Recently I was working with Victor in the round pen. Victor is one of the veterans of the ranch. He has been here longer than most of the horses we have now. He is strong, solid, and self-assured. At ten years of age, he is well matured, as horses go. He's had good training and knows the routine. But that doesn't mean he's a finished product. There are still weaknesses in his character and things he has yet to learn in order to be the best horse he can be. I think you would agree that our lives as humans, and especially as followers of Jesus, are the same way.
As I've worked with Victor, I have noticed one particular area in which he resists me. He may behave differently with a more experienced and confident trainer, as I have only begun learning how to communicate with horses. They are smart and will quickly learn which humans are in charge and which ones can be somewhat pushed around. The thing we are dealing with now is trust. As I have mentioned before on this blog, one important part of developing a relationship wth your horse is in teaching them to lower their head to you. Not only does this make it much easier to put a bridle on the horse, but it is an indication of their level of trust and respect in you as their leader. As a prey animal, the horse's instinct is to remain on guard and alert to any possible threat around them. Before he will lower his head to eat or drink, the horse must be completely relaxed and assured that his surroundings are free from danger. Lowering his head to the ground is the most vulnerable position for a horse. It blocks most of his vision and prevents him from being in position to instantly flee or kick if threatened. So when he willingly lowers his head when asked in a training session, he is showing submission and complete trust to the trainer. It says that he is accepting you as the leader of his herd and he feels safe enough with you to let go of his defenses.
The way to ask for a lowered head is by holding pressure on the horse's head and bridge of his nose, where the straps of the halter or bridle cross. You should not be pushing on him, just holding firm pressure. In training and working, the reward for the horse is all about the release from pressure. He may resist at first, but he discovers that when he moves away from the pressure, following the suggestion to drop his head, he finds release. Ideally, with repetition, he should learn to drop his head at the slighest pressure on these points. Less is always more. The less pressure required to get your horse to respond, the better he will be. That goes for anything you ask him to do. This is where Victor and I are having a "discussion". He will lower his head a little for me, but not all the way, and he is quick to push back up the moment I release the pressure. Often he is pushing against the pressure even when I have not released it. He also wants to back away from the situation, rather than work through it. Consequently, he responds the same way when we try to bridle him. Raising his head, resisting the bit, pulling away. Is it fear (lack of trust)? Stubborness? Lack of respect? Probably a mixture of all of these. And once again it struck me just how much Victor and I are alike.
I say that Jesus is Lord of my life. I pray for grace to obey. I tell Him I trust Him. I sing hymns like I Surrender All. But when it comes to a moment of decision in practical, everyday life, when He is asking me to let go and surrender all the defenses of my self-will to Him, how often I resist. Whether out of fear, pride, or fleshly desires, I pull away from the pressure. I whine, reason, and question God. My human nature screams against faith. I want to be able to see what's happening before I step out. I want to understand things with my human mind. I want to retain some measure of control in the situation. It terrifies me to let go of my will and abandon myself to His will. "Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done." Matt. 26:39 Jesus prayed this in the agony of His soul before going to the cross, and He meant it. I must confess that I have prayed this same prayer multiple times. Maybe you have too. But I never said it with that kind of abandonment. I think that "nevertheless" means whatever happens, no matter how I feel about it, even if I don't have a clue what You are doing. My "nevertheless" is always conditional. I say I want to go all the way with God, but would I go to the cross? I have refused to submit in matters far less than that.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil." Prov. 3:5&7
My level of intelligence is far greater than Victor's. He thinks and acts like a horse because that is what he is. He has a better excuse than I do, because he is not capable of speaking my language and thinking on my level. I wish that I could make him understand that he can trust me. That I know he is safe and I will not hurt him or allow anything else to hurt him. In my mind it is such a simple request for him to trust and submit to me. If he would just respond as I desire, I would instantly release the pressure and give him rest. I don't want to fight with him. I only want him to be in tune with me, so we can work successfully together as one unit. I want him to be at peace in his work and to understand how good I am to him as I care for his needs and give him plenty of rest from work. It must seem as simple as that in God's eyes as He works with me. Furthermore, He made me in His own image, with the same kind of intelligent mind and free will. I am capable of choosing relationship with God with an intelligent and spiritual understanding of who He is and what He does and why He wants me to know Him. He gave me His Word that tells me everything I need to know and made my spirit alive so I can understand His language. And still, I try to trust Him in part but hold on to some of my own understanding. There are areas in which I act like I know better than God. As Victor might "imagine" that there are all kinds of scary things waiting to pounce on him the moment he drops his head, so I imagine that I will not be safe if I let go of my wisdom and lean completely on God.
My hope is in this: if I, as a very amateur human trainer, choose to continue investing time and energy in teaching a "dumb beast" to trust me, and I can persevere patiently and gently with him, how much more will my heavenly Father lovingly, patiently, faithfully work on my heart to bring me into a relationship of oneness with Him? How much more does God surely want me to know Him in this way than I want Victor to know me? We have this promise, among many others: "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Phil. 1:6 His Word also tells us that our God loves us with an everlasting love. That His mercies are new every morning. That His faithfulness reaches to the skies! Join me today in praising Him for who He is, and let's ask Him for grace to trust Him more.