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As many of you know I work full-time at Victory Academy for Boys in Amberg, Wisconsin. Our greatest goal at Victory is to reach each boy’s heart with God’s Truth and Love. We’ll never be content just modifying behavior.
But as we learned last time, there are a lot of different hearts, and if we want to communicate as effectively as Jesus, we’d better be prepared to know who we’re talking to and the best way to communicate it.
But more on that in a minute.
If you haven’t already heard, I’m very excited to interview Natasha Crain on May 31st. We’ll discuss her blog and her book, but we’re also going to dedicate an entire episode to answering your parenting questions. Please post them on TLP’s Facebook page or email them to TeamTLP@TruthLoveParent.com. The more questions we receive, the more we can help you become intentional, premeditated parents.
Last time we looked briefly at the three New Testament passages that record Jesus’ Parable of the Soils. There we learned that when it comes to responding to the gospel, there are four different hearts. And that’s where our title for this series comes from – The Four Children.
Each of your kids fits into at least one these categories. But determining which heart they have is only part of the equation. There are three imperative questions to ask as we study The Four Children.
- How does my child respond to Truth?
- Why does my child respond that way?
- How do I respond like Jesus did? This last question includes not only knowing what Truth to share, but how to share it.
So, let’s get started with the first child illustrated in the Parable of the Soils – the Hard-Hearted Child. Without even hearing the description, some of you probably believe this is your child, but listen carefully how Christ describes them. For those of you who wouldn’t describe any of your children’s hearts as being hard, I’d encourage you to stick with us. First, we parents can often be surprised. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve counseled who sit across from in tears and exclaim, “I thought my child loved God!” Second, frequently our the state of our children’s hearts can fluctuate between them. A thorny heart today may turn into a hard heart tomorrow. And Third, even if the Lord allows all your children to have soft and accepting hearts, you will meet people who are hard as stone. Hopefully, today’s discussion will benefit you when the time comes.
Here’s what Jesus says about this child:
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and [were] trampled underfoot, and the birds came and devoured them.”
And then He explains what He meant:
“And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one [Satan] comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart so that they may not believe and be saved. This is what was sown along the path.”
The Hard-Hearted Child – Agriculturally speaking, the ground nearest the foot paths are the most compact due to the weight of people, animals, and vehicles. Seeds sown there can’t take root any more than they can on modern day concrete. This makes it easy for birds to swoop in and dine on the seeds. Jesus says that many people respond to Truth the same way hard ground receives seeds — it doesn’t. And then Satan and his demonic forces can easily swoop in snatch away the Truth that was sown.
1. Let’s start with the first question: How does my child respond to Truth?
He hears the word
But does not understand the word
Then experiences satanic influence in some way or another that snatches the Truth away.
And consequently, the Hard-Hearted Child does not believe and/or is not born again.
I think it’s extremely valuable to notice that it doesn’t say anything about what the Child says or how they say it. It doesn’t say the Hard-Hearted Child runs away or is rebellious. It doesn’t say the Hard-Hearted child joins a gang and starts doing drugs. Don’t read into this passage our cultural ideas about being hard-hearted.
Yes, it’s true that in the Exodus we learn about Pharaoh hardening his heart and doing terrible things to the Jews.
It’s true II Chronicles 36 describes King Zedekiah who
“did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
But consider Mark 16:14:
“Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” By the way, this verse comes right before Jesus gave these same men the Great Commission.
What we learn from this is the key indicators of a hard heart are ignorance, confusion, misunderstanding, and unbelief. This may be in response to the gospel, or any other Truth. A hard heart may exhibit itself in defiance and swearing or running away or rebellion, but it may also hide itself under a seemingly sweet and obedient exterior.
The first response we see ignorance. But keep in mind that the ignorance a heart-hearted person experiences isn’t the ignorance of someone who’s never heard the Truth. This is someone who though she’s been exposed repeatedly to Truth, seems to be just as ignorant of it as she was before.
The second response is confusion or lack of understanding.
I Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
And their last response to Truth is unbelief.
I think the best biblical word to sum up the Hard-Hearted Child is “blind.”
II Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Have you ever discussed a Truth in amazing detail with all the Bible verses you know, only to have your child completely forget it all the very next day? And not only did they forget it, but they proclaim the opposite to be true? Have the simplest biblical ideas been unnecessarily confusing to your kids? Are you children still refusing to believe the gospel? If that describes your son or daughter, you may be parenting a Hard-Hearted Child.
2. So, the second question becomes very important. Why does my child respond that way? There are two factors at play in this answer: the first is demonic forces and the second is your child’s unbelief.
Let’s deal with the scarier one first. Let me say that I’m not here to tell you exactly how Satan manages to steal the Truth from your kids, but the Bible provides a couple possible scenarios.
