Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, Else they will not come near you.
It’s God’s desire to lead you, but He takes little pleasure in forcing His children toward the right way. Take a moment to think about a stubborn mule. The path leads ahead, but the mule decides to go in another direction. Or he decides not to move at all. Eventually the mule loses the argument, but his stubbornness creates grief for both him and his master. How much grief to be endured is the mule’s choice.
There are two main points to the above passage. First, the bridle is only used when the horse or mule refuses to go the right way. God uses instruction, hardships, and chastisement to point us in the right direction. Only one of these is based on understanding. The listening heart hears the instruction and goes where God is leading. Chastisement and hardships are the bits and bridles which force us to turn when we don’t want to turn, but instruction is the peaceful voice of God that calls us to the right way. Instruction is always God’s first choice. And it’s always how we experience the affections of God as we journey through this life. Consider Isaiah 30:21
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.
Hearing the leading of God is how the Lord desires to interact with His children. How many times to I go in a direction that I feel in my spirit is contrary to where God is leading me? Or it’s a way that I know in my heart is not good. Yet I continue to follow my own path until circumstances drive me back to the right way.
The stubbornness of many is baffling. I know this from my own life. I know this from the lives of others around me. Think about parenthood. I can see where a decision or attitude will lead and I warn my kids. This also happens with family members or friends. Though the outcome is clearly harmful, people stubbornly refuse instruction and determine not to change their direction until trouble arises. Often it’s the very trouble warned about. Why do we needlessly suffer instead of heeding instruction?
In my own life, I can see where God’s word gave me clear instruction, but it conflicted with my own ideas and desires. Like a stubborn beast, I trudged forward anyway. I may have found ways to justify my actions in my own heart, but deep down I knew I was manipulating God – or trying to. When I begin sinking in the mire of my own ways, I may struggle for a while, but eventually I look to Him for deliverance, promising to never stray again. Yet I will stray – because that’s in my human nature. However, as I learn how to hear God’s voice, it corrects my way without chastisement or hardship. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “I judge myself that I may not be judged.”
I judge myself by comparing my motives to the word of God. Am I pursuing my desires, or God’s will? Ultimately I want these to be the same, but more times than not I’m forced to say, “Not my will, but yours.” Any other way would be the path of stubbornness.
The second thing in this passage says, “Or else they will not come near you.” A horse or mule that does not trust its master will not come near. At least not without being forced to do so. Do I trust God? Do you? Or do we flee from God’s presence because we don’t trust His will? The answer is in our understanding. The beast of our human nature has no understanding of spiritual matters and cannot live or walk in the Spirit. Yet, if we belong to Christ, we have the Spirit of understanding within us. We can look outside of human nature and look where God is leading us. We discover understanding when we cease from looking at our immediate circumstance or desire, and look to where we are being led by God.
This passage explains it well: Colossians 1:9-12
9b that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;
12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
God’s goal is for you to become partakers of His inheritance, which is reserved for you. Our goal is to learn to walk worthy of His calling. We are in a relationship of love. It is not God taking over our lives, but giving of Himself to us – first through the cross, now through His Spirit as He transforms us into His likeness, and at the last, through the inheritance all will receive who take joy in His fellowship. We too must live in love. We love God because He first loved us. We know He is giving of Himself to us; therefore, we give ourselves to Him through laying down our lives in the flesh so we can walk with God in the Spirit. The life of faith is giving ourselves to God knowing that He has given and is giving His life to us.
A mule isn’t a partaker of the inheritance, but it’s a heart that departs back to our will in the flesh. A son or daughter of God lives worthy of the Father who gave them life, and lives as those who hear His voice as they learn to abide in perfect fellowship with God. This is a life-long process, and it begins anew each day.
Begin training your heart to ignore your will in the flesh and listen for His leading voice through the word, and through your spirit.