Saturday, January 27, 2018


It is far from flattering that we, God's children, are compared with horses and mules in Scripture. From the context below, the point apparently is the nature of our response to God's guidance and direction. Do we obey willingly or do we have to be coerced?

“Be not like the horse or the mule, which lack understanding; which must have their mouths held firm with bit and bridle, else they will not come with you” (Psalm 32:9) God lovingly gave us free will. He doesn't force His guidance upon us, but He invites us to “come with” Him. “Come, follow Me” Jesus asked. He didn't demand it. His Holy Spirit draws us; He doesn't compel us against our will.

Both the horse and mule by contrast must be given patient and firm training—docility and usefulness to man do not come naturally to animal creatures. A wild horse or a young, not yet “broken” horse is by nature willful and headstrong and not useful to its owner. Initially there is a great deal of pushing and pulling, snorting and resistance. Gradually trained to obey outside control, it becomes docile to the wishes of its trainer. People who understand horse nature and mentality, who in a gentle and mysterious way communicate with a horse are sometimes called “horse whisperers.” It is a remarkable and extraordinary gift.

Dipping back into Church history, we come across a "Creature Whisperer" named Saint Francis of Assisi who apparently had a unique communication with animals and birds and other creations of God. He is famous for having written a poem called, "The Canticle of the Creatures" through which he addressed them as if they were persons.

Although it differs from a horse in temperament, a mule's usefulness depends on the kind of treatment and training it receives. If treated with force and abuse, it will remain incorrigible, obstinate and cantankerous. A well-treated mule is calm, tolerant, loyal, affectionate, obliging and patient. It has gotten a bad wrap to be always labeled as stubborn when it is actually afraid or confused, according to one source. “By nature a mule has common sense and is not prone to panic. It can recognize danger and so refuse to follow orders and it is inclined to resist. When treated well, with patience, kindness, and understanding, a mule learns to trust and obey.” Remember the speaking donkey of Balaam which knew more about God's guidance than Balaam did, and had good reason to resist and disobey. (Numbers 22:28)

The Psalmist's analogy to God's children becomes clear in the preceding verse, “I, the Lord, will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” In our natural flesh and mind we lack understanding of God's ways. We are like wild, untrained, unbroken horses or like mules which have been treated with force or abuse or are afraid or confused. In the case of horses, “breaking” is not severe, painful treatment, but slow, steadfast training by an authority figure who exercises purposeful control.

For the mule or horse or child of God, no matter what age, who in spite of being well-treated still resists the guidance of God and doesn't “come to Him” willingly, and still “lacks understanding” a bit and bridle may be the only recourse. 

Not being acquainted with equestrian matters, I had to do some research. “A bit is a type of horse tack usually made of metal or a synthetic material, and placed in the mouth of a horse to assist a rider in communicating with the animal. It rests on the bars of the mouth in a place where there are no teeth. It is held on a horse's head by means of a bridle and has reins attached for use by a rider. A bit functions through the principle of negative reinforcement: the reduction or relaxation of pressure as reinforcement for a behavior. The rider applies pressure through the reins to the bit in the horse's mouth and the horse is reinforced or rewarded for the correct response by softer contact or a release or pressure.” James 3:2, 3 uses the same illustration of the bit and bridle. 

Bringing this full circle to apply it to God's desire to communicate with us, to generously impart His will to us and direct our lives in the best possible pathway, verse 8 describes God's softer, preferred way. He is the “Divine Horse Whisperer.” When you want someone to listen to you more closely, you lean in and whisper. God speaks through His “Still, Small Voice.” By listening to His whisper you learn secrets and hear intimate words. Whispering is a love language. 

God understands us and wants us to understand His ways. He wants to guide us with His eye upon us, with a look which speaks volumes. A reminder of how the disciple Peter who had just denied his Master saw Him turn and look at Peter as they led Him to the Cross. A look is the ultimate Body Language. On our part, we have to keep our eyes focused on the face of Jesus so we can see His eyes.

I don't know about you, but I want to develop that understanding that God requires. I want to respond with obedience when He nudges me and to listen to His whisper in the ears of my heart. I don't want to make Him shout His guidance to me or knock me over the head with a proverbial two-by-four, or harness me with one of those metal bits in my mouth for negative reinforcement. No snorting or pawing! I want to closely follow His ways willingly! 

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