An unexplainable nearness to God overwhelms me like no other time or place than when I’m in the Holy Land. I’ve been twice. After the first visit, I thought I’d never have the time or money to return. Now after my second trip, I long for a third.
My studies of Scripture and intimate times listening to His voice came to life while walking in the footsteps of Jesus and sitting on a boat in the Sea of Galilee. I was awakened to such an explosion of His Word in my mind and spirit.
I saw, heard, tasted, smelt and felt the personal applications of biblical stories that penetrated my whole being. The church camp high I experienced as a kid paled in comparison and unlike youth camp, this acute excitement, clarity, and passion for Jesus and His Word would not wear off—or so I thought. The truth is it did.
Eventually after reentry into my ‘messy world’, my faith waned, my fervour decreased and discouragement made its home in my heart and mindI often return to my Holy Land photos and journal entries to remind myself of the Spirit’s work during those days.
Two particular pictures remain etched in my mind: a view of the Sower’s Cove from a boat in the Sea of Galilee and a view of the cove from above on the Mount of Beatitudes.
I found it fascinating that Jesus could be heard teaching from a boat in the cove by the multitudes standing on the shoreline and sitting even further up on the hill. Whether He whispers or He has to shout, more than anything, I long to hear His voice again speaking into my life.
As I thought about the pictures I took of the cove, a holy nudging pushed me to return to the synoptic gospels to read about the parable of the sower. As His boat swayed in the cove, Jesus taught a very significant message.
I found my faith journey and relationship with Jesus and His Word within these passages. I love the way Jesus taught. With the object lesson right in front of him, he shared the parable with those who were undoubtedly very connected to the agrarian culture.
The farmer sows the seed. Some of that seed falls along the path rather than in the deeper soil of the field. It cannot take root before the birds snatch it away and although the enemy can’t steal my salvation, I know he will do all he can to distort the truth of God’s Word, just like he did with Jesus in the wilderness. It is the very reason Peter instructs believers to be self-controlled and alert—the enemy prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). When I neglect time with the Lord and time in His Word, I am more vulnerable to the one who wants me to forget the truth of God’s Word.
Some of the seed fell on the rock where it couldn’t mature. The plant withered with shallow soil and little moisture. Jesus explained to His disciples that this seed represents people who receive God’s Word with joy but have no root. When tested, they fall away.
In my own times of testing, sometimes I pursue Jesus wholeheartedly, seeking His presence and guidance. Other times, I blame Him for my struggles and trials. At times I feel angry that in His sovereignty, He has allowed less than optimal choices, timing and outcomes. But who am I? I must keep my root in good and deep soil. If I don’t, every time my relationships or circumstances don’t go the way I think they should, I’ll fall further away from the truth of God’s Word and deeper into the pit of blaming the One who is Lord over it all and knows what’s best for me.
Other seeds landed in thorny places. The thorn bushes grew alongside the good plants and strangled them. Jesus explained these people hear God’s Word but are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures.
At times I have become distracted and worried about things that are out of my control. I’ve been sharply poked by the thorns of materialism and strangled by seeking my comfort.
When thorny weeds are allowed to grow side by side with beautiful maturing plants, the thorns are bound to take over and duplicity in my life will lead to stagnant faith.
Thankfully Jesus does not leave us hanging. The seed that lands on good soil represent those who hear the Word, retain it, persevere in it and produce a crop. How do I ensure the seed lands on good ground in my life? The good soil is my cultivated heart for God. God’s Word is true and never changes, so the variable in this parable is the condition of my heart.
The Greek word for heart is kardia. It is the center and seat of spiritual life. It embodies the soul, mind, thoughts, emotions, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors. The Hebrew word for heart is Levav. The Israelites also considered the heart as the organ where choices are made.
When I studied the word “heart” in the New Testament, I ran across this passage in John 2:23-25.
“Many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.”
Jesus knows what’s in our hearts. He looks for genuine conversion rather than the things we want Him to do for us. He knows we can say one thing with our words yet our hearts reflect something different. This takes my breath away. In other words, I’m in cardiac (kardia) arrest because I know this is true of my own heart. I might be able to conceal my heart outwardly and speak the right words, but God knows. He reveals with just a glance.
So how do I cultivate good soil to grow, mature and produce a crop? After all, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Am I in charge of the soil of my heart, or is God?
I am utterly dependent on Him to give me a new heart. He is the one who removes my heart of stone and gives me a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). He is the one who gives me the desire to pick up the hoe and till the soil. He is the changer of hearts. By His grace, we respond by cultivating a heart ready to receive more of Him.
This is how I SEEK His face:
When I spend time with God I remember I’m seen and heard by the Creator of the universe. Even when I don’t sense His presence, I rely on His Word and know He is with me—so I wait for the Lord.
One thing that hinders our intimacy with the Lord is our disobedience. If I’m harbouring sin or holding onto something the Holy Spirit has made clear I’m to let go of, I’ve abandoned my whole-hearted commitment and duplicity enters.
3. Experience His presence in conversation
If I look intently at His Word, I’m reminded of God’s character and who I am in Him. I am made in His image, the Imago Dei, and created to bring Him glory as I become more like Jesus. “The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). His Word leaps off the page, we dialogue and It changes me. I’m encouraged, convicted, humbled, and strengthened.
The more time I give, the deeper the relationship becomes. You can’t meet face-to-face with the living God without intimacy.
Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and He makes known to them His covenant” (ESV). I long for that kind of friendship with Jesus once again. I long for Him to confide in me and entrust Himself to me. I desire more revelation from His Word and personal revelation from the Holy Spirit. That level of friendship takes time and space.
The picture of the cove, the farmland on the hillside and the parable of the sower, remind me to cultivate the soil of my heart. We are instructed to guard our heart because it is the wellspring of life—my part (Prov. 4:23). I’m dependent on God to create a pure heart and renew steadfast spirit within me—God’s part (Ps. 51:10). I know that when I seek God’s face with all my heart, He will capture my gaze, and we’ll sit face- to-face.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
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