For the last few years I have been struck by the depth and the precision of the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. When Jesus explains the parable, he says that the “word of God” is offered to four different kinds of “hearts” resulting in four different kinds of reactions.

SPOILER ALERT:  Having the right kind of heart is the key—I mean it is really, extremely, vitally important. You’ll see.

  1. The first kind of heart, compared to a rocky path, does receive the word of God but the devil comes and takes it away.
  2. The second kind of heart receives the word temporarily but when difficulties or persecution come they “fall away.”
  3. The third kind of heart seems to embrace the word of God more deeply but it is choked out by love of wealth and the things of this world.
  4. We aren’t focusing on the fourth kind of heart but it is the exception. Described as good and honest, it receives the word, like good soil receiving a good seed, and the word inside grows up through perseverance and produces thirty, or sixty, or one hundred times.

When you hear a sermon on this passage the pastor ordinarily asks, “What kind of heart do you have?” But we are going in a different direction this time.

In my experience with Muslims, I would say that the vast majority have the first kind of heart. Whenever they hear the gospel they usually reject it and take pride in their Islamic life. It is just like in the parable. Before the gospel can take root, Satan comes in like a bird eating a seed and takes it away. It is a terrifying to watch and is all too common in our interactions here.

The second kind of heart is also common. Being transformed by the word of God gives one the power to overcome the difficulties of this world. Isn’t it tragic that these people do not recognize that, rejecting the word out of fear, scrambling to solve life’s problems by themselves?

When I tell this parable to people in America, I ask, “which kind of soil are you?” and in almost every case I am told that they identify with the third kind of heart. They had really believed in Jesus as a child but had abandoned him to make a life for themselves. Again, I don’t get it. How do they plan to make a life better than the one God has planned for them?

Main point: There are 3 reasons that people don’t follow Jesus. Here are the possibilities again:

  1. A callous and proud heart that rejects the word of God and does not allow it to take root.
  2. A shallow and fearful heart that discards the word of God in the face of worldly problems.
  3. A selfish heart that discards the word of God in exchange for the things of this world.

So what: In the beginning, people with heart types number two and three still go to church and call themselves Christian. They sometimes teach Sunday School, they give advice and may even present themselves as Christian mentors. No wonder life can seem so tangled. I’d love to hear your thoughts.