The Days of '47 Rodeo is in town. And though I've never been a big rodeo buff, one event always intrigues me.
I like the calf roping.
I don't go to watch the cowboys, however. I go to watch the horses.
Seeing such powerful, intelligent animals trained to behave with grace and precision is worth the price of a ticket.
It's no wonder the Bible uses "horse breaking" to illustrate how Christians should behave.
Cow ponies are great examples of submission and obedience.
When the Bible speaks of "broken hearts," I'm sure it often means "broken" in the way cowboys "break a horse." It has to do with "corralling" our wild, unbridled instincts and learning to follow the wishes of a master.
"Behold," says James, "we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they might obey us; and we turn about their whole body."
James knew his horses.
So did John.
In the Book of Revelation he gives us four horses that run like the wind.
Still, the most important scripture about animal training just may be the "breaking" of Paul in the Book of Acts. Paul (known as Saul then) has been galloping about the region persecuting Christians. Then Jesus comes to him on the road to Damascus and says "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? . . . It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
Modern readers struggle with that last sentence. The image in our minds is of some guy kicking at the thorns of a rose bush.
But the truth is, it's about animal training.
Some translations read, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goad" — a goad being a cattle prod.
One scholar even suggests Paul was like an "ox" who needed to be "goaded" along.
But Paul was no ox.
That's why I like the Spanish version. Roughly translated it reads: "It is hard for thee to buck against the spur."
Paul was a spirited mustang. And Jesus is telling him, "How much do I have to spur you before you realize I'm in charge? I'm the Master here. You just don't know it."
Paul's quick change of attitude — from bronco to workhorse — is like the quick change of attitude in a broken horse. And it is one of the Bible's most impressive conversion stories.
I have a lot of admiration for Paul. I can't imagine me making such a drastic swing. I think my own will would probably get in my way.
Years ago, John Hart of the Church News invited me to spend a weekend on his father's farm in Idaho. When we went horseback riding, I drew a horse that had been cooped up all winter, a horse that was ready to fly. When I'd slow him to a trot, he'd trot for awhile, but then he'd pick up speed — like a car going down hill — until he was dashing again.
I sometimes think I'm lot like John's old horse.
I'll do the will of the master — to a point. "Thy will be done," I say, "but I'm going to sneak in a little of my will, too, and and hope you don't notice."
Unlike Paul, my surrender is not "unconditional."
If I were a cow pony, I'd probably be willing to cut and stop on a dime. But I'd probably balk at "backing up." Let another horse do it. I'll just trot along and slowly pick up speed.
So, again this year, I plan to saunter over to the rodeo and watch the calf roping event. Maybe this will be the year I'll finally learn the lesson of the cow pony. And the lesson is this:
Turning your will over to a master is never an easy thing to do. But when you finally surrender, the bond that develops between horse and master looks an awful lot like love.