Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19—NKJV)

The gardening season comes and goes each year. With each passing month often comes diminishing expectations. Early in the spring, as the rays of the rising sun warm the soil, and the seed catalogs arrive in the mail full of mouth-watering pictures of bright fruit and healthy plants, the heart of the gardener begins to swell and he begins to exercise his green thumb. He plans his garden, prepares the soil, plants his seeds, waters patiently, and cherishes dreams of his bountiful harvest.

But as the months progress, other green things pop up out of the soil, crowd, and compete with his cherished plants. Bugs descend and spoil the pristine leaves. The “trial by fire” of drought accompanies the dog days of summer. He smiles through his sweat as he sees the first flowers and the nubby beginnings of fruit, remembering the photo-perfect fruit of the catalogs. Then the 24-hour watch begins as he fends off deer, raccoons, groundhogs, and squirrels. Funny how the animals are not as fussy as the catalogs in determining when a fruit is ripe for the picking. Before long, he finds himself packing away his green thumb alongside his tools, and gathering dried vines into the compost along with their dwarfed, shriveled, misshapen fruit still stubbornly clinging, though rejected by both man and beast.

Experiences such as these teach the valuable lesson that good fruit is hard to grow, get, and keep. It seems this is the lesson that our Lord Jesus was teaching to genuine believers when He spoke about the third type of soil in the Parable of the Sower (found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8).

You will remember that there are four types of soil which receive the seed from the hand of the sower. The seed sown is the Word and the soil is emblematic of heart characteristics of various hearers. The first soil is characterized by hardness, it is called the wayside, much like a hard-packed pathway which would be easy pickings for grackles to steal the seed away. Consequently the seed never germinates—there is no life—therefore the wayside heart is not born-again.

The second soil is stony. The words used by our Lord indicate a rocky ledge with a thin layer of dusty soil deposited upon it. The seed has a chance to germinate but, with no depth of soil, there is no root to withstand the hot sun. The parallel is the human heart which gladly receives the good news of the Gospel, but there is no spiritual life, and all indications of life shrivel in the trials of life. He, too, has not been born-again.

The third soil of the heart is the one which will occupy the rest of our thoughts. This soil is good soil for germination and root. This man is authentically born again. His fondest desire is to bear lasting and valuable fruit for the Lord of the Harvest. He desires to be the fourth soil of heart which bears fruit many-fold, but problems lurk in the shadows around his heart, because weedy seeds are allowed to germinate during the growing season alongside the burgeoning seed of the Word.

Our Lord speaks of three thorny problems with which every spiritual soil must contend: the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things. These same thorns, if left to their own devices within the soil of your heart, will choke the Word by crowding its real estate in the heart, stealing its mineral resources, robbing its sunshine, and quaffing its water. The Word is choked off from full fruit in his life. Though there may be knobby fruit visible to the discerning eye, enough to give hope of a meager taste, there is no possibility of photo-perfect fruit.

Since heavenly fruit is impossible to produce without removing the thorns, it is important to recognize the weeds in order to remove them. The first weed is “cares of this world,” meaning worldly distractions, worry and anxiety—being drawn in multiple directions. Fruit production requires purposed focus. The second weed is “deceitfulness of riches,” meaning hot pursuit of wealth for its glittery promises, leaving you empty in both heart and hand. Guard against the false sense of security of self-sufficiency and well-being. Fruit production requires divine dependence. The third weed is “the desires of other things,” meaning craving and passionate desire for anything not fruit-related. It is allowing other things to crowd in upon and choke out the maturing of the Word at any stage of your spiritual journey, such that fruit is never brought to full ripeness. Fruit production requires constant vigilance.

What kind of spiritual gardener are you? Is your heart prepared for the seed of the Word—is there life? Are you growing, diligently fending-off the lurking dangers and producing ripening fruit for the Lord of the Harvest? Trust and obey.