When talking about the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus Christ says something about thorny and stony ground that is well worth considering as a warning. Matthew 13:18-23 reads as follows: “ “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”” A great many people wonder about the best way to preach the word so that it will lead to the right kind of response, and wonder about how it is that the Word of God can be best communicated to those who might be being called at the moment but who certainly are not chosen as of yet.
Yet the parable of the sower would appear to indicate that the decisive element is not so much about the sower and the seed but about the ground, that is, the heart, in which that seed is planted. A great many people have been powerful for God despite being deeply flawed in some way or another. And no one was better suited to preach the Word of God than the Word Himself, and yet a great many people rejected His Word for one reason or another. It is likely that any who take the serious responsibility of preaching and teaching and speaking out of the Bible is going to do so conscientiously to the best of their ability. Even those whose understanding is limited and whose obedience is only partial have a genuine desire to help other people. This is true even when what they are doing is calling upon people to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as a savior in the comments sections of online videos via a copied and pasted response, not perhaps the most obvious way that one can expect to be heard gladly or taken seriously. Even those who may not be sincere preachers of the world who seek to gain power or make merchandise out of the Word may be helpful to others simply by speaking from the Word. God works through many unworthy vessels, among whom we might count ourselves in our more reflective moments.
Ultimately though, we have little control over the preaching style or approach of other people. We may have our own tastes and preferences, but there is little that we can do to shape the way that other people approach us. What we do have control over is the state of the soil in which that Word is planted. Indeed, we not only have control over that ground, but we have responsibility for it. Let us begin with the good ground, where everyone wants to be. What is necessary for one’s heart to be good ground for the Word? One has to hear it, understand it, and bear fruit. These are by no means straightforward and obvious. A great many people do not, for one reason or another, hear the Word. They are too busy and focused on other things (the cares of this world), or they may be so offended by the messenger or the approach that they do not pay attention to the message. Then, assuming that one has heard the Word, it is then necessary to understand it. A great many people hear the Word, hear it often, and do not understand it because their thought process are led astray by false doctrines and incorrect teachings that tell them that black is white, day is night, and wrong is right (and vice versa). And if we should get these correct, it is necessary to apply what we have heard and understand, to obey the Word and to let it bear fruit within our lives. This is by no means easy. A great many people may be attentive to what others say and may understand a great deal but not be able to put that understanding into practice, and so remain unfruitful.
How are we to know where stand? It is not easy to figure out what kind of ground we stand on. We might first begin with the ending. Can we see our life bearing fruit in godly service and deeds of love and consideration for other people? Do others recognize us as a kindly and loving person? No matter how well we may think of ourselves, if other people do not feel loved and cared for by us, we are probably not doing well enough in that regard. If we do not find that we are bearing fruit, then it is clear that we are not properly applying God’s ways in our lives. We must then turn to questions of understanding. Here it is best to either take advantage of opportunities or to engage in thought experiments to see how it is that we respond to people bringing difficult and painful truths before us. Our response will let us know if we are really seeking to understand what God requires of us or if we are rather seeking to justify ourselves. We can then take it a bit further back and examine how attentive we are to instruction and edification, if we believe we struggle at that level. Either way, if we are on thorny or stony ground, we should know it and respond accordingly.