Look Out for the Thorns!

By Mark D. Roberts

September 12, 2016

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19


Seeds being planted in soil.In Mark 4, Jesus tells a series of parables that reveal something of the nature of the kingdom of God. The first of these parables is usually called The Parable of the Sower, though it might well be entitled The Parable of the Soils. It does feature a farmer who sows seeds. Yet the focus of the parable is not so much the act of sowing, which seems rather random, as it is on the various soils onto which the seeds are sown. On hard soil, rocky soil, and thorn-covered soil, the seeds fail to flourish. But on the fertile soil, the seeds grow abundantly, producing a lavish harvest. Jesus interprets this parable for his disciples. He explains the meaning of the different types of soils, which represent people who respond in various ways to the good news of the kingdom of God.

I am particularly drawn to the image of the seed falling among thorns. The thorns, according to Jesus, are “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” that choke out the growth of the seed (4:19). Why am I drawn to this particular image? Partly, it reflects my pastoral experience over many years. In my church in Irvine, for example, I had many members whose growth as Christians was stunted because they were so preoccupied with worries and wealth, to put it bluntly. They spent vast amounts of energy working, far beyond what was needed for a very comfortable life. And they fretted about many things, such as their physical appearance or their children’s future. God often got the leftovers of their energy and attention.

But, to be fully honest, the image of the thorn-infested soil captures my attention because it depicts the tendency of my own discipleship. I can easily fill my consciousness with desires and concerns that drain my energy and enthusiasm away from the kingdom of God. Beneath the thorns that threaten the vitality of my faith there is fertile soil, because I truly wish to grow as a disciple of Jesus. But I must choose to prune back that which saps my strength and time so I can give the Lord my prime turf.

This act of pruning takes discernment. I have also found that it is best done in community with mature believers. As you think about the thorns that are choking your discipleship, perhaps a wise brother of sister, a pastor, or a spiritual director might be able to help you sort things out.


Which of the soils best describes you? Or are you a combination of one or more of the soils?

How might you become a more fertile soil for God’s work?

What are the thorns that need pruning in your life?


Gracious God, thank you for the parable of the sower and the soils. I need this reminder today! Even though I’ve followed you for most of my life, I can still let the cares and desires of this world choke out your kingdom. I can give so much of myself to things that really don’t matter. Forgive me, Lord, for being less than optimal soil.

I ask that you’ll help me to weed my garden, or to trim away that which limits the growth of your kingdom in my life. May I be fertile soil for the seed of the kingdom. And may the roots of your reign grow deeply into my heart, so that I might live my whole life for you, whether at home or at work, in the community or in the worship gathering of my church.

I pray that, by your grace, I might not only be fertile soil for you, but also that your kingdom plant might flourish in my life. May I bear rich fruit for you, Lord! Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: You Have Something the World Needs, from Ruth and Parables

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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