When I was a child, I had some favorite games. While my friends would pretend they were firemen or policemen, I would play church. I would pretend that I was a priest, and I would go through all the motions of playing church. I would make sure my brothers or friends would be quiet and show “proper respect” and I would do “all the right things” to have a “church service.” It was funny how I would even play a toy organ pretending that I was playing “God’s music.” Even though those early years didn’tprepare me for any form of ministry, it helped me recognize the games that are being played in today’s church. I’m saddened by the state of the church in America. And I’ve been wondering ever since I came back from Romania, and my three trips to Russia…Are we just playing church in America? Have we forgotten what our purpose in Christ is? Does it boggle your mind that the book of Acts is still happening, [people getting saved by the thousands daily, sharing of all possessions, signs and wonders], but when you come back to America, you don’t come back to the ordinary but to the apathy? A Russian evangelist had recognized this when he came to America and told John MacArthur of Grace to you Ministries, “I just don’t understand how you can minister in America with a low level of commitment.”
What makes it even more saddening is that 94% of the world’s Gospel ministry is in the U.S. and 95% of the finances in all of Christianity are here in America, while 46% of the world has never heard the Gospel! And all we have to show for it is stale Christianity!!
I sometimes wonder if we really know what real Christianity is. Real Christianity is more than just going to Church, saying some prayers, reading our Bibles, having fellowship, and listening to Christian entertainment. Christianity is more than just accepting God’s promises,…it’s claiming His responsibilities as well!! Did you ever ask yourself the question, “where is the joy, love and peace that I’m missing?”…or, “why am I not experiencing the abundant life?” Do you ever wonder why some Christians know exactly what they are doing in their lives and you can’t even figure out what church to attend? How is your personal relationship with Jesus?…how about a test? Please bear with me here, this is a hypothetical question: If it were possible that God died, would you even know it? Does God speak to your spirit? Do you have just a head knowledge of the Lord or do you know Him in your heart? Is His heart’s desires your heart’s desires? Can you even gauge where your heart is? To determine how we are doing spiritually, we should compare our spiritual lives to the Scriptures. God gave a parable in the book of Mark that compares the ground that is used for farming to our hearts.
What Type of Heart Do You Have?
Our hearts are the barometer of our life, whether it is a Christian life or a non-Christian life. It is important to guard where our hearts are! Proverbs 4:23 emphasizes this when it says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.” Our hearts expose what type of person we are. If you always talk about business, you have a business heart. If you always talk about sports, you have a sports heart. If you always talk about the things of God, you have a heart after God. I have had many people tell me, “Well, I know my heart.” God also knows our hearts and he tells us in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” So let us ask ourselves the question; “What type of heart do I have?!”
Comparing the Different Types of Hearts
Jesus’s Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9 & 4:13-20) compares God’s Word to seed and the human heart to soil. Jesus speaks of different types of soil on which the sower scatters his seed and compares it to the human heart. Jesus tells us that there are hard, shallow, crowded, and fruitful grounds, each representing hard, shallow, crowded, and fruitful hearts. Compare the different grounds or hearts and see what is growing in the garden of your heart.
V15 – Hardened ground/heart: Seed is thrown down, but it never takes root because the ground is hard and wouldn’t receive the seed.
Here is a garden where Jesus wants to plant the seed of His Word, the Word that is able to save the person’s soul, and Jesus can’t plant there! This is a hardened heart, with room for any type of growth except that of Jesus. This garden has all types of plants trying to produce the fruit that will satisfy the person growing it. This is the type of person that tries to fill his or her life with things: sports, business, sex, activities, pleasure, possessions, causes, psychic readings, occultism, even religion. Pascal once said that every man has a Christ shaped vacuum in his heart, and only Jesus can fulfill that vacuum. Nothing else will ever fill the void that is Christ shaped except for Jesus Christ Himself.
V16 – Shallow ground/heart: Some plants grow, but since there is no root in the ground, the plants soon die.
This is a person who accepts Jesus but never gets rooted into Christ and in His Word. After awhile, when problems or persecutions come, they fall away because they always remained shallow. This usually happens to people who make God a “feel good” God. They want enough of God to just feel comfortable…enough to be cool and still get to heaven. They want the cross that’s a polished piece of metal, instead of the piece of wood that represents blood, tears, suffering, and death to self.
V18 – Crowded ground/heart: This is ground which does produce a garden, but soon other weeds come in and choke the plants.
This is probably the heart that represents most of the Christians in America today. This heart has a growing garden, but it’s not as fruitful as it could be due to weeds choking the plants. Let us examine some of the weeds that are plant chokers:
One of the weeds is the worries of this life, or as the Greek implies, the distractions of life. We get caught up in the everyday worries of the world. The distractions of our work, our problems, our bills, our health, our in-laws, and “outlaws” are putting intense stress upon us. Slowly, but surely the Bible gets neglected, and God’s Word is no longer a pleasure but a chore. The Bible is read in such a way that nothing is received from His Word, and reading it becomes as exciting as a phone book. Unbelief starts to creep in and doubts begin to enter whether all of God’s promises are true. The mind starts to question whether the Bible is actually the Word of God, and if all the miracles are true. Our prayers start to become mechanical, and instead of praying at all times, we strive to figure out how to work out problems for ourselves or for others. Meanwhile, God is sitting back waiting for us to ask Him to intervene! Suddenly it doesn’t seem important to fellowship with brothers or sisters in Christ anymore. We start making excuses why we shouldn’t go to church…”Well I can worship God just as much at home.” That’s true, but the Bible does tell us in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (The Return of our Lord).” As a result, there is little concern about lost souls! There are people dying and going to hell…but we’re too busy taking care of the distractions of life to be concerned.
