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On your Mark

Rocky places

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. (Mark 4:16,17, NIV)

Jesus identifies the problem that will be systemic in His Church: Starting is easy; finishing is hard.

I see this all the time. Our national statistics show that for every five persons who pray a confession of faith, only one even follows through with water baptism — the most elemental first step after conversion.

Any leader of a home Bible study knows there are far more participants who begin than finish. It’s the same with volunteers in any ministry. More sign up than show up; more drop out than endure.

The problem is not with the seed, the Word of Jesus, the gospel. Not at all.

In fact, when the good news of Jesus is first received it immediately results in joy. And why not? Sins are forgiven. Reconciliation has taken place with God. A new name has been written down in heaven. Life has now taken on purpose and meaning.

The rocky-place person is showing initial productivity in their Christian walk. The seed of God’s Word has landed, germinated and sprouted. What had once been only ugliness in his or her life now shows promise of beauty and fruitfulness. Jesus has been received with gladness!

But on the rocky place the seed withers away just as quickly as it had sprung up. The recipient of Jesus welcomed the newfound joy, but not the hardship.

That’s a lesson for us all. None of us likes hardships. We want every day to be enjoyable. We desire our work to be satisfying, our marriage or family to be wholesome, challenging and fun. We want everyone to like us. So long as life is a bowl of cherries, we are content.

If we receive Jesus with gladness but falsely assume that no difficulty will follow, then we become the rocky place. Yes, trouble will come.

Jesus speaks not just of any commonplace trouble, but specifically of trouble that arises from embracing Him. This has an obvious and a subtle meaning.

The obvious is when our Christian testimony stands out and we are opposed because of our witness. This happens at many levels — from ridicule to outright violent persecution. In many parts of the world today, followers of Jesus know firsthand the latter. One of my friends at this moment is awaiting trial in a country where religious freedom is guaranteed to only those who practice the approved religion. He is charged with witnessing about his faith in Jesus.

The more subtle form of enduring trouble comes when we remain loyal to Jesus’ teaching rather than doing what we want. A telling illustration is when two believers find in their marriage that they are not satisfied with one another. In obedience to Jesus, do they stay together and work things out? Or do they just do what the world does and pack up and leave?

Is there a disconnect between what you believe and how you behave? Are you following Jesus for the long haul, or just when everything is going well?

The example of the rocky places provides a sober warning to us that we must also be true to Jesus even when the going gets tough.

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, my comfort lies not in my circumstances but in knowing You. May I not serve You only when everything is breaking my way. I want to follow You all the way to the end and hear You say on that day, "Well done!"

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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