A ‘Horse and Mule’ Willfulness

Reflection: Psalm 32

An Anglican priest, who led me to the Lord in London in November 1969, brought this precious Psalm to my attention at the commencement of my Christian walk. It has been a constant reminder to me that our lives are an open book before God, and our sensitivity towards sin ought to be as discerning as His Holy Spirit if we are to be in step with Him. There is an advice in this Psalm, which is about readily confessing our sins and finding forgiveness, as we trust Him in the midst of being taught and counseled by Him. The warning is in verse 9, “Do not be as the horse or as a mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.” The fly in the ointment is our potential willfulness.

The analogy of ‘horse and mule’ when it comes to human willfulness is enlightening. Watch a two-year old gritting his teeth and screaming his head off, refusing to let go and let be, and we have a picture of stubbornness’ dictum – “My way or no way!” But wait, being obstinate is surely a perfectly natural human trait. It is. Often our choices are made in line with the will rather than from a gracious heart, but on many occasions, we recognize it as a mistake and change our position down the road. However, willfulness in the long term yields its own destructive fruits – psychologically and spiritually.

As willfulness requires a high degree of willpower, an element of self-discipline, it is not uncommon for rigidity to creep in, with the eventuality of one’s own sphere of existence being tightly controlled – often including those who enter that space. When left unconstrained over a period of time, this form of self-control is energy sapping for the individual and those around them. It is not uncommon for this rigidity to be practiced as a form of discipline, where it becomes a value in and of itself, culminating in a mechanical clockwork discharge of responsibilities without the ingredient of the graces of faith, hope, and love present.

Jesus’ life was characterized by flexibility and gracious surprises in his spontaneity when ministry opportunities availed themselves, without any symptoms of rigidity. His strength of character and consistency in spiritual disciplines are distinguished by his aspiration in aligning His will with His Father’s purposes for Him, which was borne from a heart bursting with the love of God, not from a will that was striving for self-control. In fact, He was so self-effacing that on several occasions He counseled against publicity for the miraculous.

To “have [no] understanding” (v. 9) is commonly used in wisdom literature to describe those who are discerning, having a clear understanding guided by their perceptive senses that informs righteous decision-making. The key here is being aware of His particular presence with us, and keeping our daily accounts short before Him and man.