Before God’s Word can grow in us it has to be planted, but even before that can happen, the soil of our hearts has to be prepared. God Himself becomes our gardener as we surrender to the workmanship of His hands.
For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you,
and you shall be tilled and sown.
(Ezek. 36:9 ESV)
If you were to drive by the house I currently live in, you would see that the front yard is all graveled in, and has been for close to eight years now (as I write this). Just think how much work it would take if I wanted to change out the graveled yard for a grassy yard.
Years of heavy rock covering the ground, along with the plastic and lack of water reaching down into the earth, has made it very compacted. If I wanted anything to grow on it (other than weeds), I would have to do a lot of prep work first. It’s the same with our hearts. Years of disbelief, rebelliousness, ignorance, and selfishness can cause a heart to be just as hard and barren as the ground under my rocks. In the same way that I would have to remove the gravel and the plastic, God has to remove things from us—and our hearts—before true work can begin.
Now, once I remove the gravel and the plastic, my yard still wouldn’t be ready to grow grass. If I were to put seed out there, it would most likely blow away before any of it could really take root. The ground would take the seed much better if I were to plow it up and loosen the soil first. Again, the same is true with us. We have to let God into our hearts and plow up places that have become hardened before the seed of His Word can be planted in us.
It is amazing that God does not tell us to go get cleaned up first before coming to Him. He takes us just as we are! In the same way the father went running out to the prodigal son and hugged him—filth and all—God embraces us. Then He says “He will...” for us. Read Ezekiel 36:22–36 with me:
I Will Put My Spirit Within You
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, thus says the LORD GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the LORD GOD, when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the LORD GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
“Thus says the LORD GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it (ESV).
Did you happen to notice how many times the passage said, “I will”? God has always been so willing to do so much for us. When you think about it, He doesn’t ask us to do all that much, but to simply come into a relationship with Him. He takes ninety-nine steps to our every one. Yet, how often is that one step we do take away from—rather than towards—Him?
In Hosea 6:4 God compares His people to that of the morning dew that quickly dries up. We are the same. We can read something in the morning, be it a verse of Scripture or a devotional; we can go to church and hear a sermon, and think, Oh wow, I really liked that! We’re excited at the moment for God, but hours later, we’re completely void. This is not real fellowship with God; it is superficial and nothing more than lip service. Any watering that the soil of our hearts was supposed to have received is like water poured upon on my graveled yard—it dries up in the heat of the day.
In order for God to break up the hardened soil of our hearts, He must remove things that have seeped into our hearts that were never of Him. But, what is interesting is that He also goes to work in our minds. The way we think and our perspective of things has to be filtered and restored. Wrong ways of thinking have to be corrected. In fact, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV).
The Bible says that our eyes are the light into our bodies—and when our eyes are good the rest of us is good (read Matthew 6:22–23). So what we allow our minds to be filled with (through what we allow our eyes to look at or watch) will feed into our hearts. This applies to our hearing as well, the things we listen to directly affect our minds and feed into our souls. For example, if a child is raised up with a lot of foul language and is allowed to watch inappropriate things, how do you think that child will talk as a teenager? When we allow ourselves to be filled with many ungodly things, our hearts will harden in ways we don’t realize, and hinder God’s Word from impacting us. We can be “good people” and still have crusty hearts. So God will take the time to “plow” up the soil of our hearts.
When we truly desire to live a life that is totally surrendered to God, He will remove the things that do not please Him, or things that were not necessarily bad, but just not of Him. He will also cut off branches in our lives that are more dead than we realize and prune us of excess foliage that is consuming, distracting, and flat out hindering us from growing into all that He would have for us. Look at John 15:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:1–6 NASB).
Is this a lot of work? Yes it is, but it is necessary if we are to be prepared to receive God’s Word in a full and rich fashion that will not only grow in us, but also bear lasting fruit that will bless us (and those around us). Have you lifted your arms up lately to the gardener to say, “Here I am...”?