How does one go about paying attention to what matters most? This is what is often referred to as “spirituality,” taking the time to pay attention to the internal issues of life, the heart-soul stuff that deals with the depth of life, the below-the-waterline concerns.
Paying attention to spirituality provides stability and ballast and depth. The result is that when the storms of life blow, there’s enough internal weight to weather it and end up not just functioning but flourishing. So how do you do it, this thing called spirituality?
In His story of the four soils, Jesus tells a fascinating tale about spirituality and the importance of depth in life. “ ‘Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty’ ” (Matt. 13:3-9, NKJV).
The dynamics of spirituality (that is, paying attention to what really matters, building depth into life that produces fruitfulness and fulfillment) are quite profound in this story. The four soils represent four different approaches to life with four very different outcomes.
Spirituality is a journey, not a destination. Before we discuss the dynamics of each soil and how it applies to our spiritual lives, please notice something very important. The fact that Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to describe the spiritual life indicates that spirituality is a process not just an end result. It is a journey, not just a destination. When you plant a seed, it takes time for it to grow to full maturity. The seed doesn’t turn into a plant overnight. The plant does not produce fruit immediately. It is a process, a very dynamic and active process.
“The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful figure of Christian growth. As in nature, so in grace; there can be no life without growth. The plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the development of the Christian life. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime.1
The implications of this picture are quite profound.
First, it means that you and I need to be more patient with ourselves as we’re on this journey of transformation! Wholeness doesn’t happen all at once. We must give ourselves permission to grow over time, not immediately. The seed doesn’t become a mighty oak tree overnight. Be patient.
Second, it means that you and I need to be more patient with one another. We need to allow for others to grow—to not make judgments about each other’s growth or what might appear to be lack of growth. Just because the seed hasn’t yet burst from the ground to become a seedling doesn’t mean it’s not growing. The growth is in a more invisible stage. We must be very careful about judging other people’s spiritual growth.
That’s why Jesus’ story of the four soils describes God as a Farmer who is planting and gardening. The individual seeking spiritual growth must collaborate with the Divine. That is what the word “spirituality” is about; taking intentional steps to cooperate with Divinity in the work God is doing in our lives.2