Journaling, Spiritual Growth, The Spiritual Discipline of Journaling

Lessons Learned on Horseback | Stay Close on the Trail of Life

Last summer Hawk and I took a trip out west for our anniversary. We hadn’t ventured far enough away to justify purchasing airline tickets since our honeymoon, so we saved and splurged a bit on a trip to Colorado Springs. As soon as I booked the trip, I started plotting our itinerary. When I discovered we could ride horses through the Garden of the Gods park, I knew it was a “must do.” 

Horseback riding was a first for us – other than birthday-party pony rides that didn’t really count. When we got to the stable and the instructors did a quick safety briefing, I almost chickened out. There were so many details to remember: keep your heels back, pull the reins this way and that way, always stay so many feet away from the horse in front of you, lean forward when going uphill, lean backwards when going downhill, always get on the horse this way…needless to say, it was overwhelming. However, as they guided our horses Bella and Lucille to us, the guide must have picked up on my anxiety and the “What have I gotten myself into” look on my face. As I got on my gentle giant, he said reassuringly, “Don’t worry, last week a blind girl rode Bella.” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel relief or embarrassment. 

As we started riding the trails to the park, the movements became natural and almost instinctual. The experience has been one of my favorite memories, thus far. During our uphill and downhill climbs, we were in the rockies after all, one of the other riders kept getting anxious and we’d slow down a little. During the breaks the horses started trying to snack on the surrounding plants. This was a big no-no in the safety briefing. Evidently, the area was full of beautiful, albeit poisonous greenery and the horses didn’t know which ones were the safe ones to munch on. We, the riders, were supposed to stop them lest they unknowingly ingest something dangerous. During this particular break, Bella started to pull towards some plants. I pulled the reigns tight against my waist and she hesitated slightly before swinging her head further over. I gently but firmly squeezed my feet together and pulled the reigns again, applying more pressure. Bella got the memo that time and we kept moving. 

This unique experience reminded me of the warning found in Psalm 32: “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with a bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” Here David is warning sinners from their wayward tendencies. I think he is saying do not lack understanding because of your unbelief and laziness and unrepentant sin – bridle your wayward heart to God – stay near him. Like the horses, we may not know the dangers ahead, but he does. Keep your heart close to his on this trail of life – not because we are God’s beasts and brutes, but because we are God’s friends. 

Abraham knew this truth well. 

It was just another ordinary day. It was hot and Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent allowing the breeze to refresh him. In the middle of this very ordinary day, God makes an appearance to the patriarch. And before Abraham saw the three men approaching from afar, God saw him sitting on his perch – resting for a second in the heat of the day. From his watch post, Abraham looks up, squints against the sun and sees the visitors approaching.

Abraham doesn’t hesitate. He sees the visitors and runs to them, despite his age and despite his cultural standing as a very wealthy man. He bows before them. Throughout Genesis we learn a lot about Abraham. We learn about his mistakes but we also learn about his faith – and he had a habit of being on his face before God.

He hastens and quickly dresses the meat for their supper. He hurries to God, hastens to be in his presence. This is the third recorded time God appears to Abraham. Abraham doesn’t want to waste or miss a single moment of this particular encounter. As he waits upon the men, his status and respect is obvious. Even though he is wealthy and respected, he is humble before others and is fully aware of his place in God’s presence. He stands by the men under a tree as they ate. In the original Hebrew, the word stand in this context gives the idea of attending upon as a servant, to stand before a king.

As I read this passage in Genesis in the early morning hours, I flipped through my Bible’s pages to centuries later. Abraham’s people, the Jews, were in threat of being slaughtered and annihilated. Esther, a Jewish queen in hiding – literally risks her life by approaching the king unsummoned. She stands before King Xerxes in his inner court and her life is spared by the golden scepter he stretches out over her. She stood as Abraham stood, before her king and in the eye of God. Xerxes spares Esther because she obtained favor in his sight. He asks her “What is your request?” putting in motion God’s plan to save Abraham’s people.

As Abraham stands humbly before God underneath the tree, he obtains favor in God’s sight. God decides to let him in on an event that was about to happen. Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.

God’s dialogue with himself uses the exact wording from Genesis 3 – used of the angel who guards Eden and the tree of life. God says Abraham is my chosen one to keep the way to the tree of life.

So Abraham obtains God’s favor and the Lord graciously gives him his secret counsel. Abraham’s eyes were ever toward Jehovah – waiting in his tent watchtower and running to the Lord – his walk with God greatly contrasts to his nephew Lot’s in the next chapter. God told Abraham he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because it was overrun with evil. Abraham repeatedly intercedes and the Lord mercifully lets him dialogue with him. If ten righteous were found, the city would not be destroyed.

None but one was found righteous though and even that one was reluctant to leave. While Abraham lifted his robes and ran to God, Lot lingers in the city of evil – so much so, that the angels literally have to seize his arms and drag him out to save his life. Escape for your life must always be our response to sin. God holds off the destruction only until Lot gets to safety.

As I read this, I learned so much about God. He doesn’t long for anyone to perish. He gave the people of Sodom and Gomorrah chance after chance to repent and yet there were not even ten who did- he is so incredibly patient. Here Lot could have died, yet God sends his angels to literally drag him out of the city to save his life.

I also learn a lot from Abraham. We should run to God, not linger with the world. Abraham’s faith was fastened upon God, Romans says. He didn’t stumble in wishy-washy faith like the horses and mules in Psalms who had to be curbed with a bridle because they lacked understanding and would wander away. It is God who taught Abraham and it is God who teaches us, Abraham’s remnant today. God calls us friend in Psalms 25:14 and John 15:15 tells us that he makes himself known to us.

communion-with-god-matthew-henry-quote

Run to me, he says. Run to me and incline your ear to my secret counsel. Pull up your chair, my friend. Lean in and listen closely. I have so much to show you.

Let’s sit in our watchtowers. Let’s allow him to interrupt our ordinary moments. And let’s declare with the Psalmist: “Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah.”

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