What Makes Good Soil?
May 1, 2019
By Vicki Bunke
This past March, I had the privilege of being one of the chaperones on the 4th and 5th grade Scream Retreat. The Scream Retreat is a youth gathering in the North Georgia mountains that is so wonderfully special and remarkably fun that all of our 4th and 5th grade students look forward to it each year, and it always “sells out.” Now I know why!
Scream Retreat 2019’s theme was based on Matthew 13:8, which is part of a story that Jesus told about a sower who scattered seeds on four different types of soil. The first type of ground was hard, and the seed could not sprout or grow at all and became snatched up instantly. The second type of ground was stony. The seed was able to plant and begin to grow; however, it could not grow deep roots and withered in the sun. The third type of ground was thorny and although the seed could plant and grow, it could not compete with the amount of thorns that overtook it. The fourth ground was good soil that allowed the seed to plant with deep roots, grow strong, and produce fruit.
Although Jesus calls this The Parable of the Sower, the focus of His explanation seems to be not on the sower but on the seeds and where they fall. In the parable, He makes it pretty clear that the circumstances and situations that allow for seeds to grow and bear fruit is dependent upon one thing: good soil. While this is one of the parables that Jesus goes on to explain, He does not go into much detail as to what makes for good soil.
Therefore, throughout the Scream Retreat weekend, I kept asking myself the following question, “What makes good soil?”
I decided that perhaps good soil requires at least three things: humility to be able to hear, faith to be able to believe in the impossible, and conviction to be able to act.
Jesus actually addresses the first one: “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.”
Unfortunately, it seems that, for adults anyway, our ability to hear God’s message is often impeded by our own assumptions, pride, or biases. But kids are different. During the Scream Retreat, I watched all of them running around having fun with their friends. They weren’t worried about what time breakfast was or what we were going to eat for lunch. They weren’t concerned about what the next activity was going to be or what obstacles might be thrown in their way that day. No, they just enjoyed the moment and relied on us to guide and take care of them that weekend. I think it is children’s very willingness to trust and rely on others to guide them that they are able to live humbly. And by living humbly, they in turn, are able to truly hear what God is trying to tell them.
During the Scream Retreat, I also had the opportunity to listen to this incredible group of children provide their testimonies and even sometimes lead the entire Scream Retreat group in prayer. At these moments, I realized that being good soil requires that one have the capacity to see beyond what is currently happening toward what might be possible. Young children don’t take their first steps considering they are going to fall. But rather, they take their first steps because they know they can walk. By the end of the week, I concluded that believing the impossible is easier for children because their past experience never gets in the way of telling them it cannot be done. Good soil requires child-like faith because only a heart filled with that kind of faith is able to believe that the reality of God’s promises is more real than the facts of our circumstances or situations.
And finally, I decided that to be good soil we must have the conviction to act. While the hearing and the believing may happen internally, this third piece is the outpouring of what God is doing within us for the world, our response to what we have learned and received. This, I think, may be the most important part of being good soil, but it is also oftentimes the hardest part. Living what we believe, acting on our convictions, and persevering in the face of resistance are not for the faint-hearted. In other words, attending a youth church retreat is one thing, what you do when you get home is the more important thing.
Fortunately and thankfully, however, one grain of sand never makes for good soil. No, we need a lot of dirt, all bound together so that we can help each other grow in our faith. And that is what I hope we can continue to do together with all of these incredible young children for the remainder of this year and beyond.