If you have ever ridden a horse, you know the importance of the reins. They let you direct the horse, don't they? At least, this is what those who told me how to ride instructed me! Heaven knows, I have had some opportunities to ride some of the most stubborn horses! No matter how hard I pulled the reins a certain direction....there was no turning them from their destination! Now, tell me, what was the purpose of the reins with these horses? I think it was nothing more than decoration!
"But my people didn't listen, Israel paid no attention; so I let go of the reins and told them, 'Run! Do it your own way!'" (Psalm 81:11-12 The Message)
All I could do with those horses was to "give them the reins" and let them lead where they wanted. As you may very well imagine - it was right back to the barn! They did not want to take me down the trail, but wanted a leisurely afternoon enjoying oats and the shade of the barn! Imagine that! Sound like anyone you might know? I know God has tried to tug on my reins a few times, facing nothing more than my resistance to be "turned" down the trail he desired. In the end, he gave me the reins to head for "greener pastures" as I saw them.
Guess what the outcome of my resisting the leading of God was? Yep, you guessed it - the pastures turned out to be fields of nothing more than briers and thorns! Isn't it amazing how strong-willed we can be? We put up all kinds of fight - then end up calling out to God to get us out of the briers!
From our passage today, I think we can glean a few lessons of the "prodigal":
- The first failure is in not listening. The lady who taught me to ride when I was in Girl Scouts actually told me I'd never have to whip the horse. She told me to speak to the horse, or use some little click of my mouth. Now, try as I might, no amount of sweet talking my stubborn horse did any good. The more I talked, the more he looked at me like I was goofy! The silly part of this was my believing the horse CARED about what I was asking it to do! In truth, he cared no more about going down the trail on the trail ride than he did about how the stock market was performing that day!
Now, let's examine ourselves. I wonder just how much we are like the horse - hearing, but not really listening. In fact, we just don't care about what God is asking - simply because we have our own agenda, or our "selective hearing" turned on. When this is the case, we usually end up with a little "heel digging" going on, don't we? We dig in, no matter how sweetly God urges us onward. Okay, true confessions - I actually used tears on the horse to see if I could appeal to some sense in him! It did not work. God isn't like us - he doesn't try to manipulate us with tears - he simply asks and then waits. If we care to listen - we enjoy the ride. If we don't - well....
- The other failure is in choosing to do our own thing. When God gives us the reins, he is actually allowing us to do our own thing - choose our own way - even when he knows it will leave us hurt or longing. When we give full rein to something, we are letting our imagination or feelings develop in an uncontrolled way - a very unreliable way to operate. God's choice in giving us full rein is to allow us to realize the futility of our rebellion.
The stubborn horse did indeed return to the barn, but not until after about 30 minutes of digging in his heels and refusing to move beyond the first 100 feet of the corral. But...he did not get the oats! Instead, the owner put him in the corral with the others. We often set out to get our own way, in belief we will realize a certain end, then find ourselves poorly disappointed with the outcome. Truth is, there is no good thing guaranteed to anyone who takes the reins of control out of the hands of God!
So, learn from me, if you will. Reins serve a purpose - to control the direction and lead down certain paths. Giving full rein to the one resisting the reins is usually not going to turn out well! I have seen riders so in connection with their horses making reins really unnecessary to use very much. The rider and horse just seem to understand the destination. There was a bond and a trust relationship between the two. I think we need the reins less and less as we develop the connection with God. In time, we begin to sense his leading, not so much by the tug of the reins, but by the subtle movement of his hand, the simplicity of a word from his lips, and the gentleness of his touch. Here's to not being given full rein!