I just started working with a black and white paint horse. She has been a broodmare for a long time, but “was well broke” (a relative term, I’m finding). She is comfortable around people, but it’s been a long time since anyone asked anything of her except to make babies. So this week, I brought her in, groomed and spoke softly to her, checked to make sure she understood “whoa” and “go” on the lunge line. And then I set her loose in the round pen.
When starting, or re-starting, I do a lot of groundwork. We need to form a working relationship, establish trust, learn to speak the same language. To do that, we start in the round pen and work on that connection. Different trainers call it different things: JoinUp, hooking on, catching by connection. I want to communicate to the horse that I am trustworthy, that I will be asking for things, and that she will be rewarded when we begin to communicate.
She trotted around, exploring things, but completely ignoring me. Not even an ear flicked in my direction. So I pushed her a bit, raised my whip and clucked at her, aiming my body and gaze at her shoulder, her “drive line”. She trotted around, still ignoring me, and I put more pressure on her if she turned her back to me. Eventually, she got a bit tired and slowed down, looking for the release of pressure. I continued to ask her to move until the moment came.
She looked at me.
Immediately I stopped, looked away and gave her a reward of release.
Focus on me. I’m the only thing I want you to think about.
It took a little more time, some more pressure and release, until she learned that if she stopped and looked at me, she wouldn’t have to work. The next time she stopped, she dropped her head, licked and chewed. Submissive and thinking. And she walked up to me. Hooked on. Without a halter, she followed calmly at my shoulder as I walked all over the arena.
She sought me.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord… (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
In that action – the seeking – our relationship is established. Each time we work, I will start with this. Remind her to focus on me, follow me, seek me. She pivots when I turn, she faces me, ears attentive.
God does this, too. He calls us out of the herd. He chooses us. His grace brings us into his holy presence. And then he asks for connection. For trust. For our laser focus on him. For us to wait on him, wait in him.
This is what he saves us for. For what’s next. Salvation is only the beginning.
We do not belong to the world any longer, but we are his.
He has plans – full of hope – for us, but it requires us walking in them. It requires a constant connection to the Holy Spirit. It requires us constantly seeking that connection, keeping our eyes focused on him, our entire life laid out as a sacrifice before him to be used for his glory.
God doesn’t catch us like an old-time cowboy, with ropes and intimidation and forcing a bit in our mouth and slapping a saddle on our back. He doesn’t “break” us. He doesn’t ride the will and spirit out of us. The world does, though. The world commands our attention, our devotion. The devil binds us in lies like a tie-down, locking us into positions where we can’t help but do his will or follow our own. But God is not like that. He pushes. He speaks softly. And he waits for us to move to him.
He will push us, to get that connection. As I pushed the mare around, I was 50 feet behind her, “pushing” with a raised lunge whip and clucking. I didn’t touch her. My body language said, “go”. God speaks to us so quiet we sometimes miss it. A whisper of the Holy Spirit, a pricking of conviction, a thousand different circumstances, a Bible verse that suddenly speaks to the deep reaches of our heart. He pushes from 50 feet away, subtly, waiting for us to flick an ear in his direction. When we finally stop and are still, he breathes, “yes”.
He invites us to come so close, feel him undeniably near, boldly approach the throne of grace.
Unless we are focused on him, those pushes and nudges don’t mean much. They’re annoying. They get ignored, filed away, told “later”. Until we learn to seek out God, seek out the connection and relationship and the whole-hearted desire to do his will, all we are doing is running in circles, avoiding the most powerful connection the universe has ever known.
Rebellion, fear, ignorance keeps us racing away from our maker. Pride keeps us from turning to the one who put breath in our lungs. The Holy One, his Spirit within us, dances this dance of connection with us. He pushes us to himself. He calls us from the noise of our life by entering it silently; he asks quietly that we seek him with every fiber of our being.
Because he is so near. He is always near. He is always beside us, a breath away. Even when we can’t see him, when we look wildly around and can’t see him through the fear, he promises time and time again that he is right here. In, and all around.
So we turn to him. Focused.
Exhale. Release control and fear.
And then we can begin.
Whether you turn to the right or the the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)