Part V—Preparing the Soil of Your Heart
Jesus said this parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rick; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”
Luke 8: 5-8
In the introduction to his book “Get Your Life Back,” author John Eldredge writes about how the world has gone mad, citing specifically, among other things, that the internet is causing us to lose our ability to pay attention and focus for more than a few moments. Overall, the pace of life is moving too fast, and not only is this creating an intellectual problem but also a spiritual crisis. He writes:
“God wants to come and restore our lives. He really does. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him. Dry scorched ground can’t absorb the very rain it needs.” (“Get Your Life Back, John Eldredge, Nelson Books, 2020, p. xv)
The words “dry scorched ground” call to mind the image of a desert, where there is no water. The ground is dry and cracked. Nothing can grow on ground like this. The dry land craves water. However, when denied water for so long, when it finally rains, the water become a force of destruction rather than a source of refreshment. Have you ever noticed that most flash floods happen in the desert? Why is that? Because the dry, cracked ground is unable to absorb the water it desperately needs. When soil is healthy, when it is watered regularly and in an appropriate amount, then the soil welcomes the water, and a healthy cycle ensues. When soil is deprived of water, it rejects the water it does receive and the unhealthy cycle continues.
Our lives work in many ways like this. When we are “watered” regularly through our own sense of spirituality, and with encouragement and positive reinforcement from others, the soil of our hearts is ready to receive God even more deeply and encouragement is received appropriately. When the soil of our heart is like dry, scorched earth, our hearts is not ready to receive God, and encouragement is also received inappropriately. One who is not encouraged regularly, may crave any kind of encouragement, even encouragement to do bad things. He or she might also develop an insatiable desire for encouragement, which can manifest itself as narcissism or greed.
In Luke 8, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. In the parable, He is the sower. In the interpretation of the parable, the sower is Christ; however, in some ways, we are all sowers. The seed is the Word of God in the parable. It can also be encouragement, or any way that joy and purpose are sown in our own hearts and the hearts of those around us.
Jesus tells us that the sower threw seed into various kinds of soil. Some was rocky, some had no moisture, some had thorns that choked it and some fell into good soil. The soil is what is in our hearts. If our hearts are being watered with Christ and with encouragement, the soil will be healthy, and ready to grow even deeper in Christ, in love, in faith, and in purpose. If our hearts are so devoid of moisture, if they don’t have Christ, if they receive no encouragement, then the soil will become dry and cracked, unable to grow much of anything, and actually in a dangerous place if Christ or encouragement are poured out of upon them.
In many instances, we are becoming unable to worship appropriately or receive a compliment or encouragement appropriately, because the interval of time between worship or encouragement is becoming too great. Worshipping once a year will not keep our soil moist and ready to receive seed. One might argue that even once a week is not enough. A daily walk with God through prayer and scripture reading, added to frequent worship, will keep our souls read and glad to receive Christ. When someone is continuously put down and discouraged, when encouragement or a compliment finally comes, it isn’t received appropriately. Thus, as individuals we should seek nourishment for our souls through daily contact with the Lord. And we should hope for daily encouragement to keep our minds nourished and confident. In order to facilitate this, each of us has to look for opportunities on a daily basis to encourage others. Because in so doing, we not only help the health of their hearts, our hearts benefit as well.
In II Corinthians 1:8, Saint Paul wrote “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” In other words, the soil of St. Paul’s soul was so dried and cracked that not only could he not see a better day in the future, he despaired of his very life, he didn’t want any days in the future. Many of us have felt like this at some point (or points) in life. We feel like we are in the desert, there is no water and no hope for any oasis. We are parched, faint and feel like we don’t have the strength to take another step. The answer is not a deluge of spirituality or even encouragement. It is taking small sips of spirituality and receiving small sips of encouragement, so that the soil of our hearts is cultivated appropriately, and then spirituality and encouragement are received in soil ready to receive them.
We all play a role in this process. First, we can’t absent ourselves from God for any amount of time, and still think the soil of our souls will remain healthy and balanced. This we control. Second, we can’t be absent from encouragement for any amount of time. This is the gift we offer each other, to encourage and build up those around us, frequently, not necessarily in magnanimous gestures but in small, consistent ones. So that as we fight the battle to focus on the important things in this world that continuously distracts us from them, we can go into the battle with hearts and souls that have been nourished and can handle either a sudden storm or a short drought, and not become dried, cracked or scorched because of it.
Lord, there are times in my life when my soul feels like a parched desert—dried, cracked, scorched. In these times, send rain into my soul, to reassure and strengthen me. In the times when my soil feels watered and healthy, give me the wisdom to reach out to You, so that my soul may continue to feel full. Give me the eyes to see others who are in despair, and the wisdom to know how to minister to them, the words to encourage them, the “water” to satisfy their thirst. Give me the strength to walk when I can’t find my own strength. And give me the strength and insight I need to help carry others. Amen.
Seek comfort from Christ in prayer.  Keep walking, no matter what!

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0

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