Any farmer, landscape artist, or gardener will prepare the soil before giving their work. A builder will prepare a foundation. A carpenter prepares their tools and wood. We know to prepare when working in our given specialties. The canvas must be prepared for the craftsmanship, and we must prepare our hearts if we are going to be properly receptive the gospel. We see such preparation in the character of Ezra.
Ezra is a leader of the Old Testament who grows up in captivity. Jerusalem is destroyed. Judah is a captive people to Babylon, and this is all Ezra knows until Cyrus decrees the captive people may independently return to their lands. Ezra leads a moral, social, and spiritual restoration of his people. In this, Ezra 7:10 reveals that Ezra sets his heart to seek after God’s law, to do it, and to teach it.
Preparing Our Hearts
Matthew 13:1-9 records Jesus telling the parable of the soils. Chances are we are familiar with the differences between the soil exposed to birds, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the fertile soil. He explains the parable in verses 18-23, describing the similarities between the soils and the hearts of those who hear his word. Some misunderstand; some respond but lose interest; some are crushed by worldly concerns; others live it.
We often apply this parable to others, but we seldom reflect enough to remove the rocks and thistles from our own lives. To prepare a real garden, it takes time and effort to prepare the soil. It takes time and effort to remove the weeds and the rocks. Then it takes time and effort to keep those things from returning to the garden – especially those weeds. We have to cultivate our devotion to God, and this takes preparation.
Our greater and deeper devotion to God begins in our hearts before we wake up on Sunday morning. Jesus spends much of His ministry talking about hearts – pure hearts, honest hearts, soft hearts, hard hearts, dull hearts. Acts 17:11 speaks of the people in Berea who have prepared their hearts and minds to receive God’s word. I Corinthians 8:5 describes the Christians in Macedonia as having given themselves to the Lord first, enabling them to support and encourage Paul.
Proverbs speaks of the heart at least seventy-five times. Proverbs 2:2 calls on us to apply our hearts to understanding. Proverbs 2:10 says wisdom enters through the heart. Proverbs 4:23 encourages us to keep our hearts pure, and Proverbs 23:12 tells us to incline our hearts to instruction. Seeking and doing the law of God does not come by accident any more than we can grow a bumper crop by mistake. It takes preparation and cultivation, just as Ezra prepared himself to live the law of his God.
lesson by Tim Smelser