Last month we talked about this video from Riding High Ministries. In the video, horse trainer Todd Pierce uses a horse to show what it looks like for people to come into a relationship with Jesus. By working with this horse, Todd presents such a powerful picture of what it looks like for us to come into a relationship with God through Jesus. And there is so much you can get out of watching this video. I’m sure a blog could be written about every part of it. And different parts will certainly stand out to different people. Last time, I shared a little about how there is joy in surrendering to Jesus. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. There was so much more that I wanted to say about that video but it wouldn’t fit into one single blog post. So, we decided to do a follow up so I could share a few more thoughts.
What is Meekness?
As I watched the video I thought about something I learned while studying the Gospel of Matthew. When I came to the Beatitudes, I read Matthew 5:5 where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” When I went to look up the original Greek word Matthew used here, I found something really interesting. In ancient Greece, the word Matthew uses was also used in the process of training a horse for war. Now depending on your experience with horses you may have a different picture of what that means. When you hear “warhorse” you may think of mighty, brave, and powerful.
This was actually a common theme I saw when people tried to explain what the word meek means. A lot of people pointed out that meekness does not mean weakness. People talked about the idea of “power under control.” There was a lot of talk about how meekness is about strength and power, it’s just focused power. And while I can see where people would get this idea, I don’t fully believe this is what Jesus meant when He called us to be meek. In our western, 21st century worldview we tend to value power and strength. And so of course when we hear the call to be meek, it’s natural for us to try to reshape that word so it fits in better with what we value as a culture. We’re naturally uncomfortable with the idea of being meek or gentle or mild-tempered. People in general want and value power. That’s just the nature of living in a fallen world. We value our own strength and power.
So when we try to explain what Jesus meant when He called us to be meek, we try to grasp on to even a little bit of power and we try to rework Jesus’ words to allow us to do that. I believe there is power in Jesus. I believe that when He saves us His power lives inside of us. We are not called to be passive. I think that’s what people mean when they say meekness isn’t weakness. Meekness isn’t being passive. It’s not about being a pushover. And we are called to be bold in our faith. But I also don’t think based on the context of Matthew 5:5 and some of the other research I’ve done that we can say meekness is primarily about strength. I think a little digging into what this word that we translate as meek actually means, as well as a look at how it was used in regard to horse training and other places this word is used in the New Testament can help us paint a better picture of what it means for us to be meek as Jesus commands. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing in this post/next several posts.
Turning the World’s Value System on it’s Head
There is a lot about following Jesus that forces us to be counter cultural. Everything about the gospel and the way Jesus calls His followers to live goes against what the world around us values. It was that way when Jesus was walking on earth and it’s that way now. The Beatitudes demonstrate this radical way of living. Each beatitude turns the value system of the rest of the world upside down. The very first thing Jesus says is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The word that is translated as poor carries the idea of being wretchedly poor to the point of needing to beg for help. It’s drastic, desperate kind of poverty. And it’s exactly the opposite of what most of the world would describe as blessed. When most people see someone who is poor, either financially or spiritually, it’s easy to feel sorry for them. But we don’t usually consider them blessed. Even in Jesus’ day people believed that being poor was a sign of God’s curse on your life. So, Jesus saying that being spiritually poor is a good thing challenges the values of the world we live in.
We see Jesus challenge the world’s desire for power and influence in other places. He tells His disciples that when they become leaders, they need to make sure they don’t lord their influence over other people. He tells them that the one who wants to be the greatest needs to become the least. To be a true leader you need to learn how to humble yourself and serve other people. “The last will be first and the first will be last.” Given the radical nature of what Jesus taught, both here in the Beatitudes and the rest of the New Testament, it is only natural that His call for His followers to be meek would follow suit. Meekness is counter cultural in our world. Being gentle and slow to anger, the way God often is with us, doesn’t make sense to most people. The idea of being meek, instead of being mighty and powerful, rubs against out sinful nature. It goes against what the world says we should value.
