THE CALL TO SPIRITUALLY GROW
When one studies the Bible, one will discover the primary expression for the Word of God is “seed.” From Genesis to Revelation, the concepts of good and evil, faith and doubt, barrenneSs and indwelling, all center on the idea that a positive or negative eternal outcome directly results from a seed (Word) growing from within. Furthermore, the seed is not just a Word, but also a person. Not just any person—Jesus Christ Himself,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)
In this, every sense of the process of growth from seed to full-grown tree points to the meta-narrative of the Biblical story of the Salvation of God’s creation. This process is revealed repeatedly through the lives of biblical characters. After the Lord Almighty made Himself known to them, they either grew in godliness and fulfilled their destiny, or they grew in ungodliness and yielded to the enemy’s plan. In this context, one must understand that the treasure of wisdom in the concept of the seed, from the first mention to its last, is paramount to one’s success:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22).
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? ... It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater. (Mark 4:30-32)
The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11).
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9, NIV)
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:6-9, NIV).
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (1 Peter 1:23).
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17).
Scripture is clear! If the seed is a critical concept, then growth is naturally an essential part of God’s plan. Thus, it must be a part of the Christian life. In this vein, Peter admonishes, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). What many see in Peter’s charge is that growth is possible. What is not so readily seen is the reason Peter sets forth this charge—potential does not guarantee progress. The reality is growth, while possible, is not automatic. Just as seeds do not grow without first being planted and then watered, spiritual maturity does not happen with church attendance alone, occasional reading of the Word, or an “every now and then” prayer. It happens on purpose. Who better to make such a statement than Peter, who grew from denying the Lord thrice (Mark 14:72) to counting himself worthy to suffer (Acts 5:41). How did he grow? Intentionality! Just as he denied Jesus thrice, three times he was called to personal responsibility:
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17).
Feed! What a call! Yet that was not all. There was more to it, The words that came next demanded growth, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (21:18). It is obvious that Peter heard the Lord loud and clear, for in his anger, he questioned the Lord’s call on one of the other disciples present, “Lord, and what shall this man do” (21:21)? Jesus responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (21:22). What was Jesus really saying? He was calling him to an assignment; in order to fulfill it, Peter was going to have to grow up and accept personal responsibility. Fortunately for Peter, and you and I today, the transforming power of the Word of God is the best fertilizer for one’s daily movement towards spiritual maturity. Consider the following verses:
PERSONAL SACRIFICE | I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1)
RENEWING THE MIND | And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2)
MATURITY | Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1)
These are just a few that call the child of God to intentionality. Perhaps the greatest example of man’s responsibility to grow is found in Jesus’ parable of the farmer who went out to sow the seed. To His disciples’ surprise, the object of the lesson was neither the farmer nor the seed, but the type of ground onto which it was cast. According to Scripture,
And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, and some an hundred (Mark 4:15-20).
Let us think of the ground as a metaphor for the hearer’s level of intentionality after one has heard the Word. In each case, the hearer first heard the Word. To this end, the opportunity is the same for everyone—all can grow. Yet, from the point of hearing, each outcome was different. Some misunderstood what they heard, and never realized they needed to take a concrete step; others heard but were upset that change was necessary or difficult; still, others heard and started to grow, until their growth conflicted with personal desires. Some heard, changed, grew, and actually produced fruit.
Let the reader understand that in each case there was an enemy waiting to act on the response to what each heard. What is to be noticed is this—regardless of where one is in his walk with Christ, there is an enemy attempting to stop his growth. Thus, true spiritual growth is recognizing what type of hearer one might be and making the necessary adjustments so that the enemy will not rob you of what God has for you, “the thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Let’s examine these four types of ground together.
The One Who Lacks Understanding
Imagine a well-traveled path. This path will not only look hard but will, in fact, be hard. From the many feet that have traveled this path, the dirt would be heavily compacted, allowing no seed to take root within it. Such is the one who hears and doesn’t understand. Life has usually hardened this person so that the Word can not penetrate the heart. As a result, the seed just sits on the surface…waiting…no development…no growth… no harvest. For such, Jesus gave this result—the enemy came and took the Word away from the hearer without difficulty.
The question is, how does a believer enable the enemy? The answer is one’s lack of commitment to do something! Now, I can hear one saying, “but Jesus said it was the lack of understanding of what he heard that enabled the enemy!” But let us consider the state of the ground prior to the seed sown on it—wayside, or well-worn. Contrary to popular belief, the imagery here meant that this hearer was someone whose heart was hard because he had heard much, in the wrong direction, without him ever taking a step in the right direction. Thus he had become hard ground, making it virtually impossible to receive. The result, then, became a complete lack of understanding that allowed the Word sown to be stolen away. This, then, is what I call the believer to do—plow the heart, put the Word in, and grow.
