It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Learn the two most common times in life people walk away from their faith, and how to keep following after Christ your ENTIRE life, not just for a season.
IT’S A MARATHON
I don’t know if you’ve ever run in a race…but they’re entertaining to watch.
The first race I ever ran in as an adult was the Andover 5k back in 2008
I don’t remember much about it besides there was this 9 or 10 year old kid lined up next to me at the start line.
The gun went off and he took off flying at full speed!
He literally might have been leading the pack of 300 people.
Until about…1 block later, he was completely out of breath on the side of the road, doubled over from the worst side ache he’d ever experienced.
And if you think about it, that’s how many of us have approached the Christian life.
We had some point in our life, where we just took off…like a jet engine towards Christ…and ever since, we’ve just been walking…
…and maybe even walking backwards.
As we dive back into the Gospel of Luke in the Bible this morning, Jesus is going to talk to us about why that is.
I REALLY want you to have the Bible in front of you today.
I’m going to make a lot of references back to it, and you most assuredly are going to want to check back on it.
It’s helpful to learn this way.
We are visual learners. You will learn the Scriptures better if you do it this way.
Over the next 12 verses, Jesus is going to teach us through a parable.
Before we read it, let me explain the main characters or symbols of the particular parable we’re going to look at today. In this parable:
Jesus is the Sower (the farmer)
The Seed is the Word of God. It’s God’s truth.
Then, there are going to be FOUR soils. And the soils are different states of the human heart. How we respond to the Gospel.
Let’s take a look at the parable:
(Luke 8:4-15) – NIV
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
There is a TON we can pull out of this parable.
This is a story about the makeup of your spiritual heart...which is what the soils represent
And your receptivity to God’s Word in your life REALLY matters!
In those days, farmers used broadcast sowing, taking a bag of seeds in their hands and scattering them across the ground in which they wanted them to grow, often plowing them into the dirt afterward.
Thus not every seed would take root in good soil, and there would be varied growth based on the kind of soil in which each seed landed
The same thing is true in our lives…we’re not always the same soil
Some seasons, the Word of God (and that can come through preaching…it can be you reading the Bible…a friend sharing a spiritual truth with you)..
In some seasons it penetrates deep into your soul…and in other seasons…it bounces right off.
And as I rack up more and more years of ministry, I’m learning mroe about what it means for people to follow Jesus for a LIFETIME, not just a season.
And THAT…is hard.
Just because you’re following Jesus now…doesn’t guarantee you’ll be following him…even 10 years from now…let alone 30.
It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the church…or “prayed the prayer”
Following Jesus is a marathon, not a sprint.
It takes a purposeful decision on our end, every year of our lives, every month of our lives…to want to keep following Him.
To want to keep working on the spiritual condition of our hearts.
I’ve seen people walk away from Him that you would never dream would walk away from Him.
Because they stopped watching over their heart.
I was just talking with a friend the other day, and she mentioned that 3 out of the 5 people that stood up with her at her wedding are no longer following Jesus…and yet they once were.
How does that happen?
THE FOUR SOILS
Let’s take a look at the four soils and see if we can ascertain what the dangers are
And keep in mind that the first 3 types of soils…are the type of heart conditions that will get in the way of God’s Word penetrating into your heart and continuing to change you.
Okay, let’s start with the first soil again in verse 12:
(Luke 8:12) – NIV
12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
These are people that are exposed to the Word of God…but nothing is really sinking in.
This is the majority of people in our city by the way.
They, at some point in their life (unlike say someone in the Middle East) have had some exposure to the message of Jesus.
But nothing has sunk in.
Their hard is heart.
And they need YOU to not only scatter more seeds in their life but to soften their soil with the LOVE of Christ.
Maybe you’re here this morning, and you’re just starting to open up to God for the first time.
We’re glad you’re here.
I would say to you (as you’re going to see) there are 1,000 ways to harden your heart…so if it’s softening…keep pursuing God before your heart hardens again
The second soil is where things start to get a bit tricky theologically.
Look at the verse again:
(Luke 8:13) – NIV - Leave up for a minute
13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
Now, is that a Christian who is passionate but then falls away?
Or someone who said they became a Christian but was never truly actually a believer?
We talk about this very question in our Renovation U classes in the summer…but without having 60 minutes to explain…it depends if you’re a Calvinist or Arminian J
If you don’t know what that is…Google it J
The truth is…whether this is a person who is walking away from God…or never was truly with God…we ought to be scared of letting our hearts get to that condition.
And that’s a good type of fear!
