We had our church’s women’s retreat recently, where we went into the mountains and shared food, conversation and heard from three women in our church about how God has helped them through a difficult time.
When I first heard that would be the focus of the retreat, I thought it was a little odd. “Isn’t that overly negative,” I wondered, “to spend the whole day focusing on difficult times?”
Imagine my surprise when I came away from the retreat feeling more encouraged and refreshed in my faith than ever!
Two of the women shared about having their children go through serious illnesses, and the other woman shared about losing her youngest child in a drowning accident when he was nearly two.
It was heartbreaking to hear these women share the things they have been through – things no mother should go through! – and I wasn’t even experiencing it first hand.
But what really stood out to me from these testimonies, and what encouraged me so greatly, was the way these women were each able to get through (and keep getting through) their horrible circumstances because of their relationship with God.
I mean, I love hearing about people who follow Jesus through ordinary life, and stay strong in their faith. But hearing about people who go through horrific things and still trust Jesus is just amazing to me.
And it brings to mind to mind the parable that Jesus told about the farmer who sowed his seeds on the different types of ground.
The different types of ground represent different people who hear the message about God’s kingdom:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
There are many people who accept the word of the gospel, but when hardships come along, they “fall away”.
What is the difference here between the person who falls away because of hardships, and the person who “produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”? Does the fruitful Christian never encounter hardships?
This is certainly not the case. The difference is in the soil and the roots of the “plant”.
Jesus explains that the seed falling on good soil “refers to someone who hears the word and understands it”.
I think Jesus is referring to people’s relationship with himself here.
In John 1 we see that Jesus is the “Word”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Do you hear Jesus? Do you understand him?
To understand someone, we must be in relationship with them. We must spend time with them. We must listen to them. We must open our heart to them (to varying degrees, depending on the relationship).
It’s not enough to simply listen to what Jesus says. Anyone can read his words.
What makes the difference, whether in times of hardship or times of wealth (see parable of the sower – the “deceitfulness of wealth” can also choke out the word), is whether we truly know Jesus.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The most important thing you can do with your life is to prioritise your relationship with Jesus. Really get to know him.
Don’t let it be you on the last day, begging for recognition on the basis of your good deeds, but ultimately turned away because Jesus never knew you.