My mom always used to say to my sisters and I when we were fighting, “What would you do if our pastor knocked on the door right now? I bet you’d stop your bickering immediately and put a smile on your face.” Oh, Pastor! How nice to see you. Do come in.
If you have the windows open in the house and you know the neighbor you’re trying to impress is working in her backyard, you can bet the attitude you take with a spouse you are upset with is going to be totally different than if the windows and blinds are closed.
We all have certain ways we wish to be seen. We posture ourselves and our marriages so they look just right to anyone looking in. But when the company has gone home, when the front door is closed, what does your marriage look like? What’s the tone between the two of you? What happens when it’s just you and your wife in the room and you know no one else can hear you? When it’s time to crawl into bed at night, what do you talk about? Do you talk at all? Maybe you’re not even going to bed at the same time, just to avoid conflict or possible interaction with each other.
We can all put on a good front for a few minutes. We can change our behavior for the sake of keeping the peace or for the sake of putting on a show, but it never lasts in the long run.
Changing our outward actions momentarily never changes our hearts permanently.
Eventually, and most likely, daily, you will be in situations that shake you up a bit, that upset you, that rattle your world…a parenting decision by your spouse you heartily disagree with; a wife who irresponsibly over-drafted on the bank account; a husband who chooses to hang out with his friends rather than you. It’s what comes out in moments like these that reveal who we actually are. The real us. They also reveal what’s really going on under the surface of our marriage. (God’s Word says that what’s in our hearts will always come out for everyone else to see).
Mark 4:22 says “For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.”
Your spouse probably knows you better than you know yourself. They see who you are on the inside because they are familiar with what you say and do. Your actions are like a mirror of who you are. Let’s take that one step further; God knows you even better than that. Romans 15:8 along with many other passages tell us that God knows and understands our hearts – what motivates us, what is hidden deep within that we think no one else can see. He knows how we will react given a set of circumstances. He even gives those trying times to us so that He can produce what’s pleasing to Him.
James 1 says that God brings trials to us so that the testing of our faith will produce the things we need…like perseverance. God wants to show us what’s in our hearts – to reveal to us if we have the perseverance to do the right thing in our marriages. To stick out a tough conversation when we feel like walking away. To gently talk to our spouse about an issue rather than coming down on them like a verbal hammer. He puts us in sticky spots and then brings the truth of Scripture to our hearts and minds so that we can make a good choice, one that would please Him.
No matter the words you use, no matter the actions you live out…it’s what’s in your heart that’s at the root of all you say, do and think.
We are so glad you’re here with us today on VowsToKeep Radio as we continue in the Bible for marriage series… Looking at familiar Bible passages and applying them directly to our marriage relationships. We have been blessed with the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments and the I Am statements of Jesus. God has given us passages like that to make the path us before us so we don’t stumble in the darkness of our sitting in our marriage relationships.
Today were going to continue this series with a familiar parable from Jesus in Mark chapter 4 – The Parable of the Sower. You know the one with the four different kinds of seed.
Let’s read it together now in Mark 4, starting in verse 3. “A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
Jesus is the farmer and he wants his word which is the seed, to grow in our hearts which are the 4 different kinds of soil. Our marriages have soil, too.
Get this: The soil is the heart and culture of our marriage.
What does the soil in your marriage look like? If you dig below the surface, do you quickly find rocks of independence, disrespect or dishonesty? Do you have weeds of bitterness and unforgiveness in your marriage?
God wants to help you dig those up and in their place, plant the seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit. He has a great harvest in mind for your marriage.
We don’t typically think of our marriages having a “Culture”. But they do. An underlying “soil” if you will, the environment of our marriages. And it effects everything we do in our relationship. The health of the soil of your marriage always needs to be tended to.
Your marriage has a soil that’s either ready to receive the Word of God – hearing it, reading it, acting on it – or your marriage has a soil in which God’s Word can’t grow.
When we move to Ohio several years ago, we realized pretty quickly that the soil in Ohio is extremely different than the soil in South Dakota where Tracy grew up which is extremely different from the soil for David grew up in Wyoming. Someone recommended to me before I planted a garden to get a soil test done on my property. I had never heard of such a thing! Don’t you just put a seed in the ground, water it and watch it grow?
