Challenges, Purpose

Identifying & Ending Cycles of Harmful Behavior in Marriage

I watched a video a while back that completely wrecked me. It’s a message delivered by Francis Chan where he talks about the parable of the sower. As he explained Jesus’ words, one phrase hit me like a ton of bricks: “Don’t assume you are the good soil.”

If you spend any time online, you’ll read dozens of Christian pick-me-up phrases daily; bite-size sermons condensed to 140 characters (give or take) and specifically designed to inspire and motivate. But Francis’ statement was a refreshing, albeit abrupt break from that trend. It made me question myself. I questioned my faith, my life trajectory, and my motivations. It made me pause and wonder: “Am I actually good soil?

I suppose Scripture should have that effect on us more often than not. Why? Definitely not to make us feel terrible about ourselves in general for no reason. It’s always to point us to Christ. I’ve found that the further I get from self-reliance, pride, and thinking I have it all together, the greater my reliance on Christ and his perfection becomes.

Christ’s words exist for a greater purpose than adding pep in our step – they must bear fruit in our lives by lovingly and consistently revealing our absolute need for him and him alone.

If knowing Jesus bears fruit in our lives, the same fruit should naturally be visible in our marriages.

Soil, rotten fruit, and repeated cycles

As you’ve heard us say before, Jesus must be at the center of a healthy marriage. Only the identity, security, and help he gives allows us to live with true love the way he designed it.

If your marriage’s fruit is rotten or non-existent, you need not visit the “good-deeds grocery store” to buy fruit to tie to your branches. That fruit will be fresh and look pretty for a time, but it will rot in days because it’s fake. It’s not attached to the roots.

Many couples see this trend in their marriages: someone sins, the other gets hurt, both seek reconciliation, sinner resolves to be better (do better), swap roles, repeat.

Husbands struggle habitually with pornography, angry outbursts are a way of life, communication is unhealthy, finances are a train wreck, wives struggle with identity and it causes conflict, and on and on. When an offense happens, guilt and desperation kick in and they struggle to change behavior. The change lasts for a little while, but without real heart transformation, the trend is bound to repeat itself.

Surface changes always have an expiration date but true change is always the effect of Jesus’ cause.

If I have bad fruit in my life, it’s an indication that I’m not really rooted in Christ in some area. I’m not putting my fullest trust in him. So we must look at our own fruit, not as the primary thing to pursue, but rather as an indicator of what’s going in on beneath the surface: in the soil. 

Your fruit is the true test for the health of your roots. And Francis’ statement, “Don’t assume you are the good soil“, caused me to look to my fruit (our fruit as a couple) to find ways I need to trust Jesus more.  It’s forced me to ask: what fruit is our marriage producing as a result of Jesus’ involvement?

The Story of the Sower

Take time to really read this passage and picture each scenario. Jesus is speaking to his disciples.

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Mark 4:3-9 

Let’s apply each scenario to modern life and marriage. In all cases, Jesus is the Sower, the seed is his word, and we are the soil.

1: Hard ground

In the first scenario, seed falls along the path. Path soil is hard and compact, as it’s been travelled heavily. When the seed lands, it can’t take root and grow because the ground is too hard. Before long, it’s devoured or dead.

If our hearts and minds are too hard, we’re not receptive to the word when it’s presented to us. As Jesus explains in verse 15, this scenario happens when the word is heard, but Satan quickly comes and takes away the word that is sown.

If that’s you: ask God for a soft, receptive heart. Through his help, you can work through whatever is hardening your heart.

2: Rocky ground

Rocky ground lacks nutrient-rich depth. Seeds that fall on rocky ground may spring into life quickly, but lack of depth causes growth to stop and the seed dies.

You may experience this type of flash-in-the-pan growth if you’re not part of a solid church body. Church is not just a location, it’s a family of brothers and sisters in Christ that can help keep your soil deep.

If that’s you: take a quick audit of the relationships in your life. Make sure you are surrounded by other couples who are hungry to grow in Christ and their understanding of the Gospel. Intentionally build Christ-centered relationships if you don’t have any.

3: Thorny ground

In this case, the seed grows fine but is choked to death by the surrounding bushes. What are the “thorny bushes” in your lives that are choking your seed to death? Jesus describes the thorny bushes as the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.

Things like career, possessions, and wealth are fine, but they aren’t the main thing. Jesus must be at the center. Every decision and desire should radiate outward from your identity in and affection for him. His word gets choked in us when we allow the “thorny” things to take precedence over what he is teaching and where he is calling us.

If that’s you: consider what potential “chokers” might exist in your life and what priority they hold. What would happen if you removed every thorny bush in your life?

4: Fertile ground

Fertile ground allows the seed to grow and bear fruit. This represents a heart that hears the word, believes, and and puts it into immediate action as an act of worship, gratefulness, and adoration. When we act on the word and obey when asked, the return will multiply.

If that’s you: Pray for continued conviction in areas where you need it.

In all things…

This is a brief overview and I’m sure you could spend months studying this passage in detail. For now, I hope my quick thoughts get you thinking about soil (you), fruit (your behavior), how the two indicate your need for Christ. In all things, look to Jesus. Put your trust in him, and simply ask him to give you deeper believe in the Gospel. I feel compelled to pray…


You are vastly more powerful, loving, and involved than we will ever understand. Thank you for giving us Scripture to hear your voice directly. Help us understand the depth of your love in Christ and the fullness of his work on the cross. Work on our hearts to reveal areas that are enemy outposts for self-reliance and disbelief in the gospel. We need more of you every day, but distractions and doubt can keep us from hearing your voice. Gently remind us of our need for you and stir in us a desire to seek you relentlessly. You deserve everything we have to give and so much more, yet you gave everything to us so we could draw near to you. Continue to make us holy and our marriages strong; all for your glory.

In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Are you fertile ground? What are some ways you can work with your spouse to make sure your marriage is fertile soil?

Also, please feel free to ask any questions regarding this post in the comments below.

Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?

Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?

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