Would you say your marriage is in good condition–strong and full of love? Is it able to withstand any challenge that comes along? Or is that just how it appears on the surface?
Sometimes what things look like on the surface hides what lies underneath.
We continue our study this week from Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9). In Part 1, we learned the soil represents the condition of our hearts–where our thoughts and actions come from. We need to prepare the soil of our hearts so God’s seed–His Word–can have the greatest impact possible on our lives and marriages. Part 2 looked at the first type of soil Jesus mentions—the soil along the path. This soil represents the hard heart.
This week we find out about the second type of soil–“rocky places.”
“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” – Mark 4:5-6
The Rocky Places
Unlike the hard path we looked at last week, this ground is covered in some good-looking soil. It looks promising, like the seed will do well there. But hiding underneath that rich dirt is a layer of rock.
This is not unusual in the Palestinian region where Jesus ministered. There is often a ledge of stone just two or three inches below the surface soil. When Jesus calls the ground “rocky,” He does not mean the soil is filled with stones or pebbles. He is referring to this rocky ledge underneath that keeps the seed from taking root. Where there is no root, the plant dies.
Sabra and I experienced this type of ground several years ago when we purchased an old run-down home in a historic neighborhood. After it was remodeled and we moved in, we began working to revive the overgrown yard. We pulled the weeds and scattered seeds, but no matter what we did, there were several spots where nothing would grow well.
Deciding we needed to condition the soil better, we soon found pieces of a concrete slab hiding a few inches beneath the soil in those barren areas. We speculated this might have been part of a foundation for a patio or shed. Whatever its purpose, nothing would grow well in these spots except weeds. The roots could not grow very deep, and the plants would dry up quickly in the hot Texas sun.
Jesus warns us in this parable that our hearts can become just like that ground. When our hearts are like the rocky places, we may be open to God’s truths, but they never really take hold in our lives. They may guide us for a while, but then something happens that causes us to turn from God’s truth to go on our own way and follow the ways of the world.
Jesus explained it this way in Mark 4:16-17: “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.”
Many marriages are like this, even among Christians. I have seen it in my own pastoral and counseling ministry.
A couple starts off well. They go through pre-marital counseling, hear and study God’s Word, and fully intend to follow it. They make their vows before God, and their marriage begins well. Then some time after the honeymoon, they are in my office again. This time, though, they come because they are fighting all the time, and the other person isn’t what they thought they were. They wonder if they married the wrong person.
This can happen at any time in our marriages if we do not make the constant effort to remain close to God and each other.
Couples that go to a minister or biblical counselor have a chance to turn things around. But sadly, many couples simply assume they have made a mistake about who they married and give up. They are like the seed who have hit that hard ledge right below the soil. They do not receive the water and nutrients they need to survive, grow, and be fruitful. And the relationship slowly dies.
This is never God’s plan.
Breaking Through the Rock
God’s solution is to remove the hard rock ledge that keeps the roots of the plant from growing deep in the soil below. Only when we follow God’s plan will we be filled with the water and food we need to grow, prosper, and bear fruit in our marriage. This is not an easy task. It takes effort on our part.
Sabra and I spent long hours over several weeks to dig up that concrete and prepare the soil before we could get anything to grow in our yard. And we had to continue working on it to keep things growing as long as we lived there.
In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Barclay, writes: “It takes about five percent effort to win a man to Christ, and ninety-five percent to keep him in Christ and grow him into maturity.” These statistics would be similar for a God-pleasing marriage.
It is always easier to start something than to complete it. We all begin our marriages with great hope and intentions. The romantic feeling of love can keep us going for a while. But then we hit that first problem and the feelings are not so pleasant anymore. This is where the real effort begins.
Romance is wonderful, and we should do all we can to hold on to it and enhance it in our marriages. But our spouses will disappointment us, and trials will come into our lives. Neither we nor our lives in this world are perfect. Jesus promised: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
We may not even feel loving toward our spouse at certain times. However, the love to which God has called us is not based on our feelings. It is agape love, which is demonstrated to each other no matter how we feel. Agape love is based on a covenant. It is unconditional, sacrificial love.
If we think of the marriage relationship as a train, agape love should be the engine of the train that pulls our feelings along after it. We must never let our feelings become the engine, or it will derail us every time. But if we keep treating our wife or husband with agape love, the feelings of love will follow soon after.
Remember also that while Jesus promised trouble in this world, He also promised to be with us every step of the way. He said in John 16:33: “…take heart! I have overcome the world.”
As we strive to keep our relationship with the Lord strong and close, both as individuals and as a couple, Christ will give us the grace and strength we need to love each other with His love and overcome every obstacle.
So keep breaking through those layers of rock that you hit in your life and marriage. Keep cultivating the soil of your hearts.
Prepare the soil of your marriage as you study God’s Word and pray together. Use Couple Connect – A Simple Weekly Plan to Stay Close for a Lifetime to grow in your communication with each other. Spend time alone in deep conversations over coffee (or whatever you like), sharing your hopes and dreams. Take walks together, enjoy God’s creation, and discuss life together. Spend time together seeking God, hearing from Him, and from each other.
Keep on loving each other with agape love, and the romantic love will follow. And watch your marriage thrive in beauty, in enjoyment, and in godliness.
Questions for Discussion
- Read this week’s teaching together, and discuss what it speaks to you about your marriage. What can you learn and apply to make your marriage stronger and more God honoring?
- What hard rock has built up in your hearts and/or marriage? Is there something that needs to be dealt with that so that hard layer can be dug out of your heart and so your marriage can be what God intends to be? If so, discuss it with love, grace, kindness, and mercy. Recall that for you to have the fruit of the Spirit, it is necessary for the Holy Spirit to be free to work fully in your lives. If that is to happen, you cannot have unconfessed sin, including unforgiveness and anger that has not been dealt with.
- Are you doing individually and as a couple what it requires to tear up or keep away any concrete ledge in your marriage? If not, determine today what you will begin doing, and then follow through on that plan this week. Make certain to include regular Bible study and prayer. Do not wait.
- What will you do this week and in weeks to come to cultivate the soil in your marriage and to keep the love – both agape and romantic love – going and growing? Decide to do something you both enjoy doing together. Later you can do something your spouse enjoys that maybe you don’t enjoy very much to show your love to her or him. Remember – cultivating and growing love and a healthy marriage takes time and effort.
Next week we will continue our study of the Parable of the Soils and how we can apply it in our marriages as we look at the seed that “fell among thorns” (Mark 4:7).
Until then, may God bless you and your marriages in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the PREPARING YOUR MARRIAGE TO THRIVE series:
Part 1–The Importance of Your Heart’s Condition
Part 2–Softening the Hard Places
Part 4–Removing the Thorns
Part 5–Cultivating the Good Things
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Header photo by Paul Jarvis via Unsplash (CC0), cropped/text added.
Stone photo by kormosedit0 via pixabay (CC0), text/overlay added.
Seedling photo by Alan via pixabay (CC0), text added.