The psychology of the Parable of the Sower

The title should really be Looking at the parable of the sower through the psychology of the seven letters to the seven churches.  But that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?  Hopefully you’re still reading – weren’t already afraid to go on.  I think it’s interesting though.  So please keep going.  Pretty much all Christians know the Parable of the Sower.  And pretty much everybody knows about the apocalypse in Revelation.  We’ll see here how the same human psychological reactions take place in both of them.

The psychology of the Parable of the Sower is article #2 in the series: Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Click button to view titles for entire series

new plant - The psychology of the Parable of the SowerIf you haven’t read part 1 of this series, I highly recommend it.  It gives background on how to look at the graph we’re going to use here to see how we, Christians and non-Christians, relate to the message Jesus has for all of us.

Here is the Parable of the Sower, from Mark’s Gospel.

The Parable of the Sower – Mark

4:1-12 pp — Mt 13:1-15; Lk 8:4-10
4:13-20 pp — Mt 13:18-23; Lk 8:11-15

Mk 4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”

Mk 4:9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Mk 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’’”

Mk 4:13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Next, let’s look at the graph we’re going to use to look at the psychology of what’s going on here.  It’s a modified version of the one from part 1 of the series.

psychology of the Parable of the Sower - blank

As you can see, the Event Trigger is Jesus. 
Two of the graph segments also have new names.  The Slope of Enlightenment is now the Slope of Growing Faith.  The Plateau of Productivity is now called the Plateau of Walking in Faith.
Finally, the end goal is also Jesus.

A couple quick notes on the Slope of Growing Faith and the Plateau of Walking in Faith.  First, it’s not exactly an upward slope.  There will be ups and downs.  It’s the trend that’s important – more ups than downs and a general upwards slope over time.  The slope may be gradual in some places and steep in others.  What we really look for here is a faith that’s growing.

The Plateau of Walking in Faith really isn’t a plateau.  There will also be ups and downs.  The red line indicates a life where we generally have a close relationship with Jesus and generally walk in faith and obedience to Him.  We aren’t perfect, so we will stray from time to time.  What we’re looking for here is relatively small ups and downs over relatively small periods of time.  If we feel like we reached the so-called plateau, but are now very far above or below, we may have strayed back into a peak of inflated expectation or a trough of disillusionment.

The point is, we won’t literally follow the graph.  It’s impossible.  There’s just too much temptation out there for this to happen.  When we’re talking about following Jesus, it’s that very same temptation that causes the peaks and the troughs to begin with.  So it’s just not realistic to expect that we’d be able to stay on the Plateau of Walking in Faith either.

The key then is to be able to look at ourselves and determine where we are.  That, in turn, will allow us to do something about it.  Kind of what David was saying in Psalm 139.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

So it’s not really us determining where we are.  Nor is it us being able to do anything about where we are.  It’s us and God.  Us and the Holy Spirit.  Some people are afraid to pray the words David used about God searching him.  Don’t be afraid.  Go for it.  It’s the only way to reach that Plateau of Walking in Faith and the only way to stay relatively close to it.  To stay on the narrow path that Jesus spoke of.

The five stages of the new graph

So let’s take a fresh look at the five stages of the graph, but this time looking at them 

The event trigger

It starts with Jesus – who is no less than “The Beginning”.  At this point – people don’t really know what to expect. Actually – at the very beginning, there weren’t any people yet. But when He began His ministry, even with all the prophets of the OT, people had to notice and want to know more.

Today, there are still many people who know nothing of Jesus.  They really are starting at the beginning.  Also, many people have the wrong picture of Jesus.  That group may very well need to be convinced to try to start over from the beginning.  To learn the truth about what the Bible says, including what Jesus says about Himself.

The peak of inflated expectation

This is where there’s a lot of interest – probably by people who don’t know all that much about Jesus – and before you know it, they expect that He can do everything. Whatever problem anyone has – this “new” Jesus will take care of it. For example, when Jesus was on earth and doing His ministry here, it didn’t matter that He came to be people’s Heavenly King – or that the eternal life He offered wasn’t of this world but of Heaven – some people just wanted a King on this earth and wouldn’t settle for less.

