Plowing the Hardpan

The hardpan is a dense layer of compacted soil beneath the surface of the tilled field. It is usually too deep to be broken up by plow. Hardpan can occur naturally in clayish soil or can be the result of farm machines compacting soil. Hardpan is a problem because it can cause water to pool and inhibit the development of a plant’s root system.

I think those who have been Christians awhile can suffer from a spiritual hardpan. Too often we receive superficial teaching (plowing) that never goes deep enough to break up the hardpan. Or perhaps even more common, we hear good teaching but don’t do it.

Like farmers with huge high-tech planters and harvesters, Bible teachers in the U.S. have a myriad of sophisticated ways to deliver Biblical truth. We can get the PowerPoint presentation at church, view a video online, and discuss it all in a Facebook group. We are, however, in danger of plowing the same six-inches over and over, creating a hardpan resistant to the water of the Spirit and spiritual growth.

A spiritual hardpan is created when our familiarity with God’s Word is mistaken for obedience. In Nazareth, where people were familiar with Jesus, Jesus could do few miracles because of their unbelief. I grew up in the Church so know this kind of hardpan well. Hebrews 4:2 talks   about the people who get nothing from good news because “it was not united by faith in those who heard.” Knowing and doing aren’t the same thing. Faith means doing.

Farmers can detect hardpan by noticing where water pools, by measuring the moisture content below the hardpan, or by testing how well and quickly water penetrates the soil. Soil compaction can be detected with an instrument called “penetrometer”. I suspect many pastors and teachers wish they had an instrument for testing how well their teaching penetrates the hearts and lives of believers. But for both farmers and pastors the easiest way to identify hardpan is to notice where there is little or no growth.

Among farmers there is some controversy over the best way to remedy hardpan. Methods like deep tillage use “deep rippers” that plow deep enough to tear up the hardpan. Some advocate gentler means: earthworms and the crop rotation.

I think we have the same alternatives as pastors and teachers. We can organize the church into hardcore accountability groups that make certain the Word heard is actually done. These are like “deep rippers” that cut deep into hidden sins, old grudges, and stubborn individualism. We can also employ more organic models of community, modeling of biblical behavior, and gentle exhortation. It is possible that soils of each congregation require different approaches.

Whatever approach we take, we need to break through the hardpan so our roots can go deep and our lives bear fruit.


About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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