Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 36: Matt. 15:1-20 & Psalm 36 - What Kind of Worship Honors God?

Today's Reading: Matthew 15:1-20 & Psalm 36

Get the full reading plan

What Kind of Worship Honors God?

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” - Matthew 15:7-9, ESV

A religion based on human tradition is almost always concerned about far different things than actually matter in the eyes of God:

1. Did you pray five times per day, facing the right direction and saying just the right words?
2. Did you eat fish today and avoid other kinds of meat?
3. Did you say the right words before you got into bed at night?
4. Are you wearing the right kind of necklace? the right kind of clothes?

The Pharisees were the kings of meaningless human traditions, but Jesus knew the truth: A system of worship shaped by man-made tradition is spiritual or helpful and is not even neutral of harmless. When we follow "as doctrines the commandments of men," the commandments of God are always set aside.

So here are a few principles from today's teaching from Jesus:

1. The state of our hearts before God is so much more important than the precise words that we say. Prayer is never a matter of just saying the right words, but it is "an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question #98) If we're lifting up our heart's desire before the Lord and we're humbly submitting to His will, confessing our sin and grateful for His grace, this is God-honoring prayer. It's about our hearts - sincerity, humility, repentance and gratitude. 

2. The power of the tongue is so much more important than the regulations of the diet. Earlier, in Matthew 12:34, Jesus had said, "How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." 

3. The filth in our hearts is so much more deadly than the filth on our hands. Ceremonial hand-washing was an important part of the traditions of the Jewish leaders. But Jesus made it clear that the real filth - "evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" - come from our hearts and not on our hands.

All of these principles point to one over-arching truth: The personal, internal and spiritual matter more than the external, physical, circumstantial and ceremonial. Now this doesn't mean that nothing we do in the body ever matters, which is a false teaching. What it means is that issues of precise wording, diet, posture, ceremonies, etc. don't change the heart and don't honor God. Very often, they do cause us to be self-deceived and lead to a hypocritical self-righteousness. But God cares about our hearts and only His grace and the power of His Holy Spirit can change our hearts. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 36:

Here's a great worship song by Third Day based on Psalm 36 to help us worship and pray:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Day 35: Matthew 14:22-36 & Psalm 35 - What Do We Do When Jesus Sends Us into the Storm?

Today's Reading: Matthew 14:22-36 & Psalm 35

Get the full reading plan

What Do We Do When Jesus Sends Us into the Storm?

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. - Matthew 14:22-24, ESV

It's impossible to miss the truth of what happens to the disciples in today's reading: Jesus deliberately sends them far away from Himself and into the path of a fierce storm. He send them into the storm alone while He goes up on a mountain alone to pray. On the surface, this makes no sense. The disciples must have been wondering from the start: Why is Jesus sending us into the boat by ourselves? Why isn't He coming with us? Where is he going? What is he doing?

Once the storm began and intensified and the night went on and on, they must have really questioned: Why are we here? Where is Jesus when we really need Him? Doesn't He care about us? Did He make a mistake?

Have you struggled with some of those same questions and doubts? What do we do when Jesus sends us into the storm by ourselves? What do we do when the pressures and conflicts of life seem too intense to bear and Jesus seems so far away?

Here's what we can learn from this passage:

1. Obey Jesus, even when His commands don't make sense.

2. Wait patiently for Jesus, even when He seems far away and you wonder how He's going to show up.

3. Keep at the task Jesus has assigned you to do, even when it's hard and you don't seem to be having any success.

4. When Jesus comes to the rescue - as He always does, one way or another - have faith and worship Him!

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” - v. 33 

Prayer Based on Psalm 35:

Psalm 35 is an urgent and passionate prayer for deliverance from enemies. We can read this as one of the prayers of deliverance from Jesus during His earthly life, in keeping with Hebrews 5:7: "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence." We can also pray it in urgency for deliverance from our enemies who press in hard against us and seek our destruction.

Heavenly Father,

Your Son suffered more agony, grief, sorrow and temptation than any other human being who ever lived, much more than I could ever imagine. During the days of His life and during the times of His intense suffering, He cried to You and prayed to You - in the desert wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross - and You faithfully heard Him and answered Him and delivered Him. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus show me You love and power of deliverance.

