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Hearing the Sower in Our Attention Economy

• John McLeod

Posted in Bible, Devotions, Sermons

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Here are some thoughts and excerpts from this sermon on January 31, 2021. You can listen, watch, or read the entire sermon here.

Hearing the Sower

Listen! Look Here! He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Pay attention to what you hear! These are the commands from the mouth of Jesus in Mark 4. His listeners’ and our spiritual lives depend on our response to it. Jesus goes on to warn his disciples that if they don’t understand this particular parable (of the Sower), they will have trouble understanding the rest of what he will tell them. We would do well to pay attention as well.

We live in unprecedented times of an attention economy. Persons, causes, and businesses are competing for our eyes and ears and attention. Just consider how many “voices” you might hear in one day. How many emails do read before even going to work or maybe even getting out of bed in the morning? Then a little browsing news headlines during breakfast. Maybe a podcast on the commute to work or while you’re washing up the dishes. Then the rest of your day you’re in and out of work contexts, social media, music, streaming services, email, news updates, catching up on your favorite Youtube Creators. Hopefully, somewhere in there, you’re communicating with your spouse and your kids. You might read the newspaper before dinner or skim a few blog posts you couldn’t get to during the day. Your “conversations” with your friends are scattered over short, disconnected texts, an email or two, or following them on their social media feeds. Facebook, Twitter, and Google, some of the most powerful companies in the world, are researching and calculating how to command and keep your attention with billions of dollars at their disposal. Political Parties and media companies are spending unthinkable sums of money to affect how you think about them—and your neighbor.

… but you did spend your 10 minutes in the Bible in the morning, right?

Which voices and messages are really looming large in your mind in those few minutes you’re not filling with frenetic activity?

This frenzy of voices is affecting us—our attitudes, our emotional health, our relationships, our church unity, and most importantly, our spiritual vitality. This is clearly a stretch, but it reminds me of the demoniac in Mark 5 who proclaimed “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) is about hearing and receiving the Word of God. Unfortunately, the kind of hearing that merely places God’s word alongside all of these other voices is insufficient and will leave us hopeless, helpless, and eventually damned. We must hear and heed. We must listen intently, carefully, continually, and with faith so that God’s word will take root and bear fruit in our lives.

The primary key to hearing God’s word well is a relationship with Jesus, the Sower. The crowds did not know him, and therefore only received the word in parables. His disciples—those who followed him—benefited from his grace, explanations, and help. It is the same today. In order to understand God’s word well, we need to put our faith in Jesus, the Sower.

As Jesus explains the soils, we find the tendencies of our hearts to be exposed, and realize we have work to do.

Some Practical Helps for tilling the soil

Here are some suggested ways to prepare the soil of your heart in this very distracting age.

  • Take some time to honestly evaluate your love of scripture. Are you growing in your knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word. Do you delight in it?
  • Memorize and meditate on Psalm 1.
  • Read Psalm 119 until it affects you.
  • Consider reading through individual books of the Bible in one sitting. Discipline yourself to engage with scripture beyond mere quick sound bites.
  • Take an honest look at your media intake. What other voices are you listening to? This is not a suggestion that they should all be Christian voices, merely that you need to be purposeful. Change will require intentionality.
  • Ask close friends or family to give you feedback on your media consumption or social media participation. Be willing to hear their input on how it is affecting you.
  • Know your weaknesses for distraction and actively work against them, especially to promote lingering and meditating on the Scripture.
    • don’t have your devices with you
    • use an old-fashioned bible
    • write out your thoughts or journal on paper
  • Read a book about the distractedness of our culture and how to combat it. I recommend two books by Cal Newport: Deep Work or Digital Minimalism.
  • Consider occasionally fasting from news or social media.
    • for particular times of day
    • on the Lord’s Day
    • one week or extended time per year
  • Spend a greater portion of your “reading” time digesting good books instead of surfing the web or social media.
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