The word we translate into “meek” here in Matthew 5:5 is praus. According to Strong’s Concordance praus means: “mild, gentle.” Another Bible dictionary I found gave the following definition, “gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration.” You may notice that there is nothing about power or strength in these definitions. It’s about kindness and treating people gently. I like the last part of the last definition, the idea of treating people with humility and consideration. When you’re meek, you don’t boast about yourself. You don’t look down at other people like you’re better than them. Instead, you humble yourself and consider where they are at and adjust accordingly.
Gentle and Lowly in Heart
This definition makes sense in light of some of the other places in the Bible where the word praus is used. Let’s look at Matthew 11:29, for example. In Matthew 11, some of John the Baptizer’s disciples went to Jesus and asked Him if He is truly the Messiah they were looking for. Jesus answered them by performing miracles and healing people. Then, He told them to go back to John and tell him what they had seen. Then, Jesus began to talk about some of the cities where He performed His biggest miracles. Unfortunately, people in those cities didn’t believe in Him.
After lamenting for these cities, Jesus said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone who the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then, Jesus called people who were weary and burdened. Jesus said if people come to Him, He will provide the rest they need. Then, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The word Matthew uses for gentle here is the same word he used earlier in Matthew 5. The idea here is that Jesus is considerate of those who come to Him. He knows they are burdened and He is willing to humble Himself so He can walk with them. There is a kindness to Jesus’ words here. It’s not about His power as much as it’s about His humility. When we come to Jesus He chooses to humble Himself and walk patiently with us. Jesus is not weak or passive. Instead, He is gentle and kind. Jesus is meek. And His meekness and power don’t conflict. Jesus is still powerful, but He also chooses to humble Himself in order to walk with us.
Meekness in the Kingdom of God: The Humility of a Child
Even Jesus’ words before this imply a contrast between power and humility. Jesus thanks God for not revealing Him to the wise and those who would have been perceived as powerful. Instead, God revealed Jesus to “little children.” In Matthew 18, Jesus told His disciples that anyone who does not humble themselves like a child cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were trying to figure out who was the greatest, who had the most power. And Jesus tipped that on its head. Instead of promoting power and greatness, Jesus points His disciples toward humility. The kingdom of God is not entered by human greatness but by meekness.
I mentioned earlier that the word praus was used in Ancient Greece during the process of training a horse. Several years before Jesus started preaching, a military leader and philosopher named Xenophon used the word a few times in his work, On Horsemanship. The term translates as gentle and is used to describe both the desired disposition of a military horse as well as the best way to handle horses. In the next post, we’ll talk a little bit about what that looks like and dig a little deeper into what it means to be meek.
“There’s something about giving up that actually empowers.” – Todd Pierce
All of my life, I’ve been known as the horse girl. If you talk to anyone who has briefly known me, they will probably say I like horses. My first memory of being around a horse was when I was about three or four years old. Some horses lived in a pasture down the street from our house, and my parents would take my brother and me down to pet them.
Unfortunately, one of the horses bit my brother on the ear and me on the top of my head. For some people, having a horse bite you may be a good reason to avoid them, but it had the opposite effect on me.
It’s something I can’t really explain, it just didn’t bother me.
As I started following Jesus during college, God began to shape my love for horses in an interesting way. I began to notice how there are parallels between our relationship with God and a horses’ relationship with its trainer or rider. I’ve seen and heard things from different trainers that have helped me see my relationship with God differently. One of the best and most beautiful examples I have found is a video from Riding High Ministries. This video shows Todd Pierce, a horse trainer, working with a horse and using it to point people to Jesus.
I love how he works with the horse and presents such a powerful picture of what it looks like for us to come into a relationship with God through Jesus. There is so much you can get out of watching this video.
I want to share something that has stood out to me as I’ve watched it over and over (and over and over).
The video starts with this horse nervously running circles around Todd. Todd talks about how so many of us are like this horse. We think if we just run in circles, we can ignore God as He stands in the middle waiting for us. Eventually, we’re all faced with a choice. We can keep running around, refusing to turn to God, or we can surrender our lives to Him.
Over time, this horse decides to turn toward Todd. He gives up and surrenders. The rest of the video is a relatable picture of what it looks like to surrender. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s extremely uncomfortable.
Because God Loves You
You’ll notice at one point in the video that the horse doesn’t want to let Todd go on his right side. When Todd moves his hand toward the right side of his face, the horse pulls away and shakes his head.
