TLP 58: The Fourth Child, Part 4 | Parenting a Thorny-Hearted Child

Thorny Children are similar to the Rocky Kids, but they have unique struggles. Do you have this child living in your home? You may not even know for sure! So join AMBrewster as he dissects the Thorny Heart and reveals how Jesus interacted with them. 

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We’ve received a number of responses from you guys about this series. Many of you have shared that you now know you have a Hard or Rocky-Hearted Child. I pray that today’s discussion will be just as helpful for those of you who’re still uncertain about how your child responds to Truth.

Today is all about the Thorny-Hearted Child, and I’m excited to jump right in, but first . . .

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Okay, so we have the same three questions to answer today. Who is the Thorny-Hearted Child? Do you have a Thorny-Hearted Child in your home? And, if so, How do you cultivate your child’s Thorny-Heart like Jesus did? And stick around until the end because we’re going to conclude with how our kids can move back and forth among the three bad soils, and how we need to parent them through those transitions. But let’s start with the first question . . .


1. Who is the Thorny-Hearted Child?

The Parable of the Soils that I’ve been reading is a synchronized version of the three times this parable is mentioned across Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Remember, no one account will have all the details I’m going to read. This is basically the Amplified Version. Here we go.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them, and [they] yielded no grain. “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but as [he] go[es] on [his] way the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and pleasures of life and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and [his] fruit does not mature, and it proves unfruitful.

Unlike the Hard-Heart that doesn’t accept the seeds of Truth, the Rocky-Heart and the Thorny-Heart both receive the seed — potentially with joy and gladness — and both produce what appear to be spiritual life. But we know already, that neither are truly born again because neither produce the fruit of repentance.

However, the tale of the Thorny-Heart is very different than its Rocky counterpart.

  1. I see two differences: the first difference the object that God uses to reveal the true heart. Across the three Gospels, Jesus uses four phrases to explain what these untended weeds are:
    1. One passage refers to them as the cares of the world. The word translated “cares” can refer to distractions, or that which causes anxiety. Interestingly, this heart-revealer isn’t as significant or life-changing as persecution or trials.
    2. The same goes for the second phrase. The same passage also calls these weeds the deceitfulness of riches. This is pretty straightforward. And — as I noted before — isn’t nearly as dramatic as tribulation or persecution because of the Word. This is one reason I believe the Rocky-Heart is still the most dangerous heart to have. The Rocky-Heart isn’t distracted by the same simple cares and base desires as the Thorny-Heart. It takes a lot more to reveal their hearts. But as we’re going to see from Mark and Luke’s descriptions of these weeds, the Thorny-Heart is much more capricious.
    3. Mark refers to the weeds as no more than the pleasures of life
    4. And Luke gives them smallest consideration when we calls them simply desire for other things. Whereas, though the Rocky and Thorny hearts start their journey in a very similar way, the Thorny-Heart is easier to sway. And that leads me to my second observation
  2. First, the difference between the Rocky and Thorny is what God uses to reveal the heart. And though neither the parable nor Christ’s explanation specifically mention it, I believe the second difference is how quickly the heart is revealed.

I love to garden. I enjoy planting flowers, but I take far more pleasure raising fruit-bearing plants. And though I don’t live in the middle east, I can safely say that most years there are more months of consistent precipitation than there are of drought.

However, unless I’m vigilant, every year and all year that weeds threaten the vitality of my plants. It doesn’t take long at all for weeds to grow up and choke out what I’ve cultivated. Last year I planted broccoli in perfectly weeded beds. And though I’m rather fastidious about mulching and weeding, after returning from a two-week vacation, I couldn’t see the broccoli in the shadow of the towering weeds. And — unfortunately — I lost most of them.

What I’m trying to say is that this is yet another reason the Rocky-Heart is the most dangerous heart. A child can coast by for years and years believing they have a relationship with God, but practically worshipping their own desires and feelings. And they likely won’t realize that deep inside their entire faith is founded on a lifestyle — not a relationship — until they’ve been exposed to enough testing or tribulation to realize their fantasy faith isn’t worth it.

Does all of this mean the Rocky-Heart desires the things of God more than the Thorn-Heart? I don’t think so. Since both are not truly regenerated, it doesn’t even help to compare. But since we’re talking about how to parent a Thorny Child, I do say the Thorny-Heart desires the things of God to a degree because — in the moment — it feels like the right thing to do. The Rocky-Heart has likely given a lot of thought to embracing the Christian religion, whereas the Thorny-Heart is potentially swayed by the glitter and the glamor. The thought of Heaven in the future and supernatural gifting in the family of God here on earth is quite romantic.