The One Who Is Offended
Have you ever walked on stony ground? Doesn’t it feel unstable? Seems like in certain moments, you can have good traction with the ground, and yet in others, your steps are wobbly from stepping on stones. Such is the person who hears and at first is glad. The Word has penetrated the heart. For a season, their steps are solid, as intentionality has allowed the seed to germinate and grow into the bud. Yet, the Bible is clear that with spiritual growth comes spiritual warfare. Much like when stalks break through the ground and buds form, those with no root—who do the wrong things to ensure spiritual growth—are soon exposed to the scorching sun and insects. It is then that the root is critical. Unfortunately, many are rooted more in service (ushers, greeters, outreach, choirs, community development, etc) than seeking (personal study, fasting, meditation, etc.). Not that both aren’t important, but they must be proportioned correctly. Ask Martha (Luke 10:38-42), who learned the hard way that one must serve out of the overflow of personal, intentional disciplines, not the other way around.
For such, Jesus gave this result—afflictions and persecutions arose from the schemes of the enemy, and because the hearer was not rooted deep enough, he was offended, and the Word withered away in his life. It is worth noting here that this hearer was offended. The truth is, there is no greater threat to intentionality than offense, “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city” (Proverbs 18:19). Unfortunately, many think if they walk with God their life will be absent of challenges. Think about it. Who expects to get sick after they have prayed over themselves many times, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalm 91:10)? After all, Jesus did say one shall have what he says, “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24). So why me?
Interestingly, many in today’s “Word of Faith” generation have been taught this text regarding financial gain. In this sense, money is the “seed” sown on good ground (the church, the pastor, a good person, etc.) thereby guaranteeing a harvest. Thus, it offends many when financial struggle occurs, thereby leading to the question, “how could God have allowed this to happen to me?” Over time, if financial difficulty continues, the Word planted in this heart will wither, intentionality will wane, growth will cease, and offense dominates.
Unfortunately, far too many are stifled in their spiritual growth by carnal offenses. For this reason, Jesus also said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, stay in the real fight! This, then, is what I call the believer to do—get rid of the offenses, endure challenges, and grow.
The One Who is Overwhelmed
Perhaps the most interesting of all is the seed that fell on thorny ground. According to Jesus, this ground was not too hard that it could not accept the seed, nor was it too shallow where, if the seed sprouted, it withered from the sun. Rather, this ground seemed to be acceptable for full maturity, from seed to fruit. However, have you seen thorns in action? Slowly, almost too slow to tell, they grow up onto the stalk of the plant, and slowly wrap around a maturing vine, and eventually choke the vine, drawing on its strength, until it has depleted it from producing. Here, it is only the thorn that continues to grow. Such is the person overwhelmed with the many temptations present in the world. The Word has penetrated, and through intentionality, is growing into a fruit-producing plant. Yet, no fruit emerges. Why? In short, it was not the only thing growing. According to Jesus, thorns were also growing. In time, they grew around the vine, slowly choking the life out of the forthcoming fruit. According to Jesus, what was it that had choking power?
THE WORRIES OF THIS PRESENT LIFE | “do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)
THE DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH | “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Mark 11:21-23; 1 Timothy 6:9-10)
AND THE DESIRE FOR OTHER THINGS | Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. (Matthew 6:19; James 1:14)
Noticeably, all three carry the potential to choke the Word growing in the believer today. Eventually, whereas intentionality can bring forth a measure of growth, the choking power of pursuing happiness can overwhelm one’s growth process, to the point where prayer, worship, service, and other disciplines all become things done out of obligation and not out of joy. In the end, intentionality wanes, as does spiritual growth. This, then, is what I call the believer to do—prioritize the Word over life pursuits, and grow.
The One Who Produces Lasting Fruit
Without a doubt, Jesus painted a clear picture that while the believer could experience growth, true spiritual maturity was not automatic. Rather, maturity came through intentionality that learned to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). In this vein, He introduced the ideal method of growth—the believer who not only heard the Word, but also kept the Word, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Noticeably, this sounds the same as both the stony and the thorny hearer. Yet, the “good soil” believer didn’t stop there. He continued his intentionality; despite many roadblocks—persecutions and afflictions—he persevered; even despite distractions—cares of the world, the temptation to pursue and trust in riches, and the lustful cravings for other things—he maintained his pursuit of a life acceptable unto God,
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:23-25).
This hearer not only grows into a plant with the ability to produce, he produces not just one fruit, but a harvest of varying possibilities (30, 60, and 100 fold). Interestingly, the Apostle Luke added “fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15), meaning that producing fruit is a process that takes time, steps, and conscious energy. This, then, is what I call the believer to do—Intentionally grow amidst circumstance.
Scripture is clear! Jesus intended for the hearers of his Word to enter not only a saving, eternal relationship but also an intentional, growing relationship. Thus, Paul taught, “train yourself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Shouldn’t we also today? When one considers the preponderance of Scripture regarding spiritual growth, one must realize that spiritual growth is not just an option. For the believer, it is a call. Whereas the generation in which we live deems the concept “intentional practices that lead to godliness” with skepticism, one cannot refute the Word’s claim that the believer is called to a pursuit, not only of destiny, purpose, and prosperity but intentional, godly living.
Questions to Ponder
1. Which type of ground do you most readily identify with?
2. What things in your life have become noticeable distractions toward your spiritual growth?
3. As you read this chapter, what did you sense regarding the Lord’s call for you to grow spiritually?