Updated: Mar 6, 2022
“The Lord is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Psalm 113:4-7
When we first brought Merlin to camp, he was very skittish. Rescued by his previous owner from a kill pen, he had been used mainly for driving and as a pack horse and had bonded really well with the other member of his driving team, a mule. The moment I saw Merlin, I fell in love with his stocky build, thick, curly mane, and Roman nose. I just knew that he would be a camp favorite! But it took him a while to settle in at camp. Without his buddy the mule, he was nervous and startled easily. I would move to brush away a fly, and he would jump and then stand there trembling.
Merlin stayed in one of the smaller pens for a few weeks while I made sure to spend time every day brushing and petting on him. It took patience and lots of slow work before he finally settled down. But once he did, he became the sweetest, most adorable horse you’ve ever seen. He would see me cutting through the pasture and walk over to me for petting, and when I showed up at the barn to feed, he would walk all by himself into his pen and wait for me.
The relationship between horse and rider is meant to be one of trust. It takes a while to develop that trust, but once you have it, the horse becomes willing to go places and do things that, ordinarily, they would not choose to do.
It is always fascinating to me when I see something in the horse world that serves as a reflection of Biblical truths or principles. In many ways, our relationship with our heavenly Father is similar to the relationship between a horse and its rider. (Of course, like any analogy, it’s not a perfect comparison, so bear with me.)
As a horse should have a healthy respect and trust for its rider, we are meant to live in a healthy awe and trust of God our Father. As a horse willingly submits to its rider’s will, we are meant to willingly submit to God’s will. Just as a horse’s knowledge and perspective is often limited by what they can see straight ahead of them, as opposed to what its rider knows is ahead, our knowledge and perspective is limited by our circumstances and surroundings, as opposed to God who is all knowing and all powerful.
One thing that riders quickly learn is that horses are more willing to approach “threats” if their rider is walking ahead or alongside them. A horse may balk at crossing a ditch—because it’s a huge, gaping hole, like the Grand Canyon! And who knows what monsters live inside it!—but when the rider leads the way, without falling into the Grand Canyon or being eaten by monsters, all of a sudden, it’s much less scary. The horse becomes willing to step out in trust.
So when you are out riding and your horse is terrified—and it does happen to the best of them, on occasion—often it helps to dismount and walk forward with them. You stoop to their level. Walk in their footsteps. Lead the way through the valley of the shadow of death. Pave the way for them to follow. All of a sudden, it’s not someone high and distant asking them to do something terrifying. It is someone at their side, and as herd animals, they take comfort from your presence and from being led.
The amazing thing is that Jesus did the same for us.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
Jesus took on human flesh, stooped down into our world, and walked among us. That simple fact never ceases to amaze me. Can you imagine the Son of God leaving behind the glory of heaven, taking upon himself the aches and pains and physical limitations of humanity, and enduring the full weight of God’s wrath when He bore our sins upon the cross? Christ experienced our hardships. He knew hunger, weariness, and grief. He was tempted as we are. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death.
And yet through it all, He remained obedient to the Father, willingly submitting His will to God’s.
Not only did His sinless sacrifice achieve our redemption and restore our relationship with God, He showed us how to navigate life by walking in His footsteps. He paved the way for us to follow.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death, He might destroy Him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14-15
And we can follow in complete trust because we know that He has gone ahead of us. My prayer is that we would respond like Merlin and learn to trust fully. That when we come across trials or uncertain circumstances, we would be able to step forward boldly, knowing that our Savior can sympathize with our fear and weakness, and that He paved the way for us to walk onward in His strength and not in our own.