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The Soils of the Collegiate Heart


The Soils of the Collegiate Heart

Our neighborhood was less than five years old when we bought our first house in Huntsville two years ago. Most of the trees were nearly that young too. Our cute little home came furnished with three cute little trees—all about as tall as me when we first moved in. When our first Alabama spring came around, I noticed that two out of the three trees began to bloom beautifully. But the third was… struggling. In fact, that little tree looked like it much preferred the fall to the spring­—crisp, golden leaves and all.

One day I was in the back yard when my neighbor Mike decided he had enough of my ignorance of what had really happened to my little always-autumn-never-spring tree. “Looks like your tree’s dead over there, Reid. Yep, it’s definitely a goner.” He was right. No longer three cute little trees. Just two.

So I got out my one shovel and attempted to dig out the roots and pull up the dead tree. I loosened the foundation just enough to begin tugging on the little trunk.  With my first hard pull the tree came out of the ground so fast that I almost fell to the ground. But it was the bottom of the tree that caught my attention. Apparently, when the builders planted our little trees they didn’t break up the ground enough around this particular one. The roots had grown in on themselves—and the tree had choked itself to death. It looked like a ball of snakes wrapped around the base of our tiny tree. The soil was too hard, the roots too entangled.

And there I stood—with an upside noose in my hand—and a picture of what can happen in my own heart time and time again: when “the worries of this life… choke the word of God, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
In the “Parable of the Sower” Jesus tells a huge crowd of people about four types of soils. And one type of seed. The seed, Jesus tells us, is “the message about the Kingdom” (v.19). It’s God’s Word. It’s the Gospel. And the different soils are the various types of hearts of those who hear the Word of God—yet something different happens with the seed in each case. One seed, four soils. 

As a campus minister, I have the opportunity to see all four types of soil on a daily basis. In fact, I think that college can often be the time our soil is tested for the first time, and our hearts begin to be exposed.

You may be a student now—headed to college soon, or perhaps already in the middle of your degree. Or maybe you’re a parent or grandparent of a college student. And you might be wondering: which soil am I? That’s a great question! Let’s consider:

The Hard Soil
First there’s the Hard Soil—the one that’s really just a path, where the ground is too firm, too impenetrable for the seed to ever take root. Instead, the seed lands on top of this firm soil and is eventually either blown away by the wind or eaten by the birds. The Hard Soil might be the student who grew up hearing of the Gospel (perhaps in his home and in his home church), but his heart is closed to the message. Jesus says that the evil one is at work here—snatching away the message before it takes root (v.19).

The Rocky Soil
Then Jesus talks about the Rocky Soil—the soil that’s characterized as “shallow” and “no root” and “not much.” Essentially the seed that falls into this soil remains only for a time, but in the end it’s scorched and dies out. The Rocky Soil can represent the student who had a strong “spiritual experience” in high school. Someone who is very excited to tell everyone about his most recent mission trip, or how many bible studies he’s been a part of, or how much He’s “done for Jesus.” But there’s very little understanding of how much Jesus has done for him. And when the time of testing comes, “they quickly fall away” (v.21).

The college campus is full of the rocky soil. I’ve seen this in my own life as I was the Rocky Soil of my college. During my freshman year, I felt that everyone I met should hear how much I had accomplished for Jesus while in high school. There was very little room on my spiritual résumé for how much Jesus had accomplished for me. And when my faith was put to the test it proved to be shallow. There was no room for the seed to take root.

The Thorny Soil
The third soil is the Thorny Soil. This one is tricky. This soil is capable of production, but what’s competing with the seed in the thorny soil is why the seed just can’t take root. This is the soil that killed my tree. There was no room for growth because there’s too much fighting for life just underneath the ground. And the seed won’t last. All of us, to a degree, live in what appears to be thorny soil. Jesus says that this is the soil that is tangled in “the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (v.22).

College students know something of these entangling thorns: The worries of relationships. The deceitfulness of popularity. The anxiety of life after graduation. The deceitfulness of a perfect future. Our happiness in Christ is challenged by the thorny weeds all around us—competing for life in the soils of our hearts.

The Good Soil
But it’s the fourth soil in Jesus’ list—the Good Soil—that’s the one that we all want to be, right? This soil produces the right kind of crop. The good seed planted in the good soil yields a plentiful harvest. Jesus says that the good soil “produces a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (v.8).

We all want to be the Good Soil. But how do we get there? We are left at the end of Jesus’ parable begging for a to-do list. If you’re the Hard Soil, you want to know what you have to do to break up the tough path you find yourself underneath. If you’re the Rocky Soil, you want to know what it will take to remove the rocks all around you so that you can be a better producer of good fruit. If you’re the Thorny Soil, you want to know what you can do to cut down the life-sucking thorny spikes—how you can unwrap the entangling roots that are competing for your heart.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us with a to-do list. Instead He leaves us with a picture of a soil that can’t do anything to make itself more productive. My dead tree could not unwrap its suffocating roots. The rocky soil can’t lift a finger to fling its dangerous stones. The soil has no power.

The Seed
It is the Seed—the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that has all the power to explode the soils of our hearts—removing any and all obstacles that prevent the roots from going out. And it is the Sower—the One who has sown the Word in our hearts—who has all the power to take His message deep, causing real growth and producing lasting fruit. 

We are not given a to-do list. But we are given a loving, attentive and kind Sower who desires to cultivate the gardens of our hearts so that we’ll produce fruit that He loves, for His glory alone, both in college and beyond college for the rest of our lives.

What then does the soil “do”? It receives the good Seed. And it receives good care from the good Sower. If you’re a student and you’re asking the question, “Which soil am I?,” allow me to encourage you to put yourself in a position to receive the Word while you’re in college. To be near the good Gardener who wants to produce good fruit in and through your life. Sit under God’s taught word in the local church. Find fellowship with other Christians your age—perhaps in a college ministry on your campus. Stay near the power-filled, life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. And watch him yield a crop in your life “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”


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Reid Jones is the campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at UAH. He is also a Teaching Elder in our local presbytery. This article is the adaptation of a message Reid shared this spring with a group of graduating seniors in our Sr. High-Life ministry. Reid and his wife Kelly and their two daughters have lived and ministered in Huntsville for three years. You can contact Reid via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).