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The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Here we have Mark 4:14-20. This is one of those less-than-helpful joy references. We’re not talking about true, lasting, God-given joy in this case. Instead, it is fleeting, ephemeral. Trouble and hardship kill this joy quickly. It is the joy of a shallow faith, one that hardly has roots to stand up in the face of any difficulty. It’s the kind of faith that thinks hardship means that your faith isn’t strong enough. I commend to your personal reading the entire chapter, especially verses 1-20 to get the entire parable of the sower and the seeds. It’s a familiar story to anyone who has been a Sunday school regular as a child. The imagery is easy to grasp so it’s a favorite of Christian education programs and curricula.

The true joy comes in the last group, the good soil group. They hear the word and respond with bearing fruit, showing their faith with their lives, and the kingdom of God grows through it. Does that mean they don’t have hardships? Of course not. The most fruitful trees are the ones that have been carefully pruned. I can honestly say in my life that I didn’t have any sort of ability to share my faith until we went through all of our struggles. It is the hardships that have produced the fruit in my life, instead of choking out the growth of faith. And it is the mercy of God that I can still stand on my feet and share my faith with others. I know at times it shocks the people I meet that I can still trust in God despite all of the bad. But it’s precisely because He never let go of me during the bad that I can trust Him. He has heard my every cry, counted my every tear, and sometimes been my only comfort in the storm. Without God’s love in my life, I couldn’t survive. And I can’t help but praise Him for it.