This is the second of six articles in the series “Disciples Making Disciples,” about growing and nurturing disciples for God’s kingdom.
The headings in the Bible are not inspired, but we often treat them that way. In all the Bibles I have checked, the non-inspired heading for the parable recorded in Mark 4:3-20 is “The Sower.” But what if it was called “The Parable of the Soils”? There’s no doubt that the farmer sows the seed, but the major focus of the parable is the soil.
The type of soil where the seed fell determined the outcome. The path? No crop. The rocky and/or weed-filled soil? A crop that produced nothing. The good soil? Thirty, 60, or 100 times as much as was sown. Soil type determines outcome.
No farmer would waste seed saved from the previous crop. He had no intention of sowing seed on the rocky path or in shallow or weed-infested soil, because where the seed went determined the livelihood of the sower and his family. Their lives depended on most of the seed going into good soil. So rather than throwing his precious future away, the farmer prepared the soil well.
Soil preparation includes fertilizing, cultivating, and watering.
Jesus ate with people, served them, prayed for and ministered to them because He loved them.
Jesus’ point was not to make us better farmers or gardeners, but to make us better disciples and disciple-makers. Before the seed of the gospel is sown there must be soil preparation. In disciple-making, soil preparation prepares and softens the heart. The personal challenge implied by this parable is, What soil type is my heart, and how can it become good soil?
Jesus prepared the hearts of His hearers by mixing and eating with people, serving people, and praying for people’s needs. He ate with tax collectors, such as Zacchaeus, Matthew, and their friends (Luke 19:5-7; 5:29); Pharisees, such as Simon (Luke 7:36); friends, such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus spent a lot of time just being with people in their everyday lives. He calls us to do the same: eat with people, mix with them, accept them for who they are. We all eat two or three meals a day, and if we do it with others, as they get to know us, the Holy Spirit can use us to help soften their hearts for the gospel. The meal could be at work; at a café or restaurant; even in a home, yours or theirs; with one or two people, or with many. Most of us can do this. So bring on the food, and see what relationships result.
Jesus served people’s needs. When they were hungry, He fed them (Luke 9:10-17). When we help and serve people, we are preparing the soil in a disciple-making process. Listening with genuine empathy to a person’s problem, lending them a tool they need to fix a leak at home, looking after a person’s pet, these are ways we serve others and soften their hearts.
Sponsoring health programs about exercise or nutritious eating (CHIP), delivering food parcels, providing a community garden, holding a new mothers support group, serving in a soup kitchen, providing a finance and budgeting workshop, these and others are ways individuals in local churches can help prepare the soil in others’ hearts. Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) corporately helps people in need. Often doors are then open to other ministries because of the excellent work it does.
A group of Adventists discovered that a local school had discipline problems because its children were hungry. The Adventists started a breakfast club once a week. It was so appreciated by staff and parents that it began to operate daily. Then a kids’ club was started, and later a church. What Ellen White called “disinterested service,” doing things just because of the love of Jesus can lead to bigger things (Medical Ministry, p. 197, 246; The Ministry of Healing, p. 144, 145).
The Ministry of Prayer
“Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them”
Praying for people changes lives. When Jesus ministered to people, those who were deaf could hear, those who were blind could see, those who were ill became well, those who were demon-harassed were freed (Luke 5:38-41, 18:35-42).
Imagine the joy if you were healed by Jesus. You’d be ready to listen to whatever He had to say and follow Him (Mark 1:27, 28).
Jesus taught the disciples that the ministry of prayer makes the difference (Mark 9:29). A friend of mine asks new acquaintances, “What would you like me to pray for you about?” Nearly 100 percent of people, regardless of background, answer in the affirmative and he prays a short prayer for them and their request. Many have come back and said, “God heard your prayers,” and a God-impact story results.
Others I know have done similar things with similar results going door to door.
Sometimes when I pray for people God intervenes with a miracle, sometimes not. However, if we want to see God move and act in people’s lives, we have to pray. Prayer connects earth with heaven. God delights to hear and act on our prayers. “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13, NLT[i]). Sabbath school or other groups in the church that listen to people’s life activities and needs, then pray for them, see changes in people’s lives, and new people come to their groups. Prayer works.
Churches that have prayer walks or special prayer sessions before any “preparing the soil” or “sowing the seed” activity will be changed for the good. One church I know has run a prayer meeting for more than six months every morning at 5:30. Miracles have occurred, local church ministries are thriving, and attendance in worship is increasing.
Jesus ate with people, served them, prayed for and ministered to them because He loved them. The motive was not just to soften people’s heart so they would be a disciple, it was genuinely seeing the need and being moved to help. “Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them” (Matt. 9:36, NLT). Soil preparation is done with sincere compassion and without projecting an outcome.
A good harvest depends on soil preparation. A changed life depends on a softened heart. So why not go out individually, or with your church, and intentionally do good for others? Anyone can do it. And the results will amaze you.
Glenn Townend is president of the South Pacific Division.
[i] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ã 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.