Father, I am surrounded by enemies and my own sinful nature wages war against me. My sinful desires, the opposition of the world, the devil who tempts and torments - all of these fierce and determined enemies oppose me, attack me, and threaten me. They do so because they hate You, my righteousness, and they hate Your kingdom and power and glory and worship. They want to see me fall and be destroyed as a way to dishonor You and discourage Your people.

Lord, hear my cry and hear the cries of all of Your people who suffer attack daily.

You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!    O Lord, be not far from me!
Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
    for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
    according to your righteousness,
    and let them not rejoice over me!

For when You answer me, Lord, and when You bring me deliverance, I will praise You and give thanks to You and for You. I thank You that You always answer according to Your wisdom and love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Day 34: Matthew 14:1-21 & Psalm 34 - Can We Foresee the Consequences of Our Actions?

Today's Reading: Matthew 14:1-21 & Psalm 34

Get the full reading plan

Can We Foresee the Consequences of Our Actions?

"And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother." - Matthew 14:9-11

Poor Herod. Those may seem like odd words for a man who had John the Baptist beheaded and whose father ordered the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem, but for some reason I always feel sorry for Herod in this situation. Maybe it's because I've made my own foolish choices and have had to face the consequences too many times. Herod was a man who has given himself to sensuality and ended up being manipulated into murdering an innocent man. 

We never know what consequences our actions may have, for the good or for the bad. When we give ourselves over to a certain sin - sensuality, greed, envy, covetousness, pride - it often leads us to others we may never have chosen otherwise. Solomon's desire for foreign wives led the wise builder of the Temple into idolatry. David's neglect of his duty to the army as king - his lazy self-indulgence - led to his adultery and murder. 

Thankfully, the same unforeseen consequences are true in the good direction, too. We don't know how our faithful actions of obedience will be used by God. In the story that immediately follows the execution of John the Baptist, the disciples were told by Jesus to feed a crowd of thousands. The problem is that they only had five loaves and two fish. How could they feed so many with so little.

“Bring them here to me.” (v. 18) Jesus' words were simple and direct. The disciples obeyed and the result was powerful, amazing, literally miraculous.

So, the question for us seems simple enough, though it is more difficult than we could even imagine: Will we give ourselves to our sin or will we bring whatever we have and give it to Jesus? Will we seek to run our own lives our way and serve our own desires, or will we surrender everything to Christ and let Him take our meager resources and multiply them for His glory?

Prayer Based on Psalm 34:

This is such a wonderful Psalm. Several years ago, the school where I served as Headmaster memorized this Psalm. It sings with power, truth, grace and wisdom! 

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

Heavenly Father, I do indeed bless Your name. Every day I bless You, for You are faithful and wise, holy and good. I have nothing in myself in which to boast - no wisdom, no power, no righteousness - but I will boast in You, O Lord. Your steadfast love, Your saving grace, Your patience, Your power, Your purposes, Your glory - for all of these and for so much more, You and You alone are worthy of praise and I need to praise You, to magnify Your name and not my own, to worship You, to serve You, to love You. 

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Lord, when I have sought You, it has been clear that it has only been because You were always seeking me. You call me to Yourself and as soon as I turn to You, You answer me and deliver me from all my fears and failures, from all my troubles, sins, distresses and enemies. You are the Great Deliverer of Your people. O Lord, deliver those who are ensnared in sin or persecuted by enemies today. 

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Lord, Your goodness is real, so real we can taste it in every bite of food, in every daily portion of pleasure and provision. We truly lack no good thing under Your gracious hand. Lord, let us see this clearly. Teach me the contentment of knowing that You have given every good and perfect gift, everything needed for life and godliness. You are too good and too wise and too powerful to leave Your children lacking anything we truly need, any truly good thing. 

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
   and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

Father, it is so clear that the path of the life is found in following after You. Keep my tongue from evil - from boasting, from lying, from flattery, from foolish talk. Turn my feet away from evil to good. Make me a peacemaker and let me seek the peace that You would have me pursue. Give me the grace to forgive as I have been forgiven and to reconcile as I have been reconciled. 

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
    and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Oh Lord, how wonderful it is to know that Your eyes are always on Your children and that Your ears always hear us when we cry to You in faith, You love us. You hear us, You deliver us. You comfort us and strengthen us when we need You most. 

