When I was nine, my parents signed me up for a local 4-H group. At the time I was a timid, awkward pre-teen with a boy’s haircut and big gaps in my teeth (that’s me at left, center). I wished for a pony every time we visited the mall fountain – tossing pennies in hopes my dream would come true. My parents fulfilled those dreams the year I joined 4-H.
However, we were flying blind when it came to horses, learning as we went and working with what we had. My parents bought a gray Arabian gelding named “Jazz” that we swiftly renamed Jack and welcome to our Michigan farm.
Jack was pretty to look at. He was an Egyptian Arab with a little teacup muzzle, big, brown eyes, and delicate features. His flea-bitten gray coat became almost white when we was bathed – IF you could bathe him (Jack broke my big toe during a bath; I never quite forgave him).
Jack and I began a tumultuous relationship that year. At nine, I was both timid and small compared to my steed, who at 14.3 hands barely grasped the title “horse”. My timidity, paired with Jack’s stubborn nature, worked against me those first few years. Jack hated to be bathed, a necessity whenever I attended the local horse shows – and hated the horse trailer almost as much. He refused to collect (lower his head) during a canter which resulted in the bumpiest gait possible. And he loved to veer off the path on trail rides in search of leaves and grass.
At 10 or 11, I was still working with Jack, but I wasn’t progressing. I had a lot of book knowledge about horses; I even won the Michigan State Hippology competition for my age bracket (hippology is the study of the horse). But when it came to actually riding, I was timid and unsure.
Timid riders lead to bossy horses. Lack of confidence is something any horse can sense, which either causes the horse to become fearful itself or encourages it to take advantage of the rider. This was the case with Jack.
That year I went on a trail ride with my dad and the Wild Riders group. I was fine until we all started trotting down the path, when I immediately became nervous and afraid. Jack sensed my fear and began to pull at the reins. I got scared and started to cry. My dad grabbed Jack’s bridle and pulled both horses to a stop as our friends trotted ahead.
“Do you want to keep going or do you want to go back, be done, and give up on horses for good?” He asked. I looked at Jack, who was getting antsy, dancing and whinnying as his friends disappeared into the woods.
Dad’s horse Silver reared on his hind legs, anxious to follow the others. Dad looked at me. “What do you want to do?”
In that moment, at 10 years old, I decided to persevere.
Ten years later, I was a member of my university’s equestrian team.
Eleven years later, I was a wrangler in the Rocky Mountain range of New Mexico for three months, riding a Mustang aptly named Lunatic.
Thirteen years later, I mentored a sweet girl through a horseback program for troubled teens and watched her grow from a hurting, rebellious heart to a young woman saved by grace.
If I had turned around on that trail ride, given up because of Jack and settled for ‘book knowledge’ instead of the real deal, I would have never had these amazing experiences.
Life is full of forks in the trail ride: that point of decision where you must choose whether to press on or to give up. Everyone else is rushing ahead and you’re scared and unsure, wondering if you should just give up on the “real deal” and settle for less.
Settling is easy. It would have been easy to turn around, ride back, load up the trailer, sell Jack and join a softball team instead. But in deciding to ride through my fear, I found a potential I didn’t know I had. There was strength within me I hadn’t tapped because I was bound by my insecurities.
And I had to persevere in order to find that strength.
We often wait for God to give us strength for tough situations. We pray for His help and ask Him to “give us the strength” to do what He has called us to do. Then we wait to “feel strong” before moving forward. But that’s not how it always works.
The strength comes as we persevere.
Paul writes this encouragement to the Colossian Christians:
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Col. 1:11-12)
Paul was asking that the Colossians be strengthened for the purpose of endurance and patience. The strength was for persevering! It is designed to help us as we strain forward in our walk with God.
But if we sit around waiting for the strength to ‘arrive’ – not walking forward in faith, not moving under the influence of the Spirit – for what do we need strength? We are like the person who waits to “feel” like exercising – all the while sitting on the couch, remote in hand!
No, we get up, we walk, and we persevere:
“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:11)
An “earnest” person is one who perseveres – and they don’t persevere blindly. They have an “assurance of hope” that inspires them NOT to be sluggish – a spiritual couch potato – but to be full of “faith and patience”. These – the active ones, the walking ones, the persevering ones – these are the Christians who see promises fulfilled.
Your battle might be singleness. It might be a job change. It might be choosing a major. It might be a sexual struggle. Whatever it is, God will give you strength for the battle you face. But don’t expect the battle to end in a day. Perseverance is the test of resolve: whether you will daily choose to surrender your battle to Him, or whether you will give up as time goes by.
Perseverance depends on the soil of your heart. In Matthew 13, Jesus told the Parable of the Sower, who went out sowing seeds along a path:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:3-8)
If you struggle to persevere, think about your heart:
- Is it exposed to the temptations and oppression of the Enemy (the birds)? Are you putting yourself in situations/with people where you know you will be tempted to give up or give in?
- Is it filled with distractions and cultural desires (the rocky ground)? Are your interests and desires shallow and superficial, or based on your relationship with God?
- Is it wrapped up in your own agenda, time, interests, hobbies, and money (the thorns)? Is there any room for God’s calling in your life?
- Is it full and rich, open to what God is asking you to do, regardless of your insecurities and fears?
You might be in a fork in the road. You may be scared, nervous, and insecure just like I was. You might have a “Jack” on your hands, in the form of a difficult job, person, or marriage. As you prayerfully decide which route to take, remember: God doesn’t call us to the easy way out, but He promises His strength as we persevere.
You may not see the results until ten, eleven, or fifteen years down the road. But you also don’t know what God could do with your story.
If I had given up on my ornery horse that summer day when I was ten, I would have never witnessed the transforming power of Christ in the eyes of that teenage girl. I would never have stood in her church as she read her testimony and was baptized. While there were many benefits to persevering in equestrian sports, that one reason is enough for me to know God was behind it all along.
This year I’m starting a new mentorship with another young girl, teaching her about horses and Jesus at the same time. So while I never really liked Jack, I can thank him and Jesus for teaching me what it means to persevere and reap the rewards.
Don’t give up. You don’t know where the trail may lead you!
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