Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD. (Hosea 10:12, NKJV)

I planted a beautiful Japanese maple tree in my back yard. Its deep red foliage cast a lovely contrast over the surrounding greenery bordering my deck. I was so pleased with myself! Then it died – not immediately, but slowly. Over time, I watched as the leaves slowly curled and fell soundlessly to the ground. I suspect the hard South Carolina clay wasn’t prepared enough to provide the necessary sustenance.

Scripture portrays “fallow” ground as barren and hard. If a good harvest is expected, simply sprinkling seeds on top of fallow ground won’t yield much as they don’t get enough nutrients and moisture to grow. For this reason a farmer must plow (break up; soften) the ground to prepare it for the seed. This way, the seed is properly planted for growth and an abundant harvest.

The spiritual application equates “fallow” ground with a hard, cold, and unyielding heart. Sprinkling a few Scripture verses on it has very little spiritual impact. The “seed” has nothing from which to grow – it usually withers and is no longer remembered. The heart must first be softened in order to adequately receive the seed for it to take root, have a definite impact, and yield the desired spiritual result.

How are hardened hearts softened? Using the farming example, it takes a plow made of a harder substance than the barren, rocky soil to break it up. With people, God uses difficult times to soften hearts. Losing a job, unexpected health issues, the death of a loved one, a tragic accident – such storms of life serve as “heart softeners.” Though meant to prepare our hearts for God’s Word, sometimes our stubbornness results in hearts that grow harder. The outcome is either greater difficulties or God granting the freewill choice to remain hard, cold, and fruitless.

Recall Jesus’ parable about the Sower and the seed – the seed fell on various types of soil. The rocky, barren, thorny soil didn’t produce the desired harvest. However, the good, softened soil produced in abundance. May we always soften our hearts to Scripture, the Holy Spirit’s moving, and God’s direction in our lives. If we refuse, we risk becoming like Pharaoh who, having hardened his heart many times, deeply regretted it and eventually paid for it with his life.

Now I need to go buy another Japanese maple tree. Rest assured the ground will be well prepared this time.

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