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;

    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Lord, there are so many in the world today who hate the righteous, from ISIS and other Islamo-fascist terrorists to God-haters here in America intent on silencing Your people and forcing us to abandon Your truth. Redeem us and keep us. Let us not be led astray or intimidated into silence, and let us not repay anyone evil for evil. May we always trust in You and obey Your command to love our enemies. For You are our glorious Lord and we are in Your hands.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Day 33: Matthew 13:47-58 & Psalm 33 - Why Should Christians Study the Old Testament?

Today's reading: Matthew 13:47-58 and Psalm 33

Get the full reading plan

Why Should Christians Study the Old Testament?

"And he said to them,“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” - Matthew 13:52, ESV

Many Christians struggle to understand the Old Testament and to see what value it has for the Christian life. Maybe the Old Testament saints can provide us with moral examples and warnings, but we don't need anything from the Old Testament, do we?

While it is true that we could learn everything we need for salvation from the New Testament, that is far from saying that we don't need the Old Testament. Jesus said that a scribe (expert in the Old Testament) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven (in the Gospel of Jesus Christ) " is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." 

Jesus is saying that being well-trained in both the Old Testament Scriptures and in the Gospel has great value. So, what value does the Old Testament hold for believers?

1. It gives us our fuller identity with the people of God. The Old Testament people of God are our people, too. When we read the story if God's dealings with His people in the Old Testament, we're reading about how our God deals with our people.

2. The Psalms and other poetry give us language for prayer and worship. The Old Testament is full of some of the best prayer language in all of the Bible and some of the richest, fullest expressions of worship and devotion to God. We learn about the character of God, about the struggles and joys of a life of faith, of how to express ourselves in prayer and praise and more.   

3. It shows us God's sovereign plan of redemption. We can get great encouragement and understanding of the plans and purposes of God by studying the unfolding of redemption in the action and promises of God throughout the Old Testament.

4. It helps us understand Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King. "Christ" means "anointed one" and the pattern for how Christ serves as our anointed Prophet, Priest and King is laid in the Old Testament offices. 

5. It is vital for understanding the New Testament. The New rests on the foundation of the Old. Every book in the New Testament draws on an understanding of the Old for its message. While it is possible to gain a basic level of understanding of New Testament books by studying them on their own, a deep and correct understanding requires the Old Testament. This is especially true for Matthew, John, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and Revelation.
from Barnes' Bible Charts - 

So, to be able to bring out old treasures and new and to have a full and robust understanding of God, His kingdom, His plans, His people and His Scriptures, we need to study both the Old and New Testaments.

Prayer Based on Psalm 33:

Heavenly Father, we give thanks to You and we praise You as Your people, those whom You have made righteous in Christ and drawn into Your presence to know You, love You and glorify You. We praise and thank You for Your words are upright and Your works are done in faithfulness. The whole earth is indeed full of Your steadfast love and we can see it reflected in all of Your creation a d providence. 

Lord, You alone are supreme and You reign over all things. You speak and it comes to be. You command and it stands firm. You have the power to bring all the plans and purposes of the nations to nothing, while establishing Your own plans and purposes for all generations. Your church is Your people, the nation You have created, the nation over which King Jesus reigns and the people You have chosen for Your heritage forever. Let Your people identify first and foremost with You as Your people and not with the passing kingdoms and nations of this world.

Father, let Your eye of favor and kindness remain on Your people to bless and protect, to guide and to grow, to teach and to redeem. Deliver us from death, which presents itself to us in many forms in this fallen world. 

Our souls wait for You, O Lord. You are our help and our shield. Our hearts rejoice in You because we trust in You and will never be put to shame in You. 

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

In Jesus' mighty and precious name, Amen! 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Day 32: Matthew 13:34-46 & Psalm 32 - How Valuable is the Kingdom of God to You?

Today's Reading: Matthew 13:34-46 & Psalm 32

Get the full reading plan

How Valuable is the Kingdom of God to You?

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. - Matthew 13:44-46, ESV
In today's reading we learn much about the nature and value of the kingdom. First, in the Parable of the Weeds, Jesus teaches us that the sons of God are always mixed in with the sons of the world, just as wheat and weeds grow up together in the same field when both are planted alongside each other. We cannot separate ourselves from unbelievers in this life and we cannot have a perfectly safe and pure life until the end of this age, when Jesus returns and purifies His creation.

