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About this series
One at a Time
The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World
Have you ever considered the remarkable impact Jesus has had on history? Think about it… He lived over 2000 years ago and only had a small group of followers. Yet fast forward to today, Christianity is the leading world religion. So what was Jesus’ secret? In this 8-part series, guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the unexpectedly simple practices Jesus used to change our world. Don’t miss how you and I can continue the work He started… one interaction, one conversation, one life.. at a time.More from this series
I had a gift that was given to me a few years ago by a lady in the church. She gave me a couple of packets of seeds. If I remember right, they were seeds for pumpkins and watermelons…which is fun. But I am not a farmer, and if I want a watermelon, I’ll go to the store and buy one. And if I want a pumpkin, I’ll pick one up in pumpkin season. Like, I love the idea of planting a seed and cultivating it and growing it, but it just takes so much time and effort and work.
And so I stuck those packets of seeds in the junk drawer in my kitchen where everything goes to die. And I left them there, and I forgot about ‘em. Didn’t really think much about them. But occasionally there would be a time where I would think, “Man, you know what sounds good right now is a watermelon.” And I would remember the watermelon seeds. But that didn’t do me any good at the time, because they needed to be planted…I don’t even know how long ago because I never actually read the back of the packet.
This is the “in then through” challenge. And I think most of us, if you’re a parent, you’ve certainly experienced it. Where you’ve needed something within you, spiritually or emotionally, at a certain moment, but you realize in that moment you don’t have it. And if you were going to have it, you needed to start a long time ago trying to get it, right?
Or maybe in marriage… You reach this place in your marriage where you recognize there’s a certain way God wants you to respond. And that’s how you want to respond, but if you’re going to respond that way, you needed to start a long time ago learning to respond that way. And this is the “in then through” way of the seed. That today is the day that that seed gets planted and cultivated and begins to grow. Today is the day.
And for some of you, God is wanting to do some work in you later, and if you wait until later, you won’t have it in you. So today is the day we plant, and today is the day we cultivate. We let the seed go into the dirt. And it doesn’t feel like anything is happening in the dirt, but something is happening.
The seed, the Word of God, is not buried; it’s planted. There’s a difference between something being buried and planted. It’s not buried; it’s planted, and it’s going to bear a harvest if you do not give up, if you keep being intentional to water it. You keep praying. You keep studying Scripture. You keep guarding your heart and mind from the weeds that would want to choke it out. You pull the weeds in your life by repenting, confessing, having accountability. You cultivate that seed, and something will begin to break through. It takes time.
For some of you, what God wants to do in you—and eventually through you—is going to come out of something that happened to you. And what you’ve tried to do up until this point is you’ve tried to forget about what happened to you. You’ve tried to move on. You’ve tried to close that page altogether. But here’s the thing: There are some things that God wants to do in you because of what happened to you that eventually will lead to the great work He wants to do through you. And so we don’t want to just be done with it. Like, we want God’s grace, but we want Him to redeem those things—do His work in us so that He can accomplish His work through us.
It takes time. I think of Joseph. Age seventeen, he has this dream about how God might use him. But it wasn’t going to be instant. He dreamed of having great influence, but it wasn’t Insta-influence. Took time. So for the next twenty years, sold into slavery, put in prison. But there are things that are happening in him during that season and God would do great things through him.
I think of Moses. Moses wanted God to work through him in a powerful way to free His people from the Egyptians. One day, when Moses is a young man, he…in an impulsive moment, he kills this Egyptian soldier who’s abusing one of his Jewish brothers. And he has to flee for his life. He goes to the backside of the desert. He works for his father-in-law for forty years. I’m guessing he had long since given up on this dream that God would do something powerful through him. But for those forty years, God was at work in him, and then one day there’s a bush that’s burning and God says, “Something is going to break through. Now is the time.”
Some of you have given up on a dream, but God never gave up on it in your life. Like, you knew as a young person that God wanted to work through you in some way. Like, you had these ideas of how you could make a difference, and you’ve given up on them. God hasn’t given up on it. There are some things that needed to happen in you—and maybe are still happening in you—but He’s going to do His work through you. There’s something that’s happening in the dirt, something that’s happening in the soil.
