Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21 (NIV) “Some (seed) fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”
Some of the land in Israel is shallow, only a thin layer of dirt over a layer of rock. In order to farm this type of land, it is necessary to break up the rock layer, or to bring in additional top soil to provide room for the root system to form. This is backbreaking, often fruitless work, so many farmers would simply not bother trying to farm the rocky ground, putting their efforts instead into the deeper-soiled parts of the land.
If a broadcast seed fell on this shallow soil, the early results were often impressive. Since the new plant only had to break through a very thin layer of soil, those plants appeared several days ahead of those in the deeper soil. And, as long as the early rains continued, they flourished and thrived.
But as soon as the rains stopped and the warm weather hit, those robust plants quickly shriveled and died, because the rocky substrate wouldn’t hold any appreciable moisture. Before long, what was once impressive growth had morphed into barren ground.
It is the same for those with shallow hearts – open on the surface, but hard underneath. Often those people take up the faith very quickly, and are impressive in their speedy growth. They are often held up as poster children for the type of transformation that we want to see in our churches. If they are celebrities, their conversions are often quickly held up as great victories for the cause of Christ.
But then comes the busyness of life, or trials, or tragedies, or struggles, and what was once considered vibrant spirituality dries up, because there never really was any root there. And many in the church are left shaking their heads, wondering what happened.
It is tempting in these cases to blame a lack of follow-up or a lack of discipleship for those failures. And if a lot of time and effort had been spent on them, if they had been constantly surrounded by mature Christians working on helping them to grow, they might have lasted a while longer, just as a wheat plant growing in shallow soil might last longer if someone constantly feeds it water and nutrients, and shades it from the warmth of the sun. But plants like that won’t ever be strong or fruitful, and the first time they are left alone, they will still shrivel up and die.
The sun, far from being an enemy in this scenario, is actually a good thing. The same warmth that provides strength for growth for the properly planted seeds, also quickly shows which plants are doomed because they are planted in shallow soil and have no roots. We often try to shield our converts from any trials or tests of their faith, out of fear that those trials will cause them to fall away. Bu if they are strongly rooted, those trials will help them to grow and mature. If they are not strongly rooted, expending so much time and energy in an ultimately futile attempt to shelter them will, at best, result in “greenhouse” Christians who can’t successfully live out their lives in the real world.
The truth of the shallow Christian was a key reason that Jesus wouldn’t entrust Himself to people, not even those whose initial devotion to Him seemed powerful. Life itself, and the trials that arose against those who chose to follow Him, would quickly show Him whose faith was shallow, and whose was rooted deeply enough to go the distance.
Father, this seems harsh to a lot of people, but many of us have experienced the excitement that comes from what seems to be powerful growth in a new Christian, followed by the disappointment of watching a complete collapse as soon as their faith is tested. I agree that good discipleship is vital for new believers, but I can also see that the most powerful discipleship program imaginable is not as beneficial as making sure that the soil of a person’s heart is deep before trying to plant the seeds of the gospel. It takes more work to do that on the front end, but the final results are worth the wait. Thank you for these insights. Amen.