Sovereign Rider

joe pote riding a paint horse

Starting out on a ride!

As stated in previous posts, I am not a horseman.  My wife and stepson are both talented rodeo athletes.  For my part, I’ve come to very much enjoy and appreciate these magnificent animals…and am rather enjoying learning more about them.  In other words, I’m a bit like a little kid with a new pony…but with enough wisdom to better appreciate the gift…  🙂

In the small rural community where I was raised, bicycles were the best way to get around for those too young to drive.  At first glance, riding bicycles may seem similar to riding horses.  Both require similar balancing skills.  Both require directing movement via subtle shifts in body position.  Both provide a good workout to leg muscles, lower back and abdominals.  Both amplify the rider’s effort with increased power and speed over what could be achieved on foot.

Yet the two are vastly different.

Bicycling is strictly about the rider.  The bicycle is merely a tool…an unfeeling machine with no personality and no will of its own.  If a bicycle ever fails to go where intended it’s either due to the rider’s mistake or a broken part.  Bicycling is a solo experience.

Horseback riding is a completely different experience.  It’s a partnership between rider and mount.  Each horse has his own personality, his own desires, his own preferences, and his own will.  The horse does not lose his own personality while serving the rider.  However, when all goes well, the horse does submit his will to the rider.  The horse chooses to go where the rider directs, at the speed the rider determines.

This submitting of the horse’s will to the rider is not a one-time thing.  It is nonverbally discussed with each ride, and may be frequently renegotiated throughout the ride.

Riding horses is a bit like parenting.  Like children, each horse has a different personality and a different learning style.  Like children, each horse tests the boundaries from time to time…each in his own way.  Like children, each horse has his own unique fears and his own level of training and maturity.  And just as in raising children, the horse learns from every interaction…every action either reinforces good behavior or opens the door to learning undesirable behavior.

The wise rider considers all these factors while riding (since I never expect to be a skilled rider, I’m working diligently toward becoming a wise rider).

There is another similarity, though, between bicycling and horseback riding.  In both cases, when done well, the rider is in control of all decisions.

In bicycling, control is simply a matter of developing riding skills and learning to trust those skills.

Control in horseback riding includes the additional factors of the horse’s training, clear communication between horse and rider, and mutual trust.  My horse must learn to trust I will not lead him into danger.  I must learn to trust the horse to go where I direct.  It’s a relationship between horse and rider.  However, within that relationship of mutual trust, there is also the need to earn the trust…and for both parties to remain constantly aware that the other is not 100% trustworthy.  Any horse on any given day may behave badly under the wrong circumstances…and every rider makes mistakes.  The relationship of mutual trust is something both parties grow into as the relationship deepens.

Nowhere in this process does the horse lose his free will.

Yes, I have reins, bit and spurs to aid both in communicating my intent and in providing consequences to ignored instruction.  But I cannot make the horse do anything…I can only communicate my intent and respond with corrective consequences when my intent is not followed.  The horse is multiple times bigger, stronger and faster than me.  I cannot make him do anything…I can only strongly encourage.  And sometimes a horse will choose to completely ignore a rider’s directive and follow his own will in contradiction to the rider’s expressed will.

The horse never loses his free will.  Rather, he exercises his free will in choosing to submit his will to the will of the rider.

And yet, despite being mounted on a creature with a free will that may run contrary to mine…a creature that is much larger and stronger than me…I start every ride with a high level of confidence that I will reach my destination, by my desired route, at my preferred pace.

If a novice rider like me can have that level of confidence in my plans being worked out through the free will of my mount, how much more confidence should we have in God’s ability to bring His plans to fruition through the daily faulty choices of imperfect people?

As humans, we find it difficult to understand how God can be sovereign while allowing us free will.  We tend to see these as mutually exclusive and drift toward either seeing ourselves as bicycles with no true free will at all, or seeing ourselves as free-range horses in charge of our own destiny.

God calls us to something so much better…to a personal relationship with Him, based on ever deepening mutual trust…and complete confidence that He will complete the good work He has begun…the good work of being conformed to the image of Christ…of learning to surrender our will to His.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ… (Philippians 1:6 NKJV)


Your thoughts?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


12 thoughts on “Sovereign Rider

    • Yes. For me, at least, my primary focus in learning horsemanship is learning to work with the horse toward the goal of his will being surrendered to me for the duration of the ride.