We see examples of this when we do outreach events like Easter or Family Fun Day
We’ll see 40 people stand up, but we’re trying to be careful to say, “We had 40 people make “commitments to Christ today” rather than 40 people got saved today.
If 40 people stand up does that mean 40 people were saved and are going to heaven?
Time will tell.
For many, it’s completely genuine.
For others, they are exactly as Jesus just said, “They received the word with joy”
They stood across from us in the follow-up room, with tears of joy streaming down their face…
But when the testing comes…they fall away.
In Matthew’s version of this, it says, “When persecution comes because of the Word”
We had a guy once who we led to Christ, and he was very excited, but after a little while, he started to say, “What does the Bible believe about this topic? Or this topic? Or this topic?”
And when we explained, he said, “Nah, I guess no thank you”
He wanted Jesus…and received that with joy…but he wanted Jesus on his terms, not God’s terms…and thus he fell away.
And then there’s the third soil:
This is verse 14:
(Luke 8:14 – NIV) - KEEP UP FOR A MINUTE
14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
And this describes a whole lot of evangelical Christians.
They had this period of fast spiritual growth in their lives….maybe in high school…maybe college…maybe when their first child was born…
But ever since then…life has been very slowly choking out their heart for spiritual things.
And Jesus says that the things that choke out our heart towards spiritual things are usually worry, the pursuit of money, and pleasure.
I was just talking to a guy this week, who I know has had a time where he was really following the Lord…
And I was inviting Him to our church, but He said, he couldn’t because he has to work on Sundays.
I said, “Put Christ first…He’ll provide”
He said… “ehhh”
I said, “You know they have church on Saturday nights too”
And he said, “Well, yeah, um, I don’t know…”
I love the way Jesus describes this “thorny chokehold” in Matthew & Mark…he says the thorns “choke out the Word” by the deceitfulness of wealth.
That’s the idea that I can’t really put Jesus first…I can’t live this “First Fruits” type of lifestyle with my schedule and my life…because if you just KNEW me…you would know how much I need the money and how busy I am.
Listen, all your money, and all of your possessions are going to be in a landfill 100 years from now.
And you’re either going to be in heaven with Jesus or in Hell without Him.
Money isn’t what needs to come first in your life.
Money, and this is why Jesus says it’s often deceitful, is just going to give you a false sense of security.
As if you’re doing okay.
But just as money can’t buy you love, it also can’t determine where you’re going to be 500 years from now.
The thorns of worry, money, and pleasure will always choke out your faith when they run deeper in your heart than the Gospel does.
So when push comes to shove and you have to make a choice what are you really living for?
Security? Comfort? Control?
If you continually pick those things over putting Jesus first…what’s happening is you’re letting those thorns grow deeper into your heart than you are the Word of God…the Gospel.
And whatever grows deeper into the soil will choke out the other thing.
The hardening of your spiritual heart is a slow process
This is a young church, but perhaps our fasting growing demographic right now are those who are 50+.
And I know many of you come here because it’s not fluffy…so here we go with some non-fluff:
One of the most heartbreaking trends in the church right now is what we see happening among those who are empty nesters
Now, listen, before you get nervous, I know some absolutely incredible people…many of them in their 50’s and 60’s who are crazy on fire for Jesus.
Some of you are in this room!
But we keep seeing this trend, at an alarming rate, where parents raise their kids in the church, teach them to tithe, serve, and love Jesus…
And their kids grow up and do exactly that!
Only to find that mom and dad have lost their passion for those things.
Yeah…there still hanging around the church a little.
But they don’t really give any more
They’ve kind of “retired from church involvement” (you could write a book about this trend)
And they’ve lost most of their passion they once had for Christ.
One of the things I think the Lord has shown me is that there are two stages of life that will be great revealers to you as to whether you truly have strong faith or not.
The first is when you graduate high school and move out on your own
The second is when your last kid graduates high school and moves out on their own.
Just as the kid going off to college quickly finds out if their faith is truly their own or just for their parents…
So the empty-nester quickly finds out if their faith is truly their own or just something they did for their kids
And I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched over the years become empty nesters, and their seat at church is soon empty
If you’re in your 40’s right now…maybe early 50’s…when you tell your kids they better be spiritually ready for college…tell yourself that you better be spiritually ready for them leaving for college.
We have to ask ourselves: How am I going to keep running after Jesus when I’m 45?
When I’m 55?
When my kids leave the house?
When I’m 75?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU HEAR
So what does it look like to cultivate good soil in your heart?
What does it look like to let the seed of God’s WORD soak down deeper into your heart than the roots of this world?
For one, and I hope you’re hearing this loud and clear…even if you’re only 25 right now.