Slowly and gently, however, Todd is able to get to his right side. With each step Todd makes in the training process, the horse wrestles with wanting to let him in, and its instincts are to protect itself. Todd keeps pushing this horse and making him uncomfortable.
“Because I love him, I have to get into these spaces.”
Because God loves you, He has to get into those spaces you don’t want Him to see. Maybe it’s something from your past that has left you frightened and scarred. A sin that you don’t want God to see, either out of shame or because you still kind of enjoy it. Or a part of your life that God wants to take control of, but you’re not ready to give it to Him.
He loves you, and He refuses to leave you. He has to be able to heal those wounds. Allow Him to root out sin and have complete control over your life.
From my personal experiences, it’s not always fun to let God in. When I see that horse jerk his head back in fear, resisting Todd’s hand, I see myself several years ago when God asked me to surrender specific things in my life. It was hard to give God control over something significant, but God showed me that my identity is in Jesus alone.
He took my love for horses and reshaped it in a way that glorifies Him. When I see Todd’s compassion for this horse as he struggles to give up, I felt the struggles with sin in my own life.
This is what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus. It can be uncomfortable at times. But when you fully embrace it, it can be truly beautiful and even powerful.
Surrender is Not Easy. But It’s Worth It.
To some people, this submission can look like weakness. Some people will watch him put the saddle and bridle on and think, “Oh, he’s broken the horse. He’s taking away its freedom and power.”
We live in a culture that doesn’t want someone to tell them what to do. If you do what someone tells you, like submitting to God, you’re weak and that’s a bad thing.
As Todd demonstrates with this horse, surrendering to the right person can actually set you free. I think there are several reasons why we don’t like the idea of submission and surrender. Part of it, as Todd points out, is just because of our sinful nature. There is just something in all of us that can’t allow God to be in control.
The truth is, when you give up and surrender to God, you’ll find that it’s the best thing you could possibly do. It’s not easy. It’s not always going to be comfortable. But if you stick with it, you’ll see over time that it’s completely worth it.
“For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1”37).
This is the verse that drives Luanne Botta, founder of Guarded Heart Ministries, both in life and in ministry to women and teens.
Luanne came to know Jesus at 22, after spending time in the party scene. Several years later, she began serving in ministry. She served as a leader of a women’s ministry at her local church for many years. Serving women is one of Luanne’s passions. She knows what it’s like to experience weariness in her walk with Christ. As she serves other women she hopes they will find the encouragement to keep going. God has not left them and He is not done yet.
With God nothing is impossible.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Luanne was a teacher in a Christian high school for 17 years. During the 2nd week of her first year, a senior girl came to her for help. The student told Luanne that she was having sex with her boyfriend. Through tears, she admitted that she no longer wanted to do that. Luanne’s heart-broke for this girl. Over the course of the next 17 years, Luanne continued to hear the same story day after day. She realized that God was bringing these students to her in their brokenness.
“On a daily basis, the Lord brought one teenager after another into my office crying out for the truth about their relationship with the opposite sex,” Luanne says.
Luanne saw that these teens needed two things. First, they needed Jesus – His grace and His love. Second, they needed someone who would boldly teach them how to fight against their culture by walking in sexual integrity. God was calling her to be that person.
Luanne began to speak to her students about Jesus. She showed her students that their hearts were really longing for Jesus. Her students began to understand how God saw them. They began to realize that they were worth waiting for and how much God loved them. The importance of purity began to make more sense in light of their relationship with Jesus. Luanne challenged her students to rebel against their culture.
With God nothing is impossible.
Teaching her students about purity in light of the gospel has led Luanne to write 2 books. Young Hearts. Pure Lives reminds young women of how God sees them, how much He loves them, and that they are worth waiting for. The Warrior Within challenges young men to embrace their identity in Christ and pursue sexual integrity. In both books, Luanne uses the Word to deal with issues facing both teenage girls and boys. She is unafraid to deal head first with the tough issues that others avoid, such as pornography and sexting.