But because this child’s heart is attracted to the pleasures and comforts of life, it’s very easy to become disenfranchised with a religion that promises more service, sacrifice, work, and persecution than it promises streets of gold.

Once the luster has worn off the new toy and the child sees the world dangling the shiny offerings of self-worship, his feelings once again plead loyalty to another master.

Or, because this child’s faith was grounded in the idea of comfort, when life gets even a little hard and the anxious cares creep in and the prayers don’t bring immediate comfort,  it’s all too easy to go searching for warmer security blanket.

And finally the Word is choked out and the child’s life continues to be unfruitful.

So, we all want to know . . .

2. Do you have a Thorny-Hearted Child in your home?

  1. Has you son or daughter seemed to respond well to spiritual things in the past, but recently seems distracted by trite experiences and materialistic pleasures? These distractions can include money, philosophies that are more morally comfortable, and instant gratification.
  2. Basically, if your child who previously seemed very passionate about spiritual things has jettisoned it all and appears to have returned to his old passions, you may have a Thorny-Child.
  3. Also, your child might be a Thorny Child if they seem enthralled with the following:
    1. Emotional experiences are wonderful, and we discussed in good detail over episodes 32-34 why God created emotions. But if we start worshipping and living for the emotion, we’re serving an idol. Why do you children love church? Is it because they can serve God by actively one-anothering the body of Christ, or do they only like the way the music makes them feel.
    2. Also watch out for spiritual materialism. Spiritual materialism is a kind of spiritual gift collector. Some people are preoccupied with keeping track of whether or not they’ve had all the right religious experiences, acquired all the right spiritual gifts, and participated in all the right church ministries. Again, what makes the Rocky and Thorny Hearts so deceptively dangerous is that they really do seem to embrace the good things in life. But remember, behavior is nothing without motivation.

Remember, I’m not saying that you can categorically know for certain if your child is born again, but I am telling you that you need to parent your kids through these experiences. In a moment, we’re going to look at two biblical characters who were Thorny. They were preoccupied with all the wrong things, and — as far as we know — they’re both in Hell today.

You cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the weeds growing up in your child’s life.

So, the third question is . . .

3. How do you cultivate your child’s Thorny-Heart like Jesus did?

I mentioned that we’re going to look at two individuals from the Bible. Jesus interacted with one of them and Peter interacted with the other.

  1. The first is The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18.

Here’s a synchronized version:

“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “Teacher, All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing. If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly, exceedingly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

  1. First we see that this man is excited. He runs up to Christ and kneels before Him and asks with a bunch of people watching what he needs to do to have eternal life. Please notice that he didn’t ask how to follow God, have a relationship with God, or serve God. He was focused on the reward.
    1. Jesus then pulls his mind back to God. He reminds the young man that God is good. This is important, because the young man figured that since God was good, all he needed to do in order to be blessed by Him was to be good. And that’s true to a point, but Jesus is going to show him that there’s so much more. So Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Is Jesus preaching a works salvation? No! Our problem is that we don’t understand that we can’t really keep the commandments without true faith in and love for God. After listing out the commandments and hearing the young man proclaim his worthiness, Jesus adds one more item to the list. It’s another action, but it’s the one action that betrayed the young man’s heart. And that’s the key.
    2. Jesus went on to say that salvation is impossible when left up to man. We can’t do it all and we can’t do any of it for the right reason. But with God, when we’re focused on Him, He provides the power we can’t have. It’s all about our faith and trust in Him that yields genuine fruit of repentance.
    3. There’s so much more to say here, and we really need to move on, but I want to point out the fact that even though Jesus knew exactly what this man needed to hear, the Rich Young Ruler still rejected Christ at this point in his life. Remember that and I’ll comment more on it in a minute. After I’m done talking about this next individual, I’ll summarize our premeditated plan for parenting the Thorny Child.
  2. The second gentleman is Simon the Sorcerer. I mentioned him last time as an example of the fact that there is a faith that doesn’t lead to repentance. His account is in Acts 8. I won’t read it, but I encourage you to.
    1. The most important point is that — like the Rocky-Hearted Child — the Thorny Heart accepts elements of the Truth. The Rocky Heart likely dwells a lot on the intellectual side of the Christian faith, and the Thorny Heart more so on the shiny, pleasures and emotional highs of the Christian faith.
    2. When Simon tried to buy the Holy Spirit, Peter told Him “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
    3. Instead of begging God for forgiveness because he had dared to turn God’s precious gift into a petty commodity, he asked Peter to pray that nothing bad would happen to him.

