“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset
about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)
I’m a Martha, I admit it. I’m overly concerned with accomplishing tasks and doing them well. Whether I’m at home, at work, or at church, I take my responsibilities seriously. I deeply desire to please God, but allow opportunities to pass me by because I don’t want to fail. Therefore I wasn’t surprised that I needed a lesson on pleasing God, but I have to admit that the lesson turned out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated.
For my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, we travelled to a horse ranch to enjoy a weekend of riding. As a novice rider, I loved the gentle gait of my Tennessee Walker. However, when an unexpected thunderstorm rolled in, the ranch owner prodded our horses to trot and then canter to escape the driving rain, crackling lightning, and ground-shaking thunder that frightened both the horses and people on our trail ride. I started to protest that we were going too fast, but the wrangler on the horse behind me shouted words of encouragement. More than once I began to fall out of the saddle, so she coached me on changing my posture. Once I overcame my panic, I found the ride surprisingly exhilarating.
The next day Rachel and I took a private ride with one of the ranch hands. We leisurely followed our guide deep into the forest along a narrow mountain trail. Suddenly our guide’s horse snorted and started to rear. Between our leader’s horse and our horses, a large timber rattlesnake sat coiled in a strike pose. We nervously waited for several minutes to see if it would slither away. It continued to get more agitated as did our horses. As its rattle shook more vigorously, our horses got so antsy that we could barely keep them from bolting. The ranch hand informed us it would be impossible for her to return to us due to the steep slope and her frightened horse. She calmly explained step-by-step how to work our way out of our precarious hillside balancing act as we guided our fidgety horses past the irritated reptile.
Later that day the ranch owner invited my daughter to work with a highly spirited Arabian. After Rachel demonstrated control over the horse, the owner asked her to take the horse out of the ring so it could begin learning how to behave on trail rides. Within minutes he reared. Rachel’s face registered shock. The next time he reared more vigorously and I could tell she was planning to jump off as soon as he touched the ground. The owner yelled, “Hold on! Don’t let him get away with that!” My pride swelled as I watched Rachel overcome her fear and regain control of the horse. She safely returned him to the ring, even though he continued to make life difficult for her.
That night we overheard the owner talking to his staff about two experienced riders who would be joining us the following morning, one of them having worked as a wrangler at another ranch. He mentioned he had a special ride in mind for them so the other wranglers would need to be prepared to bring the rest of us back to the ranch without him.
In the morning we saddled up along with the two young men and several other riders. The beautiful day was slightly marred by the owner’s growing irritation at these young men who continued to ride the horses in their own way rather than follow his instructions. After an hour, the owner stopped. He announced that he would be taking Rachel and I on a private ride and the wranglers would lead everyone else back to the barn. We raised our eyebrows, too excited about this special privilege to ask any questions. The blazing summer heat dissipated as we rode along a wooded mountain path for the next thirty minutes. He then turned to us with a glint in his eye, “Would you like to see the lake?”
“It’s a beautiful spot, but it’s not an easy ride.”
“You’ve seen us ride. If you think we can do it, then we know we can.”
“I know you can do it, but only if you follow my directions. Are you willing to trust me and do exactly what I say?”
Rachel and I looked at each other. This sounded exciting, but a little scary. I couldn’t let my little girl down, so I took a big swallow and nodded yes.
Fifteen minutes later he said, “This is where we go down.” There was no path. The horses stood at the edge of a steep hill covered with trees, underbrush, and rocks. The ranch owner nudged his horse forward and showed us the way. Then he guided me down that hill with a constant stream of words. “Tighten the reigns!” “Loosen the reigns!” “Lean back.” “Lean back further!” As I neared the bottom of the slope, he directed, “She can finish this up. Give her head.” And finally “Duck!” when the horse’s rapid descent caused me to narrowly avoid being struck in the face by an overhanging branch. The horse came to halt and the adrenalin coursing through my veins exploded. I thought, “This is why cowboys yell ‘Yee Haw!'”
I looked up to see anticipation and anxiety mix in my daughter’s face. Our guide focused his gaze on Rachel and he began coaching once again. She inched her way down the slope and soon stood beside me with a beaming grin. Our guide looked like a proud papa as he explained, “That trail is the steepest slope a horse can traverse without sitting down and sliding. Good job. Now let’s go look at the lake.”
A short trot away, a story-book lake lay nestled among majestic hardwoods. Birds and insects treated us to a natural symphony. The sky sparkled a bright blue as we stood in awe. We celebrated the beauty of this gem from a ridge while the horses took a much-deserved rest. The countenance of the ranch owner oozed with contentment and joy. He quietly confided, “This is my secret place. I found it about a year ago, but I’ve never told anyone about it or brought anyone here before.” And then I understood. It gave him joy to view this lovely lake. Now he wanted to share his treasure, but had been waiting to find someone who would follow his advice closely enough to safely join him on the journey. Even though I was an inexperienced rider and my daughter was only 13, he had watched how we had responded when asked to do things outside of our expertise. The experiences with the rattlesnake, the thunderstorm, and the Arabian had demonstrated we could be trusted to listen and to follow.
At that moment I recognized that I was hearing a message not only from an experienced horse rider, but also from God. It went something like this:
“Barb, would you like to join Me on an adventure to a beautiful place that I want to share with you? When I invite you to accompany Me on side paths and steep trails, you so often hesitate. You ask me so many questions about where we are going and why. You doubt your ability to handle the trail. Trust Me like you trusted this man. If I invite you, the destination will be worth the hard journey. And anticipate that it’s not always about accomplishing some task for me, sometimes I simply want you to come with me so I can share with you the delights that bring me joy.”
Like Martha in the Bible, I tend to get frustrated when I can’t accomplish tasks that I’m trying to do to please God. My response is often to try harder and fuss at other people who aren’t helping enough. Pleasing God degrades into a toilsome drudgery.
Meanwhile, God invites me to join Him on journeys to places I could never go myself—places beyond my mental, emotional, financial and physical capabilities. Delightful places. And if He invites me, He will guide me one step at a time. He’ll tell me when to pull back and when to press on. He’ll slow me down or speed me up. He’ll warn me about the low hanging branches that would knock me to the ground. He can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
God doesn’t choose those with impressive resumes to accompany Him on the most delightful paths, He chooses those who will listen to Him and follow His directions.
Today I came home stressed because I was asked to lead a high-visibility project for which I think I am not qualified. My practical side says it is too risky and I might fail.
Yet that weekend at the ranch, I chose to accept a stranger’s invitation to accompany him on an adventure. I trusted him to safely guide me even though I was ill-prepared for the journey. It was a good choice! Right now, perhaps Somebody else is making a similar offer. I’m thinking I just might take Him up on it, too.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
–Psalm 119:35 (NIV)