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. Psalm 32:8-9 (NIV)
The words from this Psalm strike me as deeply moving and convicting. A bit and bridle are used for a creature that has no hope of every truly conforming to the will and direction of its master. The heart of the creature, we could say, is forever oriented towards its own interests and desires, constantly having to be redirected and brought back in line.
The first part of this Psalm promises the nearness and goodness of the Lord to guide and instruct us into the way of peace. His eye is always upon us, inviting us out of our selfishness and into His love. He is never forceful or coercive but instructs and counsels with gentleness and grace. His Spirit draws near to us in our weakness and restores us into His likeness, teaching us what it means to truly live as His sons and daughters.
In light of this mercy and grace, we are given a radical invitation: become by grace what we cannot be by nature. Left on our own, our wills will be no better than a horse or mule, always pulling and pushing away from the Lord and His plans for us. Yet the promise of grace is that we are made new! As St. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (See 2 Corinthians ).
It is incredibly easy to take on a posture of pessimism. We do this culturally, economically, politically, and often spiritually. We see the greed, selfishness, and pride in national leaders and corporations, we see the shortcomings in those we love, and we know the parts of our own hearts that remain darkened by sin. And yet, in light of all of this, we are as Christians a people of great hope! Christ has conquered all that is broken and disordered and now rules and reigns and welcomes us into His new Kingdom.
Each of us is a work in progress. There are areas of our life where we see great victory and triumph over sin. Yet there are others where we have still not fully submitted to the transforming grace of God. We are still beastly in our desires, like stubborn mules. May God give us the courage afresh to invite His grace into every part of our lives. We are people of hope, and we must believe that growth into Christ’s likeness is always possible.