Then, in the light of the nature of the relationship between the kingdom and the world, Jesus tells two short parables to emphasize the surpassing value of the kingdom. In the first, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field and in the second it is like a rare pearl of great value. What do we learn from these two short parables:

1. The kingdom of heaven is worth more far more than everything we have. The man who found the treasure in the field and the merchant who found the pearl both knew what they should do. They did not hesitate to sell everything they had in order to secure the far greater treasure.

2. Not everyone sees and understand the surpassing value of the kingdom. The treasure was hidden in the field. The person who owned the field didn't know what he had when he sold it to the man who had found the treasure. The person who sold the pearl to the merchant probably didn't understand it's true value either.

3. The right response to the surpassing value of the kingdom is a whole-hearted commitment. The fact that neither of these men hesitated shows how we should respond to the Gospel of the Kingdom. When reconciliation with God, eternal life, and the inheritance of all things in Christ is being offered, nothing less than a full, nothing-held-back response of love and worship and discipleship is appropriate.

Jesus gave everything He had to secure the kingdom, to get the treasure, including us. He gave up His life. How have we responded to Him?

Prayer based on Psalm 32:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
   and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Father, the blessing of being forgiven, of not having my sin count against me, is a joy and a blessing beyond all telling. Thank You that Your Son bore my sins on the cross so that I don't bear them any more but am forgiven in Your sight and my sin is covered by the blood of Jesus!

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
   through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
   my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Father, when I sin and rebel against You and refuse to confess and seek repentance, it makes me miserable. I feel like I am dying inside and I know I need You. So often, I am too slow to turn to You and seek You as I should.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
   and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
   and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Father, when I do turn to You to release my sin through honest and open confession, You are always so faithful to forgive and so compassionate toward me. Why am I slow to confess? Thank You for Your ready and waiting compassion and forgiveness, which is already mine in Christ because Jesus has already paid for my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is godly
   offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
   they shall not reach him.
Father, draw the hearts of all of Your people to seek Your face and to hide themselves in You always. Draw us away from worldly distraction, deceptions of self-sufficiency and worse. Draw us to Yourself and let us all seek You.
You are a hiding place for me;
   you preserve me from trouble;
   you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
You are our only refuge, our only safety, our only hiding place in a world of sin. You keep us in Your perfect care. 
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
   I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
   which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
   or it will not stay near you.
Lord, let me have a teachable spirit and a responsive heart. Teach me and lead me in the ways I should go, following after You. Forgive me for being so often stubborn and foolish. Let me be more tender, more responsive.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
   but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
   and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Father, You are the One who has delivered us from the sorrows of the wicked - the sorrows of not having any purpose, of not being forgiven, of not having eternal life, of not having peace with You. Thank You for saving us from these sorrows and instead surrounding us with Your steadfast love. Let us delight and rejoice in You, now and always!! In Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday - Matthew 27 & Luke 23 - What Happened When Jesus Died?

Today's reading: Matthew 27 & Luke 23 

Get the full reading plan 

What Happened When Jesus Died?

"It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two." - Luke 23:44

At Jesus' death, several things happened to fulfill Scripture and to be a sign to those who were watching and understood what they were seeing. Let's consider just a few of them from Matthew 27 and Luke 23:

1. They cast lots for His clothing (Matthew 27:35; Luke 23:34). Psalm 22 was written by King David 1,000 years before Jesus was born, but it provides a detailed description of the sufferings of Christ on the cross. In fact, the details are so specific and don't match anything that happened to David in his life. Among those details . . .

I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots. - Ps. 22:17-18

2. The sky was darkened (Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44). Joel 2 is a prophecy of the Day of the LORD, the great day of judgment coming. Among the signs that indicate the Day of the LORD is a darkened sky (Joel 2:10 & 2:31). The darkness of the sky is a sign of judgment, a sign that God the Father is pouring out His wrath and judgment on His Son, who willingly offered Himself in our place. It is also a sign of judgment against Jerusalem and the Jewish leaders, who had rejected their Messiah and would soon face destruction at the hands of the Romans who crucified Jesus.

The same prophecy of mid-day darkness can also be found in Amos 8:9:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight. (ESV)

3. The earth shook and the graves opened and many dead saints were raised to life (Matthew 27:51-53). This remarkable sign was also given as an anticipation of the end-time Day of the LORD. On that day, according to Daniel 12:2, "many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." The small resurrection at the death of Christ was a sign of the coming last-day judgment resurrection and also of the fact that Jesus is the Lord who will judge on that day.   

4. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51 & Luke 23:44). The curtain in the Temple separated God's people, even God's priests, from God's very presence in the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. This thick curtain was necessary to protect God's people from God's holy presence, necessary because of the sin of God's people. Only the High Priest could enter behind that curtain, and then only once per year on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant with blood. 

When Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied, the sin of God's people was covered, and the barrier separating God from His people was removed. This single, wonderful sign is a powerful statement of what Jesus did for us on the cross: By removing our sins, He brought us near to God.

5. Responses: In response to all of these signs, the Roman Centurion who supervised Jesus' crucifixion cried out,"Truly this was the Son of God!" (Mt. 27:54). The crowds of people, who had demanded His crucifixion and who had mocked Him so cruelly as He suffered, "returned home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48)." They knew how wrong they had been. This mourning reflects the language of Zechariah 12:10, "when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."     

6. They laid Him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man (Matthew 27:57-59; Luke 23:50-53). This was in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, a most remarkable verse in the midst of one of the most remarkable chapters in the Bible: 

And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (ESV)

How could a man be counted among the wicked but also be buried in a rich man's tomb? It seems like an impossible contradiction, especially if you understand the ancient world. But this is exactly what happened to Jesus.  

God gave us clear and compelling signs both to explain to us why Jesus was dying and to show us that it was happening according to His plan, as foretold in His Scriptures. How will we respond to Him on this Good Friday?  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 31: Matthew 13:18-33 & Psalm 31 - How's the Seed of the Word Growing in You?

Today's Reading: Matthew 13:18-33 & Psalm 31

Get the full reading plan

How's the Seed of the Word Growing in You?

"As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." - Matthew 13:23, ESV

In His explanation of the Parable of the Sower (or Soils), Jesus identifies four possible responses to God's word. The sower is the same and the seed remains the same. The difference is made by the reception, by the soil.

1. The Path: The Word of God is preached or the Gospel is shared and there is no response whatsoever. In this case, Jesus says that the devil has come along and snatched the Word from the hearer before it could find any place in the heart or mind. Have you ever wondered about people who can hear the same Gospel message as you and yet never respond? "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." - 2 Cor. 4:4, ESV

2. The Rocky Ground: Rocky ground has very shallow soil on top of hard rocks. These people respond with quick enthusiasm for the Word but then they fall away just as quickly. They lack the depth of commitment necessary to endure hardship. The Bible has some sobering words for this kind of person: "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." - Hebrews 6:4-6, ESV

3. The Thorny Ground: This is the hardest, most convicting soil type for most Christians. We can all identify with this, to some extent, right? These are people who receive the Word with joy and who start to see the Word grow in their lives only to be choked out. What chokes out the word? The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth. We can be choked by concerns or by riches. But the key here is that the Word bears no fruit. Signs of life? Yes, but limited. Fruit? None. It is the fruitful Christian who is a true disciple: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." - John 15:8-9, ESV

4. The Good Soil: This is what we all long to be, right? Or do we? Here's some good news: If you sincerely desire to be this soil and to have this kind of response to the Word, that's a good sign that you are, in fact, this kind of soil. Keep in mind that different kinds of good soil yield different levels of fruit, but they all bear fruit. What is the fruit? Well, we would automatically think of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, right? That's good, but so is the fruit of obedience, of love for one another, of earnestness, of desire for the glory of God, etc. 

The good soil should not be confused with the good life. Just because the Christian life is hard for you doesn't mean that your heart isn't good soil. Remember the pruning of God can hurt: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." - John 15:1-2 

So, who can make our hearts the good soil they need to be? Only the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the vine and the father is the vinedresser, but the Holy Spirit is the soil-tiller, the ground-preparer. Pray for Him to make Your heart what it needs to be. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 31:

Heavenly Father,

I need a sense of urgency about life, I know I am secure in You, for You are my Rock of Refuge and my Strong Fortress. But I also know my own struggle against sin, doubt, fear, temptation and lethargy. Have mercy on me and let me never be put to shame! 

Be gracious to me and to all of Your people in our distress, whatever that distress may be. Relieve and rescue, redeem and ransom, lead and guide and deliver and save us, O God of our Salvation! 

"But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!" - vv. 14-15