- He may use demon possession. I know, this one is the most petrifying, but we can’t discuss it here for lack of time. But don’t worry, we will talk later about what the Bible has to say about demon possession and whether or not your child is in danger of it. Of course, you’re free to contact us at counselor@TruthLoveParent.com if you really want an answer now. And, before we move on, remember that we need not fear Satan any more than we fear man. Fearful parenting is failure parenting. We must trust the Lord in all things and live accordingly.
- The second thing the Satan may do is simply distract us. There are three major players when it comes to temptation — the world, the flesh, and Satan. And all three tempt us in three categories — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. I believe that demonic forces sometimes tempt us to get us to do the thing they want us to do. However, I also believe they tempt us to do things that will simply distract us from what we should be doing. At Victory Academy for Boys we have morning devotions and evening chapel times. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve discussed heavy Truths, and I can see the guys really grappling with them, but the moment I say amen, it’s as if we’d just been staring at clouds, and they become completely distracted by the most superficial things.
We know that God’s Word is quick and power and convicting, but we also know God allows demonic forces to steal away His word as if it was never there.
What part do our children play in the process? Well, at this point we’re really walking where angels fear to tread. What we know for certain from the passage is that your Hard-Hearted child will be ignorant despite being taught, confused despite being clarified, and unbelieving despite being called. And they are responsible for their own unbelief. II Thessalonians 2:12 says, “All may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” They won’t be able to justify their unbelief by saying, “The Devil made me do it.”
3. Well, we clearly do not want this for our children, so the final question is How do I respond like Jesus did? And this is where we will spend the balance of our time.
How did Jesus handle the Hard-Hearted?
In Mark 3 we read,
“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
Jesus engaged their minds by asking a spiritual question.
He showed them His power and modeled compassion.
He grieved for their hardness.
Mark 6 presents an amazing account. Right after the feeding of the 5,000 we read,
“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Here we learn that they struggled accepting who Christ was — even after a life-altering miracle — because they didn’t understand the previous miracle.
Again, Jesus repeatedly filled their ears with Truth.
He prayed for them.
He met them in their need.
Again, shortly after feeding the 4,000, Jesus and the disciples had no bread for themselves and Jesus says,
“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
- Here Jesus asks more questions to engaged their minds.
- He brings their current discussion back to the reality of who He was.
- He reminded them of what He’d done.
- He made them rehearse what they knew to be true.
- He called them to act on their knowledge.
So, from Jesus’ example alone we see the necessity of a grieving heart, abundant prayer, repeated truth, questions, Christ-honoring behavior, reminders, and calls to action. Of course, Jesus always knew exactly what everyone needed, so how should we respond.
How should we handle the Hard-Hearted child?
1. Trust and Pray
The first thing we must always do is acknowledge God’s sovereignty. He hasn’t called us to change anyone. He’s commanded us to do many things, but changing people is His job. If we forget this, we’ll be tempted to do all our parenting in our own power. That will do nothing to build bridges with our child, and everything to assist Satan in his work.
The only way to soften hard soil is to break it up. But our job isn’t to break our children’s hearts. We can’t (and shouldn’t want) to even try. Manipulation via high emotion and propaganda will not draw him to the Lord. If you try to break your child’s heart, you’ll likely compact it harder. Satan won’t have much to do, though, because no one sows while they break up the soil. The demons will just sit back and smile.
However, God is ultimately the only One Who can soften your son’s heart. So we must constantly beseech Him to do so. If you forget to pray, your child will be unconsciously thankful her parent isn’t beseeching God on her behalf, and Satan will be thrilled because there’s nothing he hates more than divine intervention. So pray for Christ to work. Pray that you sow the right seeds at the right time. Pray that God uses your pastors to help cultivate. Pray that your child’s heart will eventually soften. And pray that God will receive the glory in your child’s life. When it comes to responding to demonic forces, all I can do is persuade you to pray without ceasing. Every year as 6-8 idolatrous teens file into my house, I can practically feel the spiritual warfare being waged. My prayer life as grown exponentially since moving to Victory, but isn’t that a sad confession. Why wasn’t I praying for my own children as passionately? It’s too easy to become complacent and forget in the midst of breakfast and projects and yard work and soccer games about the spiritual battles being fought for my child’s soul.
2. The first step is to Trust and Pray, the second is Cultivate and Sow. Since God hasn’t called you to change your son’s heart, what has he called you to do? Remember what Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Our job is to sow Truth and water with Love.
- Truth – Are you sowing “the words of the kingdom” into your child’s heart? Man’s philosophies and pithy observations cannot save your child. Even our own application of Scripture are limited in their life-changing efficacy. But God’s perfect word is what cleanses us and lights our paths and feeds us and empower us and changes us.
