Anxiety over loved ones who have resisted the gospel and rebelled against the Lord is one of the heaviest burdens we carry in our mature years. When I ask members of our congregation how I can best pray for them, the request I hear most often involves sorrow over a family member who is far from God.
Where there is openness to the truth, you have the opportunity to speak into a person’s life, but sometimes the door to spiritual conversation is slammed shut, leaving you to tip toe round the things that are of supreme and eternal importance.
You can pray. But sustaining hope in prayer isn’t easy if, after years and maybe even decades, there is no sign of softening in the heart of someone you love. So I’m writing this month to bring some encouragement.
Hard, Thorny, Shallow Hearts
Our Lord spoke about different responses to his Word in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). The Word brings an abundant harvest in some lives, but in others, its results seem disappointing.
The problem does not lie in the seed but in the soil, which may be hard, thorny, or shallow. Your loved one may once have professed faith, but when trouble came, he or she lost all interest. Or perhaps, being preoccupied with the opportunities of their crammed lives, they have no room for the Lord. Or maybe they are simply defiant in their rejection of the truth, which seems to have made no lasting impression on their lives.
So what hope is there for hard, thorny, or shallow hearts?
God Wields the Plow
We are familiar with a pattern of farming in which fields are plowed before they are sown. But in the time of Jesus, it was the other way round: Farmers would scatter their seed first, and then they would plough the ground.
The farmer who scattered seed on hard ground did so knowing that, when the plough came, the resistant soil would be broken up. When that happened, the seed that lay on the surface would fall into the freshly broken ground.
The good news is that God can wield the plough long after the seed has been sown. God can break up the hardest ground, dig out the largest stones, and pull out the most stubborn weeds, and when he does, the living seed that was planted long ago will spring to life and bear wonderful fruit.
The Story of Luke Short
I came across a marvelous example of this in the story of Luke Short, a teenager who lived in the beautiful town of Dartmouth, England, in the middle years of the seventeenth century.
Luke attended church, but his heart was far from God, and despite the faithful preaching of his pastor, the seed of God’s Word made no impression on the hard ground of Luke’s heart.
One Sunday when Luke was about 15-years-old, his pastor, John Flavel, preached a solemn message on the words of 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.” The sermon made a deep impression on many in the congregation, but it had no effect on Luke.
Some time later, Luke was among the early pioneers who sailed to America, where he became a farmer. Luke pursued a godless life in the new world until one day, remarkably at the age of 100-years-old, God brought the message Luke had heard as a 15-year-old back to his mind.
An Abundant Harvest
Luke knew he had not loved the Lord Jesus Christ. He felt the weight of the curse that was on him and, being deeply convicted of his sin, he turned in faith and repentance to the Lord Jesus Christ. The living seed of the Word of God lay on the hard-baked soil of Luke’s life for 85 years. But when the plough of God’s Spirit came, the seed produced an abundant harvest.
The good news is that you never know where the Spirit of God will be ploughing next. What you can be sure of is that where he plows, there will always be a harvest, even if the seed was planted many years ago.