Friday, January 31, 2014

The Year of the Horse

TITLE: THE YEAR OF THE HORSE
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 12:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: January 31st, 2014

"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5)

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy Chinese New Year!

This week, Chinese people all over the world will be celebrating 15 continuous days of the Lunar New Year, also known to usher in the season of Spring. Today is the first day of the Year of the Horse. Many of my friends are in a "horsing" mood, sending pictures of horses, greetings and good wishes such as 龙马精神 (vigour like a horse) or 马到成功 (may success be speedy), or simply 祝福马年 (Happy Year of the Horse), and so on. One story I read about was on how farmers will choose to rest their horses this year and transfer the workload to their oxen! I don't know, but with so many references being made to horses, I wonder if Gangnam Style will be revitalized all over again. After all, the viral video has the superstar Psy in a galloping posture as if he is riding on horses. Those who are superstitious will flock to various fortune telling experts to try to see what bodes for them in the new year. It is the culture of Chinese people to make sure that only good things are said and done during the 15 days. Negative words or references are shunned to avoid jinxing oneself. One expert even say that the horse is "one of our best friends but you need to train it."

Horses are well described in the Old Testament. It is used as a symbol of power and might (Exodus 15:1). It is a legitimate item for barter trade or transactions (1 Kings 10:29). It is also used as a way to describe gates (Nehemiah 3:28). Psalms use the image of horses as vanity (Ps 33:17). It is used in warfare (Prov 21:31). It is used in prophecy (Zechariah 12:4).  In the New Testament, the horse is a vivid figure on the various judgments poured on the world. The term "Four horsemen" has also been used to signify four major powers. In Jeremiah, it is used as a rebuke to the prophet's lack of patience and resilience. It is also used as a precursor to something more, a preparation for worse things that is to come.

"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out," is a sharp rebuke against anyone thinking of giving up at the earliest battles. I remember running long distance last year at the Vancouver Sun Run. At the beginning, I notice people were giving one another high-fives. They were very chatty with one another. They were upbeat and excited. Once the starting gun was fired, they all ran. Before long, the chats became shorter. With each stride, the distance between the fit and the not so fit became wider. The race became more and more challenging as the minutes ran by. Some eventually were forced to slow down to a walker's pace. Others stopped to catch a breath. A few even decided to just take it easy and forgot about bettering their personal best times. Only the determined pressed on to complete the race in good time. The hardest part of any long distance race is the middle part. I remember how my heart collapsed when after a seemingly long time, with my arms and legs totally exhausted, I saw a signboard that said:
"You're Halfway There!" 
I thought to myself, "What? Another 50% more?" Truly, I heart dropped. Exhaustion got the better of me. Something in me kept me going.

"Finish the race."
That I did. I finished the race, even when the timing was not my best. As I reflected on the verse, it dawned upon me that there is another way to understand it. The second part of the verse, "how can you compete with horses," is a remarkable elevation of men's ability to run and even compete with horses. It means we are created for more. We can do more. We can race with horses. Paul writes with passion about his service for God.

"To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me." (Col 1:29)

We are made for more. With Christ, we can do even more. Such is the awesomeness of our potential. We can compete with horses.

We are made for more, not average. Far too many Christians are content to live under the umbrella of average. They say that they are an average Bible reader, an average prayer warrior, and an average communicator. Why impose an average ceiling on ourselves? Is it not self-censorship of our own abilities? How true is our own notion of average?

Personally, it is an easy and acceptable answer to announce our average status. It is modest. It keeps us in the majority who prefers to be in the safety of the masses. My challenge is this: How true is our own "average"-ness? What if we have been made for more? Are we placing a lid on God's purpose for us?

Jeremiah 12:5 reminds us that competing with fellow men is not the main thing. It is letting that prepare us to race with horses. Perhaps, as we build up a discipline of excellence, we will be preparing ourselves to be more for the Lord. We are not average by default. We are made for more. We can beat the horses.

THOUGHT: "It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith. It is easier to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality." (Eugene Peterson, Run With the Horses, Downers Grove, IL:  IVP, 2009, p22)

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