Recently I (Rich) have been teaching parables in the gospels and have taught Jesus’ Parable of the Sower from either the gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke, and every time, this verse draws much conversation: “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18).
I have been teaching these parables to church planters in India and seminarians and pastors in Nepal. This passage bothers them because they thought Jesus was speaking about wealth. But of course, though Jesus speaks much about wealth, its proper uses, dangers, and deceits, the context shows that he was not speaking about wealth in Luke 8 or Mark 4, but rather about response to the Word. He gives them a parable about how the word, his teaching, goes out and lands in various soils, the soils of people’s hearts. Some hearts are hardened to it, or just not interested, and it bounces right off, never even germinating. Some hearts receive the word but only superficially, not allowing it to really take deep roots. And some hearts receive the word and act on it faithfully, consistently, persistently, and it grows and bears much fruit.
I usually ask, “What type of soil are you?” Of course, we all want to be good soil. But I will then make the point that in fact we all are all the soils, at different times. Sometimes I hear a sermon in a Zoom worship service and I am distracted by whatever else is clamoring for my attention that day, and the seed goes out from the Zoom preacher into the soil of my heart, only to bounce off as I can scarcely remember what passage was being preached even just a few minutes later. Sometimes I will pay attention for a while, but the distractions come soon after my hearing of the word and I don’t really ponder it—it doesn’t really take root nor bear fruit. And sometimes I will hear the word, ponder it, try to work it out, allow myself to be surprised by it, and even humbled by it, as I realize it contains a message that I need that day, a message that softens my heart toward my wife after an argument or toward the poor after the social isolation of our current global predicament. The seed sown by the preacher has taken root and born good fruit.
Though this may not be a new idea to many of you, it is often a fresh idea for the people I am teaching, and a welcome one. They can recognize in themselves the same pattern I describe in myself. This prepares them to hear Jesus’ admonition, therefore, to “Pay attention to what you hear, for the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given to you.” The Indian church planters admit that they have often preached the latter part of this verse, using it to talk about money, the measure you give in offerings will be the measure that God returns to you in blessings. But, in context, that is clearly not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is warning people not to lazily hear the Word of God—when the word is being read or preached, “Pay attention!” We should do this because the measure we give (of attention) is the measure we will get (of understanding), and still more (teaching, words, understanding) will be given.
All this comes before the dramatic conclusion to this teaching, in either Mark or Luke, when Jesus says, “For to those who have, will more be given, and from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.” Part of my role as a teacher is to coax out and engender interest in the text, in the word of God itself. Happily, most of my teaching is with very motivated students: seminarians, pastors, church planters, IFES campus staff workers and staff supervisors, or IFES student leaders. I have been blessed with many very motivated groups of people. (And Lisa is similarly blessed as well, teaching seminarians and advanced theologians who are ready to ponder the word deeply and to preach it thoughtfully.) But in any group, there will be those who have more (interest, attentiveness, eagerness to learn) and those who have, well, less. So my desire is to help people to grow in their moreness, growing in interest and attentiveness to the word. Then I am glad to, as Jesus did, give more (attention, teaching, coaching) to the people who have more (interest and attentiveness).
As to the meanness of “even what they have will be taken away,” I for one do very little taking away. But it is true that those who don’t listen well, or pay attention, or act on what they hear, or seek more understanding—for those people, over time, what little understanding they do get flies out of their brain as they turn their focus on to other things. It isn’t God, Jesus, or even the teacher being mean, it is just the way the brain works. (So pay attention to what you hear!)
I have been teaching six days a week, usually 1.5 to 4 hours/day, for the last seven months. That is far from full-time, so when I am not teaching, I am grading, or preparing. I’ve done a lot of writing of short teaching tools called Sketches of Leadership, which Lisa mentioned in the last letter. This has been tremendously satisfying for me. New ones (and old) can be found here.
But I have a number of relationships with people who, over the years, have had much and have sought more, and I am available to them because, as Jesus said, to those who have, more will be given. So I spend extra time answering questions about assignments, or taking calls from IFES staff in various parts of Eurasia, or praying for church planters in India through WhatsApp. Yesterday, I was on a call with Team Leaders in Ukraine, talking with them about the ministry of supervision and helping them to be better developmental coaches in their supervision role with the staff they lead. My friends in Ukraine have much and I am always glad to give them more, as they have appetite for it.
And in fact, in yesterday’s call, one of the principles of supervision I was talking about was, “To those who have, more will be given.” Because, though it can seem counter-intuitive or at least unfair, it is the principle by which Jesus invested in his disciples, and they in theirs, and it has made the difference in my own life, and indeed is right at the heart of the discipleship model of anyone successfully doing the work of passing along the ministry to the next generation. I am so pleased to be able to be fully devoted to this work.
So what are you doing with the Word you’ve heard recently? I hope that in this season of Lent, God is meeting you richly as you dwell in his Word.
Prayer Requests and Updates:
As you can imagine, we wish we could describe for you a clear plan and timetable for getting to Southeast Asia. The best plan we have is that we will book tickets a month or so out from when we get our first vaccination. At that point, if Malaysia has not yet opened to folks from the US, we will seek to enter Thailand. We are both teaching courses in Malaysia in the summer for which it would be really helpful to be in the same time zone, and Thailand would at least get us that. And it should be easier to enter Malaysia coming from Thailand than from the US.
In the meantime, we ask for prayers for health, patience, cheerful hearts, and that we would seize opportunities to serve from a distance as well as we can.
We are so grateful for each of you being on our team, and we would love to hear how we can pray specifically for you, so hit reply here and drop us a note!
Rich and Lisa Lamb