Guided or Goaded?

I surrendered my life to Jesus some 35 years ago. It wasn’t His goodness that initially drew me however. It was the extreme pain I was experiencing due to my own rebellion. Nobody was going to tell me what to do. The problem with that sentiment was that it left me with only my very limited experience to draw from. I ended up addicted and homeless at 16 and at the end of my rope at 18. The pain of that caused me to cry out to God. He mercifully answered.     

Psalm 32:8-9 (NASB)

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
9 Do not be as the horse or as the 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 above passage has intrigued me for many years, perhaps because of my lifestyle before surrendering to Jesus. It juxtaposes two alternative ways of being directed by God. God graciously reveals His plan to teach and guide us but then provides an alternative to those who reject that His first plan.

Unfortunately, I know both methods by experience. I will tell you the option laid out in verse 8 is far more pleasant, but I am grateful the Lord will use the less enjoyable alternative laid out in verse 9 when I need it. He does this because He is a good father.

 Hebrews 12 speaks of the discipline of God as a manifestation of His fatherhood toward us. It clearly says, quoting Proverbs 3:12, “God disciplines those He loves and punishes everyone He considers a son.” The word punishes is also translated scourges in several other versions. The word literally means to whip. That is some strong language. But the author ties this into the Father heart of God. He is willing to do what it takes to get us where we need to go.

 The Psalmist warns us not to be like the horse or mule (known for their stubbornness) who have no understanding. God makes sure those with a “mule mindset” have a bit and bridle as part of their required equipment.


 If you have never put a bit and bridle in the mouth of a horse, you can easily miss the implication. A leather or rope harness is placed around the face of the animal which in turn holds a metal rod behind the back teeth, protruding out both sides of the mouth. Each end of the rod connects to a strap which can be pulled on to steer, slow or stop the beast. In short, a bit enables a master to direct the animal by providing varying levels of discomfort. More highly trained horses can actually be controlled through simply squeezing the animal with one’s knees.

 It is not God’s desire to lead us by pain. The Psalmist is clear that He desires to guide us with His eye upon us. I love the King James translation of this particular verse: “I would guide you with mine eye.” In other words, He wants to lead us with a look. This implies several things, all of which point to intimacy. First, it requires face to face interaction. Secondly, it demands that we know Him in order to interpret what we see in His eyes.

What is the purpose of this discipline? The last line of Psalm 32:9 tells us: to get us to come to Him. God loves us and wants what is best for us. He desires to lead us through intimate face to face interaction. But because of His great love, He is willing to steer us through pain.

 I am grateful God is not an indulgent parent who rescues His children from the consequences of their poor decisions. In love, the Lord let me experience the great pain of my rebellion. It was this pain that drove me to Him; it made me not only come close, it has kept me close for over 30 years.