Here’s what OSU says: “Soil test results pinpoint plant nutrient needs and soil test lab recommendations guide fertilizer applications so just the right amount is used. Test results also provide information for making plant selection decisions based on “the right plant in the right place” and a soil test can help diagnose what went wrong if good plants go bad.”
With their recommendations, we can adjust the balances in the soil and get a good crop that we might not of had before but we’re not known what to add. So my garden has a lot of clay and rocks in it. Takes quite a bit of telling and digging and mulching before anything is able to thrive in that soil.
As you read Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower, read with an ear on the heart and culture of your marriage…
“The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear. 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—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
I’m no master gardener, but several years ago, I began a little backyard garden project. I have 2 raised bed planters that David built for me. We didn’t touch the grass underneath the beds; instead, we brought in fresh soil that had been fertilized and was ready to put little seeds into. I researched how far apart to plant my carrots, peas, spinach, tomatoes and zucchini.
I was pretty diligent that first year; researching just how much sun and water each plant would need. I’d go out there every day to check the progress and while I was there, I’d reach in and pull any naughty weeds that had snuck their way in. One of the best things about a raised bed garden is that there are no rocks or clay soil to contend with. It’s super easy for the young, tender plants to become strong enough to withstand a rainstorm or a wind because there’s nothing to stop the growth of their roots. They reach right down through the filtered soil and become mature vegetables that we enjoyed eating and canning that fall. (If I would have started with any old dirt I found lying around, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had the crop I did.)
As you think about the kinds of soil mentioned in Mark 4, what kind do you think the heart of your marriage has? Is the soil of your marriage really more of a hard surface where nothing even has the chance to grow? Is your soil too shallow and rocky to keep anything good going for long? Are there thorns and weeds that choke out the life of your love and passion? Or do you have a soft, tilled soil? A marriage that awaits the harvest of all God has planted?
Some of our marriages are that first kind: ours is the hard surface, fast-paced soil, where the good seeds of truth are being cast out on the highway of life. They’re wasted along the roadside. That footpath can become so dry, it can start to feel like a desert. It’s a barren wasteland with nothing but cactus around and we’re just relieved to not get poked or hurt in the process.
Is yours the soil Jesus describes that’s planted in shallow soil. At first, the marriage looks good. Roots develop quickly and life is coming up all roses. Then, like Jesus describes, the young plant withers in the heat, the sun is just too much. Life is just too much. And things die because the roots aren’t deep.
Jesus says this soil also can have underlying rocks that upon first glance, can’t be seen. If God went tilling up the soil of your marriage, what rocks would be unearthed? If you were to till far below the surface, would you hit boulders of infidelity, dishonesty, selfishness or financial independence?
In Mark 4:7, we see the third kind of soil. Jesus says, “Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.”
It’s a no-brainer, even for those of you who have more of a brown thumb than I do – if you don’t weed continually, nothing good will grow in any garden or field. Weeding is a constant process. I can leave things left unattended in my perennial beds and before long, it’s hard to tell what’s what anymore! In our marriages, too, sin takes root quickly and maybe you’re seeing the effects of those choking thorns even now.
The soil in your marriage will determine the health of your marriage.
Hard, Shallow, Rocky and full of Weeds. Sometimes just one of these will stand out to me – one that strikes a chord with the current culture of our relationship. Other times, I think that David and I fall into each one of these categories all at the same time.
But it’s that last kind of soil in Mark 4 that God has really created us for. Yielding hearts, receptive to the planted Word of God, not lying dormant but ready to grow and produce a crop 30, 60, 100 beyond what was planted.
(This is where math and the Fruit of the Spirit combine. So if you’re good at either language arts or math you’re going to like this.) Can you imagine 30 times more peace in your household? 60 times more gentleness or 100 times more love? What?! I can’t wrap my mind around what that would look like. But that’s exactly what God is saying here. God is the master sower. He knows just where to plant the seeds of His word to produce in you and your marriage the Fruit of His Holy Spirit. He scatters the truth of how to be longsuffering. He sows the good seed of gentleness and patience.
You might be saying OK, if he is doing that why am I not seeing _____? Here’s where we come in. We do our part. 5 things:
- Getting our hearts ready.
