Strong Horses & What Delights God Most

Percheron mares, aged 3 and under 4: Please enter the ringsounded over the arena loudspeaker. 

His pleasure is NOT in these strong horses? resounded in my bemused brain.

The draft horse stable is just inside the east gate at the Walworth County Fair. Each year we stop to see the horses. 

And each year, in awe, I gawk.

His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.       

Psalm 147:10-11, ESV

The Strength of a Horse

Immense strength envelop exquisite equine form. Burly, bulgy backsides and shimmery, sleek shoulders bear witness. Divinity designed such elegant power.

draft horse

From the war horse (heavy saddler) to diligence horse (heavy coacher or light draft) to the true horse of heavy draft, the breeders of Le Perche sculpted away on their beloved indigenous breed for hundreds of years, altering the animal to meet the demands of the times and to entice the buyer.

In the case of the Percheron breed, French breeders played a big role in harnessing living, breathing strength:

God himself praised these creatures as he questioned Job,

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength? Can you make him leap like the locust? 
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword

Job 39:19-24

Entice they do. I stand in awe of the Belgian Drafts, Clydesdales, and Percherons. To lay eyes on these beautiful hulks is to marvel.

God seems duly impressed by his creation. So what does God mean when he says he doesn’t take pleasure in horses? 

The Danger of Delighting in Horses

I found John Piper’s explanation helpful:

God is not displeased with horses, but in those who hope in horses—or in whatever our modern equivalent is for the strength and security that horses once delivered.

To take pleasure in visible strength is natural. Big bank accounts and a clean bill of health can make me feel secure. Top Gun Maverick had a similar effect. I left the theatre feeling confident.

But it displeases God when we put our hope in militaries, missiles, or health—or in anything other than him. Because God cares for us. He wants the best for his children. And he knows that all of those are false security, and worse than false.

When we swell secure with anything less than the Lord, we not only dig broken cisterns, but forsake the living water (Jeremiah 2:13). When we think we can buy or be our own strength, we reject God our strength (Psalm 81:1).  

Fear & Hope: What God Delights In

God helps those who help themselves isn’t in the BIble. Military might and financial force don’t dazzle Almighty God.

But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

If you want to swell the heart of God, fear him and hope in his love

Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes that fear and hope not only may, but must go together:

In the same heart at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness; not that we hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fearOur fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair.

Commentary on Psalm 147

Oh, for this holy, God-pleasing, Christ-exalting draw-near fear, for this fear co-mingled with hope! It is hope that will not disappoint us because God has poured out his love in to our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). It is fear that does not paralyze or make us run away. Perfect love casts that fear out. 

I got all that from a little trip to the fair.

Some might argue that these muscle-bound beasts have served their purpose. After all, horse pulls are just for show.

To them, I simply say “no.”

Every year at the fair, God uses them to remind me. These strong horses point past themselves to a God who is not impressed even by their splendid strength, to a God who is strength itself.

The LORD is the strength of his people…

Psalm 28:8a, ESV

Don’t Buy The Lie: Suffering ≠ Unloving

Woman sitting guilty believe the lie
Rather listen to this post? Here’s the KEEP ON podcast link.
But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 22:6-8 (ESV)

Why do you believe in him anyway? God doesn’t do anything on this earth and he doesn’t answer you. Look at all your problems. Why would I possibly want to be like you?

That from someone I love, someone close. Someone who assumes God wouldn’t let his loved ones suffer. Someone, incidentally, who called me worse than a worm.

Satan’s Top Lie To Suffering Saints

“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” That is Psalm 22 verse 8, written by David. It’s not the first time I’ve written about that lie. For the accuser of the brothers is relentless.

So today I circled back and lingered on Psalm 22, alert for that old lie,

“that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all.”

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72

That lie was loud this week. That if God is here, he’s here for my convenience, my ease. I heard it in that dear one’s scornful words and again inside my troubled mind: If God really loved you, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. You must really be guilty for God to allow such heartache.

Satan kept aiming his fiery darts. A couple landed, with tips dipped in deadly poison. Because my grief morphed into self-pity, and self-pity is of the devil.

So this must be an effective lie. Because not only does he use it on me, he used it on David and on David’s Greater Son.

He Trusts In God, Let God Deliver Him

The devil first hurled it at Jesus in the wilderness when he said, “Command these stones into bread” (Matthew 4:3). It didn’t work.

But he came back to sling the lie again, at an opportune time. It came through different mouths.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Matthew 27:41-44

Did you hear the lie? In his weakest, most vulnerable moments, the dying Messiah heard it. He trusts in God; let God deliver him.

I suspect it didn’t sound as harmonious as Handel wrote it. I think it was a raucous, jeering sound.

If I’m honest, if I were at the cross I might have reviled too. At least, I would have urged the Savior, Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Come down from the cross.

Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer like that. 

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Away From Me, Satan!

When Jesus explained how he must “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-22). “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

I’m with Peter. Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth. 

For Christ to bypass suffering would have been nothing short of satanic. He demanded that His beloved Son suffer (Matthew 3:17). God sometimes sends his children into the wilderness.

That can be hard to hear when trouble comes. So Satan plants this seed of doubt, this lie, that suffering = unloved.

But Jesus would have none if it. He turned and said to Peter (Matthew 16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” The Son of God didn’t buy the lie that God the Father spares his children suffering.

Thank God, he didn’t.

For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

The Silence Of God

But in his deepest suffering, our Lord heard the silence of God. Nailed to the cross, Jesus borrowed David’s prophetic words from Psalm 22. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In our far lighter suffering we might hear accusing voices. Then we might hear nothing at all. There will be grace to endure, to stand up under (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we might receive no relief, no rescue, no response to our prayers—only the sound of silence.