So, here’s what we learn from these two examples about parenting a Thorny Heart:

  1. First, we need to love our kids. If we’re not totally invested in what’s right for them, we may not pay attention to them the way we should. We watch them sway and sing and exult at church, we see how passionate they are to win that reward for verse memorization. We hear them talk about the blessings and future glories of Heaven, and we assume everything’s okay. And it may be, but it may not be.
  2. This is why we need to watch for signs of emotionalism and spiritual materialism.
  3. Keep the focus on the Truth of God’s person. It’s okay to talk about the blessings of being a child of the King, but don’t overemphasize it or neglect the fact that we’ve been called to sacrifice everything in this life. In the account of the rich young ruler, Peter arrogantly points out that he and his buddies had forsaken everything for Jesus, and Jesus validated his claim. He even told them that those who sacrificed family and home and land will receive one hundred fold more in the future and here on earth. And part of that one hundred fold would included persecution.
  4. Continue having high biblical expectations for your child — specifically things that allow him to experience the harder realities of being a Christian. Service, sacrifice, study, and sanctification are a nice alliterated start. :-)


In conclusion I want to take a moment to discuss ability we all have to switch back and forth between the soils. I’m going to use the Rich Young Ruler as an example. Keep in mind that I’m using a little sanctified imagination here.

The ruler makes the claim that he had kept all the commandments up until his conversation with Jesus. Likely, this well-educated, independently wealthy young man who lived in a culture that paraded righteousness probably didn’t have too much tribulation due to his lifestyle. He embraced the Jewish law and traditions and likely enjoyed keeping the commandments. These are the signs of a Rocky Heart. Perhaps he was a Thorny Heart all along. His had the money and the prestige and the power. I can’t know for sure. But when Jesus put the pressure on, pressure specifically related to his pleasures, he showed his hand and revealed the fact that he had no genuine spiritual fruit — even though his actions were good.

So what happened next? Well, I’ve experienced one of two reactions from Rocky and Thorny Hearts when they finally realize they’re not born again.

  1. One response is the Matthew 5 response. They realize they’re spiritually destitute, they mourn over their state, they humble themselves before God and soften the soil of their hearts, truly become a follower of Christ and hunger and thirst after righteousness. And it doesn’t matter what persecutions and testings and tribulations comes their way, they can rejoice and be glad in it.
  2. Unfortunately the other response is to become a Hard Heart. Many times I’ve been used by God to show a Rocky or Thorny Heart their need for Christ, and they get angry or bitter because they feel like God somehow let them down. The feel like they crossed all their “t’s” and dotted all their “i’s” and God didn’t keep His end of the bargain. It’s similar to what many people will feel who hear Jesus say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” And they become hard and they don’t want anything to do with the Truth.

But that’s okay. Rocky, Thorny, or Hard, they’re all unsaved. The huge blessing of having a Hard-Hearted Child is that you and she both know she’s unsaved. It’s not a question or a maybe. The cards are on the table. And then we revolve our priorities and start parenting their Hard Heart.

And don’t lose hope if your child’s Thorny Heart is revealed and they respond incorrectly. God’s called you to be an Ambassador Parent. If you don’t know what that is, please check our episode 26. That is the only parenting style that glorifies God.

And remember, your child may cycle back and forth through them multiple times. But as long as you stay aware and intentional and premeditated, you can provide them just the right seed and water and cultivation necessary to slowly soften their heart so that one day that will be in the perfect Matthew 5 position to really, truly, whole-heartedly embrace the Truth of God and bear fruit.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about next time. Believe it or not, you have to know how to parent a Soft-Hearted Child too. Having a Soft-Hearted kid is only the beginning, and often our parenting has a huge affect on how fruitful they are.

And since next time will be the conclusion in our study of The Four Children, we’re going to also discuss how a Soft-Hearted Child can still exhibit Hard and Rocky and Thorny responses to Truth and what we need to do about it.

I want to give a special thanks to two of our patrons, Ray & Carolyn. Their contribution to TLP enables us to continue unpacking the Bible and applying it to our parenting. I am so thankful for them, and I hope you are too. And if you’re curious how you can be a patron, just click the “Support TLP” link in the description.

And as always, you can also find our episode notes linked in the description.

And feel free to drop us a line at if you’d like to tell us what we’re doing well or where we need to do better. And if you have a question you’d liked answered on the show or simply in your inbox, you can reach us at

I don’t know about you, but this study has been so revolutionary for me. I’ve known about this passage and used it a bunch of times in my counseling, but this study has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing my kids, the other people God brings into my life, and myself. I hope you’ve been encouraged, and I hope you’ll share this study with a friend so they can know their children better too.

See you next time.

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