A couple, we’ll call them Dan and Lori, came to V2K determined to seek marital help that used the Bible as the foundation. Both professed faith in Christ but the marriage and problems they described showed their shallow soil and their methodology of farming. Each had had bouts of substance abuse and empty promises were the norm. There was clear evidence that their faith was in question but they had a desire to know God. As we talked about the importance of Scripture as a foundation, their retort was all about their emotional response to how their spouse was making them feel. The depth of this soil made the penetration of God’s Word (the seed of truth) ineffective. As much as they believed God to be powerful enough to save them from their sins, when the rubber met the road, they weren’t convinced that God’s Word was adequate to be applied to heal their marriage.
Shallow soil is common in marriage because it’s deceptive. Seeds quickly take root and things pop up out of the soil. Life’s looking pretty good until the first real trial comes along. We let the tests and trials of the day turn us against each other rather than letting them be a tiller to turn over the soil to make it better than it was before.
God gives us this promise and Ezekiel 36:26-27…”I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Here’s where you start today: Invite Him in and let the Him make the swap – your hard heart for a soft, pliable new one. .
A big part of getting our hearts ready to go from shallow soil to deep soil is in the baby steps of obedience. Read 1 Peter 3 and pick out a step you could start taking right away:
8 “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 9 Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 10 For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy
and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies.
11 Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
12 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
against those who do evil.”
The next time your spouse has wronged you and you don’t do what you FEEL like doing, and instead you do what God’s Word asks you to do, you just went a little deeper. When your spouse intentionally stirs up trouble at home, search for the peace that God says He will provide and work to maintain it, knowing God will give you what you need. You just broke up some hard ground.
When what comes out of your mouth is building up of your spouse rather than tearing down, that’s right, deeper still. Every act of obedience to God’s Word let’s your somewhat shallow roots reach a little further in the soil to get the strength they need to continue to choose right. Before you know it, you’ll see those seeds of Scripture sprout up into beautiful crops that will start to yield something worthwhile.
But first, the seed needs to get in there.
2. We have to let the seed be planted. In order to do that, we have to be in God’s Word continually and let it teach us. Sometimes we plant our own seeds, hoping in the end, we’ll be pleased with the harvest. Let’s take a listen to Galatians 6:7-8 on God’s economy.
Galatians 6:7-10 “A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
In order for the roots of your marriage to go deep, to produce wonderful fruit that you desire in your marriage, we have to have the right kind of seed. What seeds are you planting? Don’t be deceived, The harvest you’ll get is directly correlated. Where do we spend our time and energy and how does that impact us and our marriage? A simple thing of playing video games or going to hang out with the guys after work, even though these things aren’t necessarily bad, could be effecting your marriage more than you think.
Consider how texting constantly or spending your time in front of the TV or YouTube are seeds that you’re planting. Are your resources being spent outside of your relationship so that at the end of the day, you don’t have anything left to give to your spouse, anything left to keep the culture of your marriage healthy.
If you’re looking to harvest something different than indifference or selfishness or the cold shoulder, change your seeds. Invest your time specifically to love on your spouse and your kids. Spend your time studying the life of Jesus to see how he treated people. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the other things that you’re worried about not having in your life will be added to you as well.
And when you begin to sow seeds of God’s word in your relationship, don’t just do them once or twice continue in them. And that’s the third step…
3. We water the Word: when I think of watering the plant I think of going to a water source filling up a watering can and walking garden or better yet waiting for it to rain! Less work for me right? I don’t think that’s how we are to water the word of God. Jeremiah 17
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.”
We say yes, Lord, have your way. Why would I just come to God for a watering can full of water when my marriage soil starts to crack from dryness? What we need is to plant ourselves right next to God’s continual water source.
If you’ve ever tried to grow a flowering pot on a shady porch you know that that does not work. Why? Because we need the final element for growth. We need light. And that’s the next step for us…
5. We stay in the light: Jeremiah 17 continues
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
It’s an open and exposed place before God. It can get hot, it can get muggy, it can get uncomfortable. Expose yourself for God letting him see what’s really in your heart so that can be continually improved upon.
And the final step for us in working towards a good harvest in our marriage…
4. Dig out The weeds and rocks of sin: while your shallow soil is being dug up to make more room for the roots to grow, you’re going to hit a rock or two along the way. This is kind of like a refiner’s fire, where the silver gets heated up to unbearable temperatures but as a result, the dross comes to the top and can be skimmed away, leaving the purity of the metal behind.
