If joy is a fruit to be cultivated, what are the barriers that keep it from growing? What dangers should we be on the lookout for?
Interestingly, the threats to joy are much the same as the growth stoppers that Jesus warns about in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. In this parable, Jesus talks about four types of soil: three kinds that will stunt our spiritual growth, and one that will foster it. The first three are characterized by hard, packed dirt (hard-heartedness), shallow soil (lack of perseverance), and thorns (worries and distractions). If we allow ourselves to personify any of these examples, we will find joy hard to come by.
But the fourth type of soil – the good soil – promises to yield a rich harvest of fruit in our lives. One can only imagine that this fruit is very similar to the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 – and joy is at the top of that list.
How do we avoid the pitfalls mentioned in this parable? Keep a soft heart by being open to the things of God. Don’t just take God’s word at face value, but dig deep into it so that when trials come your way, your faith won’t be easily uprooted. And be sure to pay close attention to that word, and don’t allow the thorns of this world to draw your heart and mind away from it. And above all, hear God’s word with an ear toward understanding it – and responding. In the end, our response to His word is what makes all the difference.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”Matthew 13:3-9
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives 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. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”Matthew 13:18-23
A Prayer for Joy
Lord, help me cultivate a heart of faith that allows joy to spring up bountifully. Keep me from hard-heartedness, and deepen my faith so that it can withstand the trials of this life. Guard my heart against being pricked by the thorny desires for earthly things. And make my heart a garden that is ready to receive your word and produce a joy-filled harvest that can endure all the elements of this world. Amen.