Andrew Peterson describes the silence of God.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy
Or break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder
If he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleeding for comfort
From thy staff and thy rod
And the heavens’ only answer
Is the silence of God

But God’s silence need not break our faith.

As he was dying, Jesus fixed on to David’s words. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22: 1-2).

In lament, Great David and his Greater Son both talked back to their silent God.

Don’t Stop Talking To God

David talked back to God because he had faith. Even though he felt God’s silence, he believed God heard. Read the rest of Psalm 22. Paul believed this too.

I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”

Paul quoted that verse from Psalm 116. Lament is good. Crying out to God in our pain is healthy.

“Pain is when it seems like God stops talking to you.

The problem is when you stop talking to God.”

Kevin DeYoung

The problem is when we stop talking to God. Faith, belief, causes us to speak—even if our words form to tell God our troubles.

So cry out. The real problem is when we stop talking to God.

3 Truths to Defeat the Lie

Because it’s not where you start in this battle with despair. It’s where you land.

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he was nailed to the cross. We read Psalm 22 from the foot of the empty cross. There we find three life-giving truths to defeat Satan’s lie.

  1. First, if you are in Christ, your suffering is not meaningless—it is producing a weight of glory.
  2. Second, your suffering is not random—you were not spared from suffering for good reasons.
  3. Third, your suffering is not the end.

We know it’s not the end because God hears his people’s groans. He hears, he remembers, he knows. The Father heard the Son when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He hears your sighs and cries and moans.

He Has Done It!

Serious Bible scholars suggest that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) he was actually quoting the last line of Psalm 22. As Jesus hung in the dark on the cross, he was meditating on that psalm for he’d cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But those words were the beginning of Psalm 22, not the end.

“He has done it!” That is the end of the psalm.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews chapter 12 verse two says this is true.

Bearing sin and scoffing rude, the Spotless Lamb of God didn’t buy the lie. As the Son of God agonized, bearing our sins in his body on the tree and hearing the heavy silence of God, I think he was still meditating on the truth from Psalm 22.

I think he was looking forward to the real and glorious end, when,

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.

All the families of the nations
will bow down before You..
.

They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—

He has done it!

Psalm 22:27, 31

Buck up, Buttercup: On Running With Horses & Our Non-Coddling God

run with horses

If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?

Jeremiah 12:5a

Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.

I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.

Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.

I Thought I’d Be Wrecked

No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

If anything I’m stronger. Because sufficient grace kept flowing as all those ruins fell.

God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.

Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms

So what is coddling?

To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.

But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:

Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.

Oxford Languages

God protects us. It’s what my friend Kat calls life under the wing. She’s right. When God is our refuge, no evil will befall us.

But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.

He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.

Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road

I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.

While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.

This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.

The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.

Not the Exception, the Rule

Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.

The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.

Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.

You are always righteous, Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?

We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?

While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12:5

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby? You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.

The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.

Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?

Prepared For The Road Ahead

In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.

By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.

If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.

In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”

That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.

Our Strength

So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.

Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).

But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.

Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.

Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.

As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you? What is the long, hard road you’re on?

Now stop.

Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.

And you are definitely not wrecked.

The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.

Proverbs 28:8

Beloved and Tempted: When God Takes You to the Wilderness

White Dove Beloved Son

Beloved and tempted—is that you?

If so, there’s no shame in it. Because you can be both at once. Jesus was.

Sorely Tempted And Dearly Loved

This post has one point and this is it: Don’t ever doubt when you are in the wilderness and sorely tempted that you are still dearly loved.

The flow of these three little verses in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel assure me this is true:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

Matthew 3:16-4:1 (ESV)

The direct connection escaped me, because the chapter break between Matthew chapters three and four interrupts the flow. But chapter breaks are not inspired.

In Matthew’s mind the dove and the devil—the pronouncement of Beloved Son and temptation in the wilderness— were intimately connected.

His Well Pleased He Leads Into the Wilderness

From heaven the voice of God boomed, This is my beloved Son. Then without skipping a beat, the Spirit of God led the beloved with whom he was well pleased straight into the wilderness.

The seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted. 

I hope it’s becoming obvious. That if there is any connection between spiritual condition and “temptation factor” it is not that God’s children are spared. The opposite seems true—those walking closest to God have been the longest and hardest tempted in the wilderness.

Jesus, one with the Father, was fiercely tempted for 40 days.

Not Immune From Temptation

Something MUST be wrong, my friend said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. No matter how hard I try and how much I pray, I just can’t master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 

Really? I read Matthew 3 and 4 and I’m just not so sure. If the very Son of God, was not immune from temptation, we will not be either. It’s a sort of suffering that I think we’ll have to face until we leave these old tents.

In fact, I like to think, as I’m tempted yet again to envy or discontent, that the very fact I’m feeling the struggle against it, feeling it as a temptation to sin, means not only that the God-life is in me, but that I am God’s beloved.

That even with tempted and sometimes failing me—it feels audacious and tears me up to say—God is well pleased.

Beloved And Tempted

Because it was God, God the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Therefore, Thabiti Anyabwile explains, we know that the temptation of Christ was not random or without purpose. The Sinless Lamb of God endured temptation both so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) and to showcase the beauty of His holy character. That is why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.

Here’s the point: Jesus proved that you can be God’s pleasing and beloved child and still be in the wilderness and tempted. So please don’t assume the next time you’re tempted, or even the next time you fall, that you are unloved. Please, please don’t.

Instead draw near to Jesus. Run to the One who knows temptation far better than you do and died and rose again to forgive all who flee to him. Go receive mercy where you failed and find refreshment in his grace.

And don’t ever assume when you are tempted that you are unloved.

Beloved and tempted—both.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

If you’re still curious about why your struggle might be exactly right, you might like this.