      And…I think God’s goals for me are somewhat similar…

      So sorry you’re feeling so ill, Andrew! Praying for you, my friend…

  1. Hi Joseph, I linked up after you at Kelli’s place this morning. Appreciating your words here, and so thankful for the fact that Jesus asks for our obedience *out of* relationship. Out of love. This revelation is recently sinking into the way my husband and I are parenting, and while it’s messy, it is so right. So aligned with God’s heart. I’m so thankful for how He loves… Blessings to you.

    • Thank you, Dana, for linking over and commenting!

      Yes, God always respects our choices and our free will…even as He teaches us to surrender our will to HIm and to be conformed to His image.

      And, yes, that is a good (though not easy) model for parenting. Our natural tendency is to try to over-ride our children’s will and ‘make them mind.’ Patient loving firmness works so much better in the long run.

      Thank you for sharing this aspect!

  2. Great analogy, Joseph.

    As for me, I’m one stubborn “horse”. I haven’t been real good at learning to trust as I should. Thankfully, Jesus is a much better and stronger “horseman” than I am a “horse” …

    Grateful for His patience …..

    • “As for me, I’m one stubborn ‘horse’.”

      Of our seven horses, I claim two as ‘mine’…a bay named Modelo and a paint named Sonny. Of the two, Modelo is easier to ride…more compliant…smoother gait…not as stubborn as Sonny.

      A couple of weeks ago, we participated in a neighbor’s roundup. Sherri expected me to take Modelo, but I decided to take Sonny…just in case there was an opportunity or need for me to use a rope. Although I had never roped from horseback, I had worked with both horses enough to know Sonny is calm around ropes, whereas Modelo can sometimes come unglued dragging a rope.

      Sonny was extra stubborn that morning, and for most the day I half wished I’d brought Modelo, instead. But that afternoon, I had the opportunity to rope a couple of calves and drag them to the branding fire. It was a really cool experience that I’m glad I was able to participate in…and I never could have done it if I’d ridden Modelo rather than Sonny.

      So my point is…God knows each horse in His pasture…and He knows which horse to use for each task as well as how to bring each horse along to the next stage of maturity.

      We can trust Him!

      Thank you, David!

  3. Oh, Joe. This is so rich. Your analogy AND your clarity in articulating it. Such a beautiful, dangerous thing – this freewill, yes? Even though it is a subject I have pondered for years, I still feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface. Thank you for your thoughts, friend. They are a welcome addition to the Unforced Rhythms community.

    • Yes, a dangerous thing, indeed! Like you, I have pondered much on this topic over the years yet feel I have only scratched the surface. I’ve come to see it as one of those things I will never fully comprehend this side of Heaven…but thoroughly enjoy the occassional glimpses of clarity… 🙂

      Thank you, Kelli!

  4. What a great metaphor, Joe. I suppose the apostle James knew this well too, since he referenced it in his exhortations to us. 🙂 When I was younger, I loved horses and took every opportunity I had to ride them–even wrangling my hubby to go on a horseback ride through the pineapple fields of Maui on our honeymoon! But that was probably the last time I rode one. They are majestic and powerful animals, as you’ve pointed out, but an unseasoned rider like me has not always fared well as the “leader” of my horse! And in the same way, I’ve often resisted God’s directions with me. This is a great reminder to submit to His amazing leadership–no matter where He takes me. Because wherever that is, it’s the best! Glad to have you back in the lineup over at Messy M!

    • “…an unseasoned rider like me has not always fared well as the “leader” of my horse.”

      Believe me, I completely understand!

      I’m not always such a great leader myself…and much of what I’ve learned has been through mistakes. I’m still a rather poor rider…but much better than I was a couple of years ago!

      And, yes, it is all about learning to surrender our will to His…to make doing His will our deepest desire…and trusting Him with the journey.

      Thank you, my friend!

  5. I think I better stick to bicycles instead of horses. 🙂 You make a great point about control. It is a hard thing to understand about God’s sovereignty yet our free will. One of those mysteries that I just have to believe, even when I can’t fully understand. And be grateful for! Thanks, Joe.

    • Yes, a mystery, for sure! Which is fine…we would be vain, indeed, to assume we should be able to understand God’s designs through human logic.

      But I do get a real kick out of the glimpses I am able to catch, from time to time!

      Thank you, Lisa!

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