My wife loves to work in our landscaping. She would consider this one of her hobbies, and she’s very passionate about it. Because she loves working in the flower beds, I get the privilege of helping out. Last week Lisa began working on building another flower bed. Upon its completion we will have completely encircled the house.
Before any flowers or plants can be planted, the soil must be prepared. We take our wheelbarrow out into the yard, and begin mixing equal parts of sand, top soil, peat moss, and the natural soil from the bed itself. This is mixed in the wheelbarrow, then dumped into the bed where it is stirred in with the existing soil.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described four soil types which represent our reception of the message of the Kingdom. The parable is designed for us to see ourselves and to identify which kind of soil we possess. Which brings us to another question: How do I improve my soil type? How can I increase my responsiveness and fruitfulness? James 1:19-22 gives us three ways we can improve our reception of the message of the Kingdom.
1. REMOVE THE OBSTACLES. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters. You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives…” (James 1:19-21a)
Before we can receive the message of the Kingdom, we have to eliminate obstacles. This is not unlike preparing a flower bed by pulling out the rock and debris before adding good soil. James gives us some suggestions as to what kinds of obstacles impede our reception of the word. He mentions anger, filth and evil. I don’t think James is giving an exhaustive listing. He offers some examples of obstacles. Each of us would do well to consider the things in our lives that get in the way of our hearing and work to eliminate them.
2. CULTIVATE HUMILITY. “…and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls” (James 1:21b)
Our relationship to the word is important. Every day we are either “under” the word or “over” the word. By this I mean we either approach the word with humility, placing ourselves under its authority, or we approach the word with pride, placing ourselves above its authority. In my Baptist tradition I have always admired the fact that we as Baptists are “people of the book,” and that our high view of Scripture enables us to see the Scripture as our authority for faith and practice.
3. ACT, or RESPOND. “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says” (James 1:22).
Once obstacles are removed and we receive the word with humility, we must act upon what the message calls for us to do. James continues, “For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for what you do” (James 1:23-25).