on a typical farm in Israel. The fields were nestled in narrow valleys between limestone hills. Over the centuries, the owners had dragged boulders to the edges—a disorganized clutter that rarely deserves the name “wall”. Beyond it were vicious thorns that, given the chance, would quickly re-conquer everything. In spite of the challenges, farmers are never hesitant to sow seed.

God sows an abundance of words of truth about the King and His kingdom. Like a wise and prosperous farmer, He broadcasts seed far and wide. Then a test begins: what kind of surface did the seed fall on? What will the soil in that part of the field do with the seed’s potential for fruitfulness?

In His Parable of Parables, Jesus said that fruitful heart soils are those that hear and understand the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:23). They are deep enough for life-sustaining roots to form. They are unobstructed by rocks, not swamped by weeds, or trampled to resemble concrete. Deep understanding depends on having spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see. And that depends on removing our idols.

Few of us understand the true condition of our hearts. Most of us see them as acceptably fruitful and tidy. We are blind to many idols in our lives and how they rob us of the potential fruit that would come if we cultivated kingdom words. So, visit my wild and idol-strewn heart for a moment and see if you recognize it:

At times, my heart has been like a compacted pathway. Then the words bounce and roll. Distractions swoop in like greedy finches, and they’re swallowed. Those are the times when I am not really listening for God; I’m defining importance, and busying myself with it. We can be busy and still guided by God, that’s fine. But whenever my pursuits stomp on God’s attempts to speak to me then those pursuits have become a parade of trampling idols.

Most of the time, I do pay attention. I take the time to write what He says in my journal and pray about it. It takes root in my life and I start to see promising growth. (I love to share about those bright shoots over coffee with my friends.) Then two things might happen:

  • I discover that the implications of God’s message to us are always about change. The words of an ever-expanding kingdom always call me to greater purity and greater impact. But there is opposition to expansion of character and kingdom. And I don’t like opposition. I prefer to bow to the idol of popularity and settle for being a nice person. The idol of an easy life beckons me to accept the compromised customs of society rather than obeying God. The idol of comfort scoffs at me whenever I contemplate sacrifices. Rocks are hard. It’s easier for my seedling obedience to throw its hands up with a sigh, and expire.
  • More often, untamed thorns that hide at the edges of my life begin to creep over the new growth. They are the un-redeemed instincts of life in a world of wages and budgets. My instincts scream at me, “You don’t have time or resources to do what God says, you have too many responsibilities.” When I’m poor, instinct tells me that I bear sole responsibility to get more. When I prosper, my abundance becomes an idol that deceives me into thinking I must preserve it and scrabble for more. “Just in case.”

There’s good news though. Farmer God is always working the soil of willing hearts to make them more fruitful. So, watch the idols flee as you let the following words take root and bear fruit.

Drag boulders of fear and intimidation out of your life with these words of Jesus: Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.(Matt. 5:10-12)

Pull out the deceitful roots of riches by embracing the kingdom value of generosity in giving to the needy. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Clear away the tangled thorns of anxiety. We’re on the King’s business; He promises to take care of our needs. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)

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