Buried rock is easier left alone because when it gets attention, it disrupts everything around it. Digging out a big rock underneath some newly growing plants can disturb their tender roots. BUT, if it’s dealt with sooner than later, more healthy plants will be able to grow.
We drove past a farmer’s field near our house a few days ago and the family was out working in the field, heaving basketball-sized rocks into a tractor’s bucket. Even though they’ve been harvesting that field for years, new rocks keep coming to the surface.
David and I have encountered rocks we didn’t even know were there. Rocks we thought we had removed with the truth of God’s Word years ago, only to realize we left one behind.
Many marriages hit rocks of selfishness, pride, lust, or disunity. The seeds of love and joy and peace and gentleness can’t get past these obstacles, so they have to be removed if we want to see a harvest. The best and only bulldozer in the rock removal business is the Holy Spirit and the work He does with the Word of God. If you are sensitive enough to Him to recognize when He points out a boulder in your marriage, ask His help in removing it. No rock is too big for Him to yank out.
Weeds too, can choke out what’s good in a marriage. Mark 4 talks about soil where the seeds of God’s Word grow quickly but are soon choked out by the cares of this life and the pursuits the world has to offer.
This can happen too in marriage. When, as a couple, we place the things of this world as a higher priority than those things that God would want for our lives, nothing good can grow.
David and I have experienced this recently. We have a good garden. We’ve been peeking out the kitchen window for a while now, keeping an eye on how it’s growing. But, life is busy and we’ve been tending to other things. No surprise that weeds have sprung up while we were away. It only takes a few minutes for the cares of the world to overshadow the good plants and soaking up the sun intended for the crop. The world and its pursuits are thieves, stealing the nutrients our marriages need to maintain their health. Mark 4 says the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things CHOKE the Word of God and kill opportunities for growth and fruitfulness.
These thorns can be deceivingly benign. They can start out as Something as simple as having our kids involved in too many extracurricular activities. Then you reach in to try to prune them back and get scratched up and poked in the process.
Perhaps it’s the constant arguing and the disagreements you have that has become your biggest weed. The clambering for what you feel is your right to have down time.
Any disunity will choke out the growth of your marriage.
Maybe it’s the careers we’ve both chosen and all of a sudden we find ourselves running here and there with no time for “us”. We’ve set a pace for our lives and we find that that time spent can quickly become a thorn that chokes out the good things that God wants to grow in us. If all we have left at the end of the day is a quick peck on the cheek, the soil in our marriage will quickly dry up in that environment.
Maybe it’s time you got on your gardening gloves and started to pull out those weeds in your marriage. And not just the tops of those nasty green things…get them all the way down to the root. Get rid of the root of bitterness that may be choking out kindness and gentleness in your marriage by using the tool of forgiveness. Pull out the root of independence by the root by embracing the unity God gave you. Dig deep and pull out the rocks that cause your roots to be shallow by taking time to read the Bible on a daily basis so those seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control can be planted, watered and harvested constantly.
If I pull weeds in my garden once a month, I don’t get a whole lot that’s edible because the weeds have pretty much taken over. If I weed once a week, I have about 20 or 30 to pull out and I disrupt the soil in the process, startling young, tender plants that are trying to grow. If I check on my garden every day, I can catch the weeds while they still have short roots; they’re easy to pull out, and it only takes me a few minutes rather than an hour of back-breaking work in the sun.
Our heavenly father is the master gardener who wants to change the heart and culture of your marriage.
He’s the one that gives you the exchange of a new heart. He’s the one who gives you Good seed to plant through the power of his holy word.
He’s the living water that brings health and life to your relationship, a constant fountain. He’s the source of light that will cause the good seeds to grow “I am the light of the world.” And he promises – “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
And He’s got just the right tools to get the rocks and weeds out. He is the one working and you both to will and to do for his good purpose. According to Hebrews 13 he will equip you with every good thing to do his will.
Read Hosea 10:12 NIV
“Sow righteousness for
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.”
Your hearts are as hard
as a field
that has not been plowed.
If you change your ways,
you will produce good crops.
So plant the seeds of doing what is right.
Then you will harvest the fruit of your faithful love.
It is time to seek the Lord.
When you do, he will come
and shower his blessings on you.”
Then your marriage will reap a harvest, like Mark 4 says, 30, 60, even 100 what was planted.