“We must never make our moments of inspiration our standard; our standard is our duty.” -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.
Damn it all, I don’t want to do my duty! I’m tired of always doing what’s right over what I want. Chambers is studying 2 Cor. 5:7 here, which says, “I have to lead my life in faith, without seeing Him.” (Moffatt) So is faith a duty? Must I just trust blindly because my parents told me to? We need to have the courage to actually ask God – honestly – what we really want to know. It is only then that He will answer and allow us to see.
Many years ago, I prayed something I probably should not have. It reeked of immaturity. The horse I was riding, which belonged to my mother’s friend, got away from me. She was acting strangely, so I stopped to check if there was a burr or something under the bareback pad. I never rode with saddles; too hot and too much work. I got off, picked the pad off her back, smoothed her fur and moved around her backside like I’d been taught to check her other side. As I passed her tail, she took off like a Thoroughbred out of the gate and I was standing there alone with the pad two inches above where she no longer stood. How stupid could I be? I knew better than letting go of the reins on a trail! I dropped the pad and ran, but anybody who’s ever seen me run knows that horse was long gone. I went after her anyway, hoping for the impossible. I’d raced that horse; I knew there wasn’t anything in the county that could touch her if she wanted to go. I finally stopped, exhausted, and cried out to God in desperation: “If you will bring her back, Lord, I will never doubt you again.” I had no idea the lengths He was already going to in working out the answer to that prayer.
I followed the route I thought she’d taken, but nobody had seen her. One man told me he’d seen a horse go by “really fast”, but there was no bridle on it. (Turns out, she was moving so fast he couldn’t distinguish the brown leather from the bay mare.) She left the lakebed and me far behind and tore through a residential neighborhood. A transplanted Okie teenager was outside mowing the lawn of his parents’ house when she galloped past. He instantly ran after her as she headed for the highway. He jumped into the bed of a passing pickup and together they followed her up the onramp. Several other cars, finding a horse pulling alongside, sped up and slid sideways in front of her, just as the Okie slid up behind and jumped like a rodeo stuntman onto her back. Mind you, this is in suburban Southern California, where more people can handle a surfboard than an equine. The area is known for its bumper jockeys and traffic squirrels, but team penning on Imperial Highway? I can only imagine what this looked like. I’m sure he quickly gathered up the reins like an old cowpoke while waving nonchalantly to his assistants, and trotted back off into the sunset like nothing happened.
I was extremely dejected by this time; I’d walked and searched everywhere and really did not want to walk back to the house to tell the owners I’d lost their Arabian – or find her home before me and have to explain that I was not as competent an equestrian as I’d put forth. I couldn’t contemplate anything worse. What do I do, God? And then, up trots this friendly young man astride a fully lathered horse I hardly recognize, asking if I’d lost anything. I don’t know what I expected, but his grubby hand reaching down for mine while his foot stuck out like a stirrup as he offered to pull me up on the BACK of MY horse stunned me. I didn’t question, though. He had control of the situation and I definitely did not. I rode with him back to his house as he told me his side of the story. I took the horse home and never told the owners.
I sat that night in bed, still a little shaken up, with reality heavy on me. “I’ll never doubt You again” rang in my head. Never is a long time stretching ahead of someone not yet 18. I knew many things still lay before me to test my words. I sometimes wish I had not prayed that – the problem with knowledge is that it forever holds you to a higher standard. And this was not my first God sighting, so I knew too much to turn away.
The promise still haunts me. It would’ve been much easier, in some ways, to have just walked away. Nobody understands the path of a Christian. It just makes no sense. Even to me, and I’m living it. I’ve tried to dismiss the whole incident as desperation followed by how life works itself out. But I gave my word for an outcome, and the outcome came in a big way. How can I renege on something already paid? I must keep my word. That is my duty.
And that’s exactly what living by faith, not sight, is about. If I could see the outcome, there would be no faith. I must be forged into strength and proven true before I can be useful to my maker. My faith must be apparent now, in the thick of the dark forest of midlife, where it is obvious how truly frail I am. I must trust that this present darkness is but for a time; I must remain diligent to the duty at hand, and know that I will eventually be put back on my horse and ride safely home.