And so Jesus unpacks this parable for the disciples. They come to Him and say, “Hey, what’s all this mean?” Verse 14, Jesus says, “The farmer sows the Word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the Word is sown. As they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the Word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the Word and at once receive it with joy.” So there’s some emotion to it. “But since they have no root, it only lasts a short time. (And) When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word , they quickly fall away. Still others are like seed sown among thorns. They hear the Word ; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word , making it unfruitful.” And finally, “Others (are) like seed sown on good soil, hear the Word , accept it.” They receive it. They “produce a (good) crop.”
In Matthew’s account of this parable, he makes it clear that the farmer in the parable is Jesus. That Jesus is the One who sows the Word. It strikes me that last week we talked about the shepherd and the lost sheep. The shepherd goes and He rescues the lost sheep. And we’re listening to that parable, and we’re like, “I’m the shepherd.” No, you’re the sheep. This week it’s the farmer who sows the seed, right? “I’m the farmer.” Nope. You’re the dirt. Like, in this parable, our role is to be soil where the seed, the Word of God, can take root and can grow.
But Jesus mentions four different kinds of soil. So I just kind of want to see where you’re at on these four different spiritual soils. Because in large part, the condition of the soil is going to determine the work of God in you and through you.
So the first kind of soil he talks about is the path, which is another way of saying the road. And on the road, it’s hard, and the seeds don’t really have a chance to get into the soil because the surface is so hard.
Matthew 13—Jesus speaks of those who have closed their ears, have shut their eyes and have hardened their hearts. And this is where some of you are. Like, you do not want to be here. You’re here because you feel like you have to be for one reason or another, or because you’re trying to keep the peace. You’re trying to meet some kind of expectations. But spiritually you have become hard and cold and cynical, indifferent. You don’t like being here. You don’t like me. You’re ready to get out of here and go do something different. I know it. There are some of you, like, I can see… Like, I can see it. Like, sometimes I think you forget that you can see me, but I can see you, too. And you know, there’s just that look. Your arms are crossed. Don’t feel bad if your arms are crossed right now. That’s just how some of you listen. But you’ve got that look in your eyes. Like, you’re not open and you don’t care.
And if that’s where you’re at, then you’re in a really dangerous place spiritually. There are seeds that are being sown in your life, and it’s just landing on this hard surface. When you reach that place spiritually, it’s hard to know you’re there. There’s something about a hard heart that makes it hard to know your heart is hard.
So let me give you just a few symptoms of a hard heart that I hope will kind of break through a little bit of that soil.
One thing is you’re just going through the motions. You’re just going through the motions. Like, you’re doing some things, but it’s more muscle memory. That your heart is not in it. You’re kind of checking a list. That’s not real.
Number two is spiritual apathy. You have no spiritual energy right now. Like, the idea of taking any time to pray at all seems heavy, and you don’t have time for it. Like, spiritually, you just don’t have any passion or energy.
Or number three, there’s this stubborn resistance. Where God has, for some time, convicted you of sin that you know needs to be repented of and confessed. You know it. And you keep putting it off, and the longer you put off, here’s what happens: The harder your heart has become. And now that conviction is just barely there anymore. It was strong for a while, but the more you put God off, the harder your heart becomes, until you just suddenly, one day, no longer care—and then, at some point, almost celebrate the rebellion.
Or maybe another indicator would be this bitter resentment. You’re angry with God because you blame Him for something you’re going through. That you thought your life would be different right now than it is, and you feel like that’s His fault. That He owes you something. You have this sense of entitlement, spiritually. And so some things have gone wrong in your life. Not how you thought they would go. And maybe, you know, your parents split up, or the doctor gave you a diagnosis, or you were let go from your job, or your spouse broke your heart—or any number of things or a combination of things—and your heart has just become hard towards God.
