As a youngster I once tried to ride a large horse bare back. It was fine until a fox ran in front of us. The horse shied and decided to return to the barn as quickly as possible. I just hung on for dear life. The horse ran up to the barn and then reared up on its hind legs, me hanging on to the reins like a flapping flag. She came down, I got off, and have never worked up the courage to ride another horse.
In Matthew 19:16-22 we read of a rich young ruler who asked Jesus a very important question: “What must I do to be saved?” His question was probably one we all should ask, because deep down inside most of us probably have similar questions: how we might escape the curse of sin, or how to gain eternal life (as two examples). We deal with the questions of mortality and morality. We may feel like that little boy hanging by the reigns of a large horse.
The evangelist James addressed these issues head on. He acknowledged that even preachers deal with problems presented by human frailties and foibles. He said in verse 2 of our reading: “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” But even the most gifted of preachers is not perfect. Even he is not immune to temptation. This is why James wrote in terms of control – a horse’s bit and bridle, a ship’s rudder, and the like. These are means of establishing control and order for the ship’s crew or the horse’s owner.
As followers of Christ Jesus, we by nature lack the controls we need and we would drift directionless and be at risk of destruction if left to ourselves. So, God gives us His Word to give us direction. He gives us the Sacrament of Holy Communion to give us strength. He gives us His Holy Spirit to remind us of whose we are and what we should be. By making full and frequent use of these Means of Grace we have the wherewithal to resist Satan’s temptations and overcome them!
To be honest, I have never felt the urge to climb up on another horse – others can do that! I feel sufficient terror preaching an occasional sermon, writing an occasional devotion, or witnessing to the occasional friend, relative, or even a stranger. But I won’t go bare back again. I have the Holy Spirit with me!