Reflection April 2
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
This passage appears to to be a short litany of things we ought to do because of God’s goodness:
- Offer prayers (because God will deliver and protect)
- Trust the Lord (for his steadfast love will surround you)
- Hear the Teacher (for he knows which way you should go).
But it’s difficult to miss the one “do not” we find on the list.
“Do not be like a horse or a mule,” the Psalmist insists, “whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle.”
Right in the middle of these encouragements to pray, trust Divine protection, and hear Divine counsel, the Psalmist says “Don’t be a stubborn mule!” The imagery here demonstrates a person who only takes action when outside restrictions and prohibitions are placed on them.
It’s as if the Psalmist is saying, “Do these things (pray, trust, listen) on the basis of God’s character and promises, not out of obligation or because someone makes you!”
Interacting with God on the basis of prohibitions and checklists was the pseudo-spirituality of the New Testament Pharisees who found their righteousness, not in the God who delivers but in their ability to keep the list of dos. They had made the law into a kind of bridle for themselves that could be worn “without understanding” (as the Psalmist writes). So long as one wears such a bridle, they can please God and go on with their day. They can keep God’s word without affection or intention. They can acknowledge God in action but be distant from Him inwardly.
Rather than seeing these practices (prayer, trust, listening) as an unnatural set of restrictions to bridle us, we are to take them up as exercises that become natural to us over time, because of God’s good character. This Psalm is in perfect step with the Kingdom that Jesus announces at His coming. It’s a Kingdom in which people are transformed into God’s likeness from the inside out through practice, rather than the from the outside-in through prohibition (hence the bridle and bit imagery).
May this Lent be a time where we can lose our bits and bridles and begin trusting our Father from the heart. May we answer His calls to prayer, trust, and obedience not as items to check off our list of disciplines, but as actions that will lead to the restoration of our humanity as we learn to trust His character.