Another weed is the deceitfulness of wealth. In his book, Your Finances In Changing Times, Larry Burkett gives the illustration of a man praying with his family for his poor next door neighbor. This man is praying, “Lord help that poor old woman next door to eat.” When the man finished praying, the son looked up and said, “Dad, just give me your checkbook and I’ll go answer that prayer myself!!” How true it is that we don’t realize many times we are the channels that God uses to reach people. I said it many times and it continues to prove itself, our checkbooks tell us more about our priorities than does anything else. If you want to see where your heart is, then look where you put your treasures!! Matt. 6:21 tells us: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The word “deceitfulness” in the Greek also means delusion! I can assure you that this is one of the main problems with us in America. We are under a delusion that we need only give God 10% or a little more, and then we can do whatever we want with the rest of the money. Yet the Scriptures tell us in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'” This means that our lives are no longer our own. We are to DENY OURSELVES, and realize that God is now in control of our lives. We have surrendered everything to Him, including how we spend HIS money. Is it 10% I surrender or all to Jesus I surrender??? It’s all His money and we are responsible for how we handle all of it, not just 10%! We are also under the delusion of denouncing the prosperity doctrine, (with good reason), but then we live like it’s true!!! We have become a country of excesses. Because of our tastes and appetites, we have taken food out of the mouths of people in theThird World countries. Compassion International Ministries and Tony Campolo have stated these disturbing facts:
* We spend 5 billion a year to feed 48 million dogs and 28 million cats, yet 80% of our animals are overweight. How do you think God must feel about an America that overfeeds its pets while the world starves?
500 million children are suffering from malnutrition. 200 million are chronically hungry. 40,000 people die of starvation each day. More than 100,000 children will go blind every year due to lack of vitamin A in their diets.
Now it’s not your works that get you into heaven, but if Jesus is in you, the same Christ that reached out to the poor, to the widows, to the children,…that same Jesus wants to reach out through you. The only thing that can stop Jesus from reaching out to others through you is YOU! Don’t let the weed of the deceitfulness of riches choke your heart!
The final weed mentioned is the desires for other things, or as the Greek implies, to covet, desire, lust after. If our heart is a heart after God’s own heart, His burdens become our burdens. We must ask ourselves if we are following the desire of God or the desires of our own flesh. Do we think that it is God’s heart’s desire for His people to be accumulating possessions, or to see the Gospel go to people who have never been reached? Do you believe that God’s heart is for you to drive a status symbol for a car, or for you to help brothers and sisters on the other side of the world who are praying to get one meal per day? Like Paul, can we say, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
One day, the famous evangelist John Wesley was preaching a sermon outside when a man came up to him yelling, “John, John, your house is burning down.” John replied, “Good, that’s one less responsibility that I have to care for!” Wesley realized that he was only a steward of God’s possessions. We too should realize that we are “stewards” of anything that we own and that we will one day give an account of how we handled God’s money and God’s possessions.
V20 – Fruitful ground/heart: This is the ground that received the seed. The roots grew deep and the weeds were kept out. This ground was very fruitful, producing thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.
This is a heart that is prepared before God, broken and contrite, and humbled in His presence. His Lordship is acknowledged, the way of the cross is chosen, and death to self occurs daily. This is a heart that recognizes that Jesus’ final command was His supreme command: “GO…into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation…” It is the prepared heart that says, “Here am I, send me…” When God is calling, you reach out to your foreign neighbors, whether in missions or by support. It is a heart that recognizes that the minute you walk out of your door, you’re in your mission field. This is the heart that is described in Psalm one, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Once you have a heart after God’s own heart, your concerns will be to see lost souls saved…both here in America, and the ones that Jesus called your “neighbors” on the other side of the world. Then you will receive the abundant life which is fruitful, flowing and generous, and added unto you will be the fruits of:
Peace…That only He can give, the peace that you have been searching for, and wondering why it’s been missing…The peace of knowing you’re in the center of God’s will.
Love…The love that only your Heavenly Father can give you…agape, perfect love that never fails.
Joy…The joy of seeing lost souls come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Once you are committed to Him, then He can work through you and make you the fruitful person He wants you to be. God the Vine will now use you to bear fruit beyond your wildest imagination, and the fruit of souls saved will last for eternity.
Tend the Garden of Your Heart!
I did my garden once, and my next door neighbor commented to me as I was working that I had really let it go, which was true. I had to dig deep to pull out roots, and I had to turn over the dirt several times. Yet, while I was doing one of the things I hated most, God was showing me that this represents breaking up the fallow ground in my heart…turning over the ground and confessing my sin, pulling out the weeds, and preparing it to be able to receive seed. This represents our lives many times as well. We let the garden of our heart grow wild with weeds, or sin. Then the weeds of the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for things creep in, and start to choke the fruit. Yet weeds can be pulled. I still have some that keep coming back, and I pull them out and they keep on growing. But the important thing is that I keep pulling. Now what sin or “weed” is so important that we can allow it to affect how we will spend eternity? What can satisfy us more completely that a pure relationship with God?! Return to your First Love, the pure simple devotion to Jesus that you once had. Stop going through the motions of playing church and pull out the weeds in the garden of your heart. Ask God once again to be your Shepherd. Tell him that you shall not want, and that your are trusting Him for His provision, not your own. Ask Him to remove the storms of your life and to put you beside quiet waters. Ask Him to restore your soul with the joy of His salvation. Let Him lead you into His paths of righteousness, then you will experience the abundant and fruitful life. “Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12) Someone has well written,
I counted dollars, while God counted crosses. I counted gains, while He counted losses. I counted my worth by the things gained in store, He sized me up by the scars that I wore. I coveted honors and sought for degrees. He wept as he counted the hours I spent on my knees. I never knew until one day by the grave, how vain are the things we spend our life to save.