For the group who already has some knowledge of Jesus that isn’t quite right, or maybe is totally wrong, there could be inflated expectations as well.  If we do too good of a “selling job”, go overboard and beyond the true message, they could also be hoping for something else.  Something like saying a few magic words and then they’re saved – nothing else to do.  Please see Pop Tart Christians for more on that.

The trough of disillusionment

This is when people start to realize that – no, that Jesus really wasn’t here to do what they wanted Him to do. Reality sets in (for the first time). This is a dangerous time for Christians. If people’s opinions of Jesus get too far out of control – it’s a pretty quick swing from He can do everything to He can’t do anything.

Think about when Jesus told the thousands following Him that they would have to “drink His blood” and “eat His flesh”.  Of course, it wasn’t to be taken literally.  But a lack of understanding can and did lead to that impression.  Please see How can it cost me nothing but ask me for everything? for an idea of what can happen here. 

The Slope of Growing Faith

This is where reality sets in for the second time – hopefully, otherwise the Christianity thing is finished – banished to the scrap heap of good ideas that never quite lived up to expectations, whether they worked or were relevant. This time, reality is more likely to be “real” reality – no wild expectations either way – people know Jesus won’t do everything they want or exactly when they want, but also realize that He can do something incredibly important – the single most important thing – save their eternal souls!

Unfortunately, there are false teachers and those who try to take advantage of people who don’t really understand what Christianity is truly about.  It’s important to be sure that the truth gets out.  Otherwise, while someone may feel their faith is growing, their expectations have actually taken them completely astray and off the chart.

The Plateau of Walking in Faith

People are walking with Jesus in their daily lives.  For the most part, at least.  All is well, right? Well – not so fast there. It doesn’t show on the chart, but there is the very real possibility that Christianity can become such a routine way of life that people forget what it was all about in the first place. They take it for granted – they don’t really remember why they liked it so much before – and the next thing anyone realizes, it’s pretty much forgotten about. It’s yesterday’s “thing” – and now people want today’s “thing”. No matter that it’s not the same – no matter that it isn’t as good – it’s today’s and that’s all that counts.

The Parable of the Sower

Let’s put the Parable of the Sower onto the graph and come up with the Psychology of the Parable of the Sower.  There are 4 scenarios in the parable.  Where would you put each of them – and why? 

There isn’t necessarily “one right answer”, except maybe the first scenario.  Maybe.  We look at things from the viewpoint of where we are at the time.  Each time I’ve updated this series, I’ve put at least a couple of the seven churches in different places.  Not that I think I was wrong before.  It’s just that when I did any given update, I’m in a different place, and see them from that place. 

That’s part of the reason for doing the Psychology of the Seven Churches.  We really should do the Psychology for ourselves at the same time.  It’s all about moving forward.  Maybe from one stage to the next.  Maybe within a stage.  Even staying near the red line for longer periods of time, indicating an ever closer walk of faith with Jesus.

So – before you go on, where would you put them?  You can click on the + Sign below each one to reveal my choice.  Just remember – it’s what I chose at the time I’m writing this.  You may decide it belongs someplace else.  And who knows, next month I might even put it someplace else.

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

Click to see my placement of the seed along the path

Psychology of Parable of Sower seed on path

Based on As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them, my feeling is that they never even get started up the path of inflated expectation.  If they have any expectation at all, it’s of bad things.  So there’s no interest whatsoever and everything they heard is immediately dead to them.  It’s like in one ear and out the other.

As I said, there might be alternatives to this.  I can’t think of one offhand, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 

Click to see my placement of the seed along the rocky places

Psychology of Parable of the Sower seed in rocky places

I’ve got this one at the very bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment. There’s no telling how high the Peak of Inflated Expectation is.  It may not even be high enough to reach the red line.  And the trough could go even lower that what’s shown.  You could even argue that it must be lower. 

In any case, it appears that this person is headed to the bottom and falling off the graph entirely.  That represents a complete abandonment of Jesus.  A falling away.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Click to see my placement of the seed among the thorns

Psychology of Parable of the Sower seed among thorns

OK – this one can go in so many places.  I chose to put it on the slope of Growing Faith primarily for a couple reasons.  One – I’ve been there and done that, and I know I’m not alone.  The other one has to do with the pattern that seems to be inherent in what Jesus is saying.  Of course, you may not agree about the pattern – and that’s OK.  It’s just what I see at this time.