Number five, you’re always thinking about what God wants to do in someone else’s life, but never really taking much time to think about your own. This is…this is religious hard-heartedness. And so it’s this idea that you’re listening to a message, and the whole time you listen to the message, you’re thinking of people who need to hear it other than yourself. Like, you’re like, “Oh, I hope he hears this. I hope she’s paying attention this weekend.” Like, that’s an indication of hard-heartedness—where it’s always somebody else in your life that needs the message, but there’s not a lot of humility or self-reflection in your own life.
Second soil is rocky places. This is a seed that is sown and immediately was received with joy, but there’s…there’s no root to it. So they receive it with some emotion, but they…they don’t cultivate it. And so it comes up quickly, but then it doesn’t last because the roots aren’t deep.
And I think spiritually that this has been true for many of us at different times, where we had some moment where we experience something spiritually. Like, God moved us or spoke to us or inspired us or convicted us and challenged us, and a seed got planted in the soil. But we didn’t really do anything with it. In fact, you leave church or you leave that moment, whenever it was, and you quickly get your mind on other things. And now you look back on it, and you think, Well, I was spiritually manipulated. That was just all emotion. That wasn’t real. It probably was real, but it landed among a lot of rocks. And you didn’t do anything to clear out the rocks. Like, you didn’t keep cultivating the soil, and so no roots took place. For some of you, this needs to be the year of roots in your faith, where you are intentional to spiritually mature and not just live on the emotion of moments.
Third type of soil Jesus mentions is among thorns, or we could translate that as among weeds. The idea is that these seeds are planted, but they’re planted among all kinds of weeds. And so the moment they start to surface…something comes through the ground…the weeds choke it out. He mentions three different kinds of weeds: the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the pleasures of life. And so I think what happens for a lot of us…maybe even in this moment, right? That you have some conviction about something God wants to do in you. A seed gets planted in the soil. But then, even today, you’re going to go plant some weeds among the seeds and then wonder why nothing grows. Like, even today you know you’re going to go fill your heart and your mind with these things: worries of this life, deceitfulness of wealth, the pleasures of this life. You’re going to fill your garden with those weeds, and the seed that’s getting planted right now is going to get choked out.
And so it’s not just that a seed gets planted; it’s that weeds get pulled—and especially that weeds don’t get planted. And it’s the “in then through” way of the kingdom.
God’s wanting to do something in you. A seed is being planted right now, and the way God has designed it is that the seed is hardwired for harvest. That’s the power of His Word. It’s the promise of His Word. That if the Word of God is planted as a seed in the soil of your heart and you cultivate it and take care of it, a harvest will come. It will come. It’s the way of nature. If you plant a seed in the ground and you take care of it and the soil is good, there’s a harvest that’s hardwired in the seed to multiply many times over the seed. And so what does God want to do in you to accomplish His work through you?
One of the things I love about watching God’s work in a person is I know, even if they don’t, that there are some things that’s going to happen through that person. So when I see someone making a decision, I’m thankful for what God is doing in them, but I know God is going to do some things through them. In other words, when someone makes a decision, I recognize, because I’ve seen it enough, that it’s not just that person that’s going to be impacted. It’s all these people around them. Because when God does something in you, He will do something through you in the lives of other people.
So every person you see baptized God’s doing something in them, but God’s going to do something through them. I don’t know who all those people are, but I promise you, He’s not just going to do something in that person; He’s going to do something through that person. So when you make a decision, when you spiritually allow the hard-heartedness of your heart to be broken up, like, God does something in you, but there’s other people attached. God’s going to do some things through you.
I think about my own life. I think about the “in then through” way of God. That in 1956…1956…my grandparents were far from God. They didn’t know Him. My grandpa had challenges with drinking, and there was lots of conflict in their home, lots of brokenness. They didn’t know Jesus, didn’t have a church family. Just getting by. And then one day someone came, knocked on their door, invited them to church, told them about Jesus, and God began to do His work in my grandparents and really changed everything about them—everything.
And what God did in them in 1956 continues to bear harvest all these years later. You don’t know how a decision you make now will affect the people around you and the generations to come after you. So what is it that God is wanting to do in you so that He can accomplish His work through you?