Luanne continues to minister to both teens and women today. A move from Pittsburgh to South Carolina has given her more opportunities to do both. Through Guarded Heart Ministries, she is often invited to speak at high schools around the Upstate. She recently had the opportunity to speak at the Beautifully Broken conference, hosted by Life In Abundance. Life In Abundance is thrilled to partner with Guarded Heart Ministries to present an upcoming workshop for parents and teachers on September 25, 2020. Details for that upcoming event will be posted on both websites.
With God nothing is impossible.
Luanne’s hope is that in the next 5 years teens and parents across the country will be using her books. She wants to see teens all over America choosing to trust in Jesus and choose purity. It is a tough battle. There have been many times she’s wanted to quit, but God keeps her going. She believes it is through His power alone that this battle will be won.
With God nothing is impossible.
“But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs form you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But, love your enemies, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
– Luke 6:27-36
I think these may be some of the hardest words Jesus spoke. Even as I typed them out, part of me wanted to skip some parts. Part of me wanted to change my mind and not write about this at all. What Jesus says here is radical and, in many cases, may seem impossible. How can Jesus expect us to love people who hurt us? How can He tell us to turn the other cheek when we are struck? What does He even mean by that? Are Christians supposed to be pushovers? Are we supposed to let people abuse us and hurt us and just sit there and do nothing about it?
Loving Your Enemies and Setting Boundaries
Well, I want to start by saying, no. Jesus does not expect us to be pushovers. If you are in a situation where you are being abused in anyway, Jesus does not expect you to just sit there and let it happen. You are a child of God, He loves you, cares for you, and wants to set you free. And if you have been in a situation like that or have just been hurt by other people, whatever that looks like, what Jesus says here does not mean that Jesus doesn’t care.
In fact, He cares very deeply. If you read through the Gospels you will see how much God hates sin. His love and grace don’t excuse sin or make it ok or no big deal. He hates sin, all sin. When other people sin against us and hurt us, He hates that. It is good and right to set both legal and personal boundaries. It is possible to love your enemies and still have limits. You can forgive someone for what they did to you without continuing to have a relationship with them.
One example I think of is one summer a few years ago. I was volunteering at a summer camp for children in foster care. At one point in the camp we asked the kids to come up and say one thing they wanted to pray for. Almost every kid in that camp asked to pray for their parents. Many of these kids came from abusive situations. Their parents had hurt them, and yet in spite of that they still loved them and prayed for them. Of course, for most of those children it would never be right or safe for them to return to their parents. Most of them had to stay in foster care or be adopted into another family. For their safety boundaries had to be set. But, in asking for prayers for those who had hurt them so deeply, they showed the kind of love Jesus asks all of us to extend to people who hurt us. Loving your enemies can be as simple as asking God to have the same mercy on them that He had on you.
When God calls us to love our enemies, He does not call us to take their sin lightly or to treat ourselves poorly by staying in an unsafe situation.
Love Your Enemies: Look to Jesus
Loving our enemies is hard. And there is only one way we can truly love our enemies the way God calls us to.
We look to Jesus.
One thing God has shown me as I have read through the Gospels is that Jesus never gives us a command that He has not accomplished Himself. Here when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do something that He doesn’t know anything about. Jesus is not just some teacher who gives vague commands without understanding the depths of what He is asking. He knows even better than we do what it means to love enemies. As Jesus hung from the cross, He prayed for God to have mercy on those who killed Him. As He died the most horrific kind of death in all human history, He cried out for forgiveness for those who murdered Him.
And, He loved you and me. I sometimes forget that I at one point in time was an enemy of God. Romans 5 says that even though we were enemies of God, because of the death of Jesus we were reconciled to Him. God had mercy on us and extended forgiveness to us even though we rebelled against Him. I don’t deserve mercy any more than anyone else who has sinned against me. Jesus knows how hard it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. He knows what it is like to be sinned against. He knows what it is like to be betrayed, to be hurt by people. So, as He calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, He is not doing so without any understanding of what He is asking of us.
If we want to know what it looks like to love our enemies, to love difficult people, we need to look to Jesus. We can’t do what He is asking on our own. And, He doesn’t expect us to. He shows us how to love others in His death and resurrection. And He comes alongside us to help us love others, even those who seem impossible to love.