Anyway, the pattern I see from my current point of view is one of people who are, in each instance, getting to a place where they’re walking in faith and producing fruit.  Given that apparent pattern and my view of this parable at this time, I place this person somewhere between the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment and the Plateau of walking in faith.  

Having said that, they could be anywhere before that – although probably after the ones on the path.  They could even be on the plateau when they get caught up in the ways of the world, although I’m not sure that’s supported by the description Jesus gives.

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.

Click to see my placement of the seed on good soil

Psychology of Parable of the Sower seed in good soil

Again, I chose this one based on the pattern I see in what Jesus is saying,  There’s no particular reason other than that.

The marker certainly doesn’t have to be that high.  Remember, this incident:

The Healing of a Boy With a Demon – Matthew

17:14-19 pp — Mk 9:14-28; Lk 9:37-42

Mt 17:14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
Mt 17:17 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
Mt 17:19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Mt 17:20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” Mt 17:22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.”

Some translations also have verse 21, but the NIV does not:
[21 “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

So we see that with that one statement – “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” – there are all sorts of places to put this one.

Depending on why we’re in the trough of disillusionment, it could even be at the very bottom.  Sometimes God allows bad things to happen in order to grow us.  Or even to pull us back to Him when we’ve walked away.  So even in the depths of our despair, at the bottom of the trough, God can use our situation to produce fruit.

So where you put the person represented by the seed that lands in the good soil is very much a matter of perspective, choice and reasoning.

Conclusion – The psychology of the Parable of the Sower

So that’s how we’re going to proceed with the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.

Of course, if you’re a regular here, you have to know there’s a little bit more coming.

First – when looking at a new Christian, especially one we’re mentoring, trying to bring into the faith, or even talking to a non-Christian, we need to remember the Great Commission.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Bringing someone – or ourselves – through the process we just looked at requires much more than just getting someone to say a prayer and get baptized.  Yes, baptism is important.  But so is the rest of the Great Commission.  Make disciples, because without new disciples there will be a point at which there’s no one left to deliver the message.  And, teach Christians to obey everything Jesus taught.  Because, to the extent we fail to actually follow in His steps, fewer people might even be able to become a true follower of Jesus.

As for someone who is already a Christian, and even someone who’s mature in their faith, we see all sorts of possible issues in what we just looked at.  For those situations, we have the Greatest Commandment.

The Greatest Commandment – Matthew

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love God and Love others.  That’s really key for all of us.  New Christian.  Someone up in the peak of inflated expectation.  And for someone down in the trough of disillusionment.  And let’s not forget someone who’s either on the slope of growing faith or even on the plateau of walking in faith. 

If we think about the Parable of the Sower, the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment – all together, something should occur to us.  To the extent that we practice the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment, the people represented by the seeds in the path, the rocky places and the thorns have  a better chance of not staying in those places. 

Of course, what happens to anyone’s faith is between them and God.  However, it’s hard to believe that Christians who lovingly care for others won’t increase the likelihood of those at risk of falling away might return to God.  That seems to be a basic part of what Jesus tells us to do in both of the “G C’s” – Greatest Commandment and Great Commission.

We all need love.  God’s kind of love.  And we should all be showing God’s kind of love to others as well.

Proceeding from here

As we begin to look at the Seven Letters, I have just one more reminder.

2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God is the one who actually does the work.  We are His instrument.  At least, to the extent we allow Him to work through us.  As we proceed to look at the scenarios in the Seven Churches, remember everything we’ve looked at here.  And from the 2 Timothy passage, also remember that all of Scripture is there to help us – and to help anyone in any of the problem situations we’ll find in those letters. 

But not only them.  One of the things we learned here is there are pitfalls, temptations, even for the mature Christian walking along that red line.  Walking in faith.  Even then, maybe especially then, Satan never stops.

Hope you’ll keep going in the series.  You can subscribe to the site here to get a notification as the rest are published.


Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay


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