“You need a commitment to watch and cultivate the soil of your spiritual heart…until you breathe your last.
You need a COMMITMENT to run the marathon…not just a sprint.
One of the things that jumps out from the text today is that the word “hear” is used SEVEN times in this passage.
We’re told in Romans that “Faith…comes by…HEARING”
If you want your heart to stay soft, and one where the seed of the Word of God is “penetrating and permeating your heart…year after year …
You need to expose yourself to HEAR the word of God…as often as you can.
One of the major mistakes I see Christians make is they try and live off the fumes of their past spiritual highs
They had an amazing experience with God…5 years ago…15 years ago…
And they really believed in Him then…
But they haven’t really done any work to keep growing with Him since then…they’re just hanging on (MAYBE THAT’S YOU RIGHT NOW?)
But listen, while you’re hanging on…doing nothing…the Bible said today that you have 3 forces currently working against you!
The thorns are growing ever deeper
The rocks of trials are finding their way into your life
And the devil is trying to steal the seed every time you hear it
When you take a break from working on your faith for a few months…or a few years…
Guess what? The devil isn’t taking a break.
He’s never been happier that he doesn’t even have to face your resistance!
Christianity is a commitment to the perpetual cultivation of your spiritual heart!
And you do that…by HEARING.
You just keep letting it in…no matter what you feel.
You’re going to feel just about everything in your lifetime…even as Christian.
You’ll have seasons where you feel elated, joyful, and free.
And you will also have seasons where you feel angry, bitter, depressed, in pain…
You’re going to feel all that…and if you decide that because you don’t feel good right now…that you’re going to stop letting God’s seeds drop into your heart …your heart is going to harden up and the thorns will grow ever deeper.
It’s a dangerous thing.
I have a friend who went through a lot in his life, and it led him to an incredibly dry period of his faith.
It lasted for a few years actually.
And I’ll never forget him telling me that one of the best things he ever did was he told himself, “I don’t FEEL it right now…but our FEELINGS don’t always convey the truth”
And because he KNEW that, in life, you’re going to go through the up and down spiritual rollercoaster, he said he just kept seeking God anyway.
Kept coming to church, volunteering, going to his small Group…hearing the word.
Letting the seeds into his heart…even when he didn’t feel like it.
This is the type of discipline that our grandparent’s generation had, but it escapes us because we tend build our lives on feeling.
Americans now live like FEELINGS are the end all truth…but TRUTH is the TRUTH…not your feelings.
And while I’ve seen many walk away because of their feelings…my friend today, enjoys one of the most passionate walks with Christ out of anyone I know.
Because he realized life is a marathon, not a sprint.
And you’re going to hit some spots along the race where you FEEL like quitting…
But just keep moving!
No one ever said a marathon was going to be easy!
Hebrews tells us that we are to run the race of faith with…what?
You know, as sports fan, one of the things that I found really fascinating in the past few years, was the year-long retirement love-fests that both Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter received.
Both great players in their own right…but what was unique to their stories…was that each of them played their entire 20-year career with the same team.
Bryant with the LA Lakers and Jeter with the New York Yankees.
And every game of their last year, in every stadium they were in, people honored them, played video tributes for them, and gave them standing ovations.
Similar to, if someone says, nowadays, this is my spouse, and we’ve been married 45 years…what does everyone do?
We all hoot and holler and clap!
100 years ago, if you said that, people would yawn. “Oh, you’re still alive, I guess that’s impressive”
In today’s difficult culture…sticking with anything for a long-time is an incredible feat.
And let me tell you…people who pull it off…don’t back into half-heartedly.
Kobe Bryant didn’t just fall on some luck
Married couples celebrating their 45th anniversary didn’t just coast for a few decades.
They were committed to keep working on it…no matter how they FELT.
I plead with you to treat your faith in the same way.
Run with perseverance.
Keep working on your heart…
Whether you’re 25 or 75.
It takes work. Every day.
And know that there is a great finish line coming your way.
You ever watched the end of a marathon? It’s kind of emotional!
You see these people who just ran (without stopping!) for 4 or 5 hours!
And they’re hobbling towards the finish line, and they look tired as all get out, and yet everybody is cheering because they know what an amazing thing it is to finish the race!
That’s your goal.
I don’t know if you saw this picture this summer of Chicago Cub’s infielder David Bote rounding third base after he hit a grand slam to win the game?
(Show Grand Slam Photo)
It’s a great photo…but I saw many people comment on this that this is also a great picture of what walking into heaven is going to look like when this is all said an done.
Go the distance.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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