- Love – Though not mentioned in the Parable of the Soils, love is like watering the seed of Truth. No seed germinates when dropped onto sun-scorched soil. It needs water for nourishment and refreshment. And, interestingly enough, though God’s the one who does the softening, He so often delights to use our love to break up the hard heart of our children. Like water breaking down the compacted dirt on a path, our love does so much to encourage our children to open up to us and let down their defenses.
- So, when you’re called on to parent, don’t get mad, grieve like Jesus; don’t be annoyed, love like Jesus. If you prefer the annoyed approach, your son will find it easier to ignore you, and Satan will have an easy time of snacking on the angry Truth. The soil of your son’s mind will practically repel it.
- Don’t get upset that you have to reexplain yourself. If you’re so aggravated that you bark out an order and leave it at that, your child will be happy he didn’t have to listen to another lecture, and Satan will be glad you never bothered to cast any seed.
- Don’t be annoyed that you have to clarify the Truth. If you don’t have the patience to carefully explain God’s Word, your child won’t mind because she didn’t want to think about it anyway, and simply quoting a verse provides only one seed for Satan to steal away.
- Don’t shy away from calling your child to make a choice. If you want your child to do right simply so your job is easier, she will likely develop an obedient facade, and Satan will gladly distract her from an intentional decision by convincing her that she’s doing just fine.
Remember, The Hard-Hearted child prefers to avoid thinking about the commands and consequences of the Bible, and Satan wants to rid this child’s mind of all that’s biblical. Both of them will gladly use work, entertainment, family vacations, and even school to keep him from thinking God’s thoughts. But the more seed you spread, the harder Satan will have to work to pick her mind clean, and the more often your child will have to apply his mind to the Word.
The Hard-Hearted child is unbelieving due to their own apathy and the fervent efforts of Satan to remove the conscious-pricking Truth of Scripture. The best tools we have to cultivate the compacted darkness of their mind and fertilize the soil of their heart are those that pierce to dividing asunder of soul and spirit and cause the devils to flee. There is nothing more vital for the Hard-Hearted child than pure, unadulterated Bible. It’s powerful and Satan hates it. So be consistent and loving and patient and clear and prayerful and — did I mention? — loving.
3. But what exact verses should I use?
Good question. But the answer isn’t simple. Back in episode 44 my wife and I role-played a disrespectful daughter with her father. I acknowledged in that show that the purpose was to present an example of the parenting tools, but since each situation is so unique, the actual verses you use with your child may be different.
But because I want so badly to be practical, here’s what I’m going to include an extensive list of verses my family uses on a daily or weekly basis in our PDF notes. Repeat these passages of Scripture as often as possible. Let them ring so clearly in your home that even the hardest hearts can’t help but memorize them.
The categories include:
- Motivation Training
- Gospel Training
- Behavior Training
- Relationship Training
And before we conclude, I need to admonish you. God designed our spiritual maturity tow work like this: 1. We learn who God wants us to be directly from His Word. 2. We learn who God want’s us to be as members of the body of Christ interact with us. 3. We learn who God wants us to be as we interact with the body of Christ through podcasts and books and videos.
The sad reality is that too many Christians default to the third option before the second or first. We believe with all our hearts that Truth.Love.Parent. can and should be a vital part of your parental maturing. I’m in no way, encouraging you to stop listening. But I want to encourage you — I want to you plead with you — I want to beg you — to delve into God’s Word first. But there will come times when you may need clarification. In those situations, you need a counselor. You need someone you can relate to. That’s how God created the body of Christ to work. And lastly, feel free to enjoy the books and videos and podcasts. They’re awesome. They’re amazing. They can often equip you with information your counselors and pastors can’t! But they lack specific knowledge about you. They lack the relationship with you. They lack the precise details that allow them to get really nitty-gritty in their application.
All of this to say, if the Truth you encounter in God’s Word and this podcast leave you with questions, I believe you need to personally interact with another member of the body of Christ: a pastor, a counselor, a friend.
We want to help you as much as we can. Our counseling staff is standing by to answer your emails, but even we can only do so much. The best counselors will be the ones who know God’s Word and who know you.
When it comes to responding to the Hard-Hearted ignorance, confusion, and unbelief, all you can do is be an ever flowing spring of effervescent Truth.
I hope today’s episode notes will be a blessing. You can find them linked in the description.
And next time we’re going to discuss “Parenting a Rocky-Hearted Child.” This is very different than parenting the Hard-Hearted Child, so I hope you’ll join us.
Don’t forget. We’re here to help. Never hesitate to reach our to us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com.
One of your other children likely has a very hard heart. But take courage, our Lord is a God of growth and change. He delights in softening hearts, and He enjoys using us to do it!