Good Soil Still Needs Cultivating

I recently talked with my college position coach for the first time in a long time. During the conversation I thanked him for how he played a part in my development. He commented that he didn’t do anything special and that I came from good parents with great genes. I agreed with him that I was “good soil” but noted that even good soil needs cultivating.

This phrase was top of mind as I was on my way home from a three-day silent retreat where I had done a lot of personal and guided reflection. Included in the reflection was the Parable of the Sower. The parable discusses seed sown in four different areas – on the path where the birds eat the seed, on rocky soil where the grain grows and dies quickly as there is no depth for the roots to take hold and find water, where brambles and weeds also grow along and choke off the wheat, and finally where the grain can grow and produce a harvest 30, 60, 100 fold. Reflecting on these 4 areas, two were good soil but only one had been cultivated. Ironically, one of the reasons I attended the retreat was I felt like I was good soil but needed cultivation. However, prior to the retreat I would not have phrased it that way.

We reap what we sow; but only if we cultivate the soil. We’re often eager to put seeds or saplings in the ground. These efforts can be wasted if we don’t first consider the soil we’re planting in. The work is not just done in the planting, but in the cultivation. The grain either grows, grows exponentially, or doesn’t grow at all based on the soil conditions. We must address life’s weeds, thorns, and bristles. We need to be vigilant about removing obstacles that might hinder our progress or choke out the fruits of worthwhile effort.

Cultivation prepares the earth to promote growth. It breaks up dry and crusted soil. It allows air, water, and nutrients to reach deeper levels. Roots then use these nutrients to grow and stay healthy. When properly done, cultivation can be a relatively easy, slow, and methodical process that rejuvenates the soil.

The American Midwest is also called “America’s Breadbasket” because Midwestern farmers grow a lot of the wheat used to make bread. In the 1800’s, young America was moving west and settling the prairie. Land with rich, black soil stretched out as far as the eye could see. One of the major obstacles was the soil itself. It was stickier than the sandier soils back east and tended to clump. The native prairie grass was a tangled mess of tough roots. Great soil in dire need of cultivation. As that soil was cultivated, a single acre of land that yielded 30 bushels of corn, grew to 150+ bushels of corn. America’s Breadbasket went from feeding a family and a community, to feeding a nation and the world.

Sports teams, business, and organizations all want to cultivate a culture of success. The expression is often a flashy tagline with little substance beneath it. Too often these programs target the individual with carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized content. Culture needs to be cultivated, not curated. Plus, the farmer does not target the stalk of corn. It is the environment, i.e. soil, that needs to be tended. Teams and organizations ultimately have a culture that meets the condition of the environment.

Cultivation is a labor of love. It is a nurturing act. My soil has experienced an ongoing compounding cultivation of parents, coaches, teachers, pastors, mentors, family and friends; most especially, my wife. When I reflect on the leaders, coaches and mentors in my business, social, and spiritual lives, I see the most impact having been done by the ones who focused on cultivation as opposed to the numbers. Not surprisingly my best performance came within those environments.

Cultivation must be ongoing and also needs to adapt. I attribute my football success in college in part to having two position coaches that cultivated differently. Farmers have learned that new cultivation technologies are needed to enhance the long-term life of the soil. My attending a three-day silent retreat was a different approach to nurturing my soul for my faith to grow.

I prefer Matthew’s version of the Parable (13:18–23) which places the emphasis on various types of soil on which the seed falls, while Mark and Luke place the emphasis on the seed – the word of God. As God created the earth to be cultivated, He also created mankind with hearts, souls, and minds meant to be open for cultivation.

We need to cultivate our soil, allowing for God’s grace to grow in us. Hardened hearts need to be softened. Nutrient depleted souls cannot produce a good crop. Distractions like weeds and thorns need to be removed. God’s seeds are constantly being sown in our hearts and souls.  Our faith either grows, grows exponentially, or doesn’t grow at all based on our soil.

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