Who Wears the Halter?
Charles Naylor, 1930
A man puts a halter upon a horse and ties him up within the narrow confines of a stall. The horse may think of the luscious grass in the pasture — but he is fast in the stall. He may think of freedom to go where he will and do what he will. He may desire freedom — but he is haltered.
A man puts a bridle upon the horse, saddles him, and rides away where he will. The horse may desire to rest quietly under the shade of a tree. He cannot do that — he is bridled. The bridle is controlled by another will. The horse would go south — but his head is turned north by the bridle, and the way he is turned he must go.
Now, the horse is much stronger than the man. If he should exert his strength and exercise his own will, he might overcome the will of the man. He might nullify the power of the halter and the bridle. Sometimes this occurs. But in general the horse has been haltered and bridled so often that he has yielded to the mastery of these things. He does not exert his own strength or his own will as he could. All his life therefore he is mastered. He can only be a servant, very unlike his fellows in wild freedom upon the prairie.
It is not horses alone, who wear halters and bridles. There are men and women all about us wearing them. Circumstances halter many people and tie them up within narrow limits, restricting their freedom, shutting them off from the good things of life, making their lives narrow, and often very unsatisfactory. There are other circumstances that bridle people and force them to go where they would not go. Many times people act against their own best judgment and against their wills. They are victims of circumstance, just as much as the horse is the victim of the halter. Their lives are just as restricted as the lives of the horses.
How often we permit circumstances — our feelings, our fears, our doubts — to strap a halter upon us and lead us about where we would not go, and tie us up somewhere so that it seems we cannot get away.
Many people realize that they are haltered — and like the conquered horse, they think they are securely held by the halter. They long for freedom. They desire to be unrestricted. They want freedom of expression, freedom of action, liberty to do as they choose, to turn their lives into the channels that would yield them greater happiness and contentment. But alas, they are haltered. So they look at their halter of circumstances, of feelings, of doubts, of fears, and say, "Oh, I can't help it!" And then cease to try to help it.
Some horses will pull back on their halters for a few times — but not sufficiently to break them. Thinking they are securely fastened, the horses cease to try to get loose.
We humans do the same. We make some slight efforts to overcome our circumstances and to do the things we really desire to do. We do not exert all our strength. We try only half-heartedly. Then we conclude we cannot break away and cease to try.
We surrender to circumstances. We permit them to have a halter upon us through the years, and we permit them to bridle us and to ride us wherever they will. Life is a bondage to circumstances.
Man was never meant to wear a halter. We are told that when man was created, God set him over the work of his hands. God made man master of things. He intended that man should always be master — master of himself, master of his circumstances. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). And again, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."
The Christian life is a life of freedom. It is divinely given mastery. If we use the liberty that is given to us instead of wearing the halter of circumstances — then it is our privilege to put the halter upon circumstances and to master them. God wants us to be men and women, to look circumstances straight in the face, to assert our dominion over them. The attitude of God is plainly shown in the Scriptures. Of Jesus it is said he "has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father" (Revelation 1:6). But does not that refer to Heaven? No. Chapter 5:10 says, "And have made us unto our God kings and priests — and we shall reign on the earth."
That does not mean some future reign. It is now and here, as Paul tells us in Romans 5:17, "Those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." That means we shall put the halter on our circumstances and our difficulties and master them — bringing them into subjection to our wills, asserting ourselves, thus becoming triumphant Christians.
One may say that is all very well to talk about — but how shall we do it? The answer of the Scripture is, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." With our two hands, we may put the halter on all our circumstances. These two hands are faith and determination. Faith is very good — but it is not enough. Works must go with faith.
In the siege of Verdun in the World War, when attacked by a greatly superior force, taken by surprise, and at first driven back with heavy losses — the French rallied and adopted the slogan, "They shall not pass!" With grim determination and a courage that would not yield, they held on until they overcame.
Many times in our lives we shall have to say to circumstances, "You shall not pass. You shall not master me. I will not yield to you. I will overcome you!"
Frequently people have tried to discourage others by saying, "You cannot do that." The answer of determination has been, "But I will do it." Did you ever read the poem by Edgar Guest about, "It couldn't be done — but he did it!"?
Right now perhaps someone may be saying, "Yes, that is the way to do. That is the attitude to hold. I would like to do that IF . . ." Yes, there is the IF. What does it mean? It means I have not the courage or the will to try. Very well. Reach out your head and submit to the halter.
You have your choice. You can halter the circumstances — or they will halter you. We can be free men — or slaves. We can spend our days haltered in the stall, ridden where we do not want to go — or we can use our strength and be free.
It is true that we cannot always change our circumstances. We need not always change them or even frequently change them to be free, to have the mastery over them and to be happy. Circumstances neither make us nor break us. It is mastering them or surrendering to them, that determines the outcome.
So many say, "But my circumstances are so unfavorable." That does not mean you need be defeated by your circumstances. It only means an opportunity for greater conquest. All real accomplishments in this world are made, not because of circumstances — but in spite of them. Every man who has become really great in accomplishment, or in self-mastery — has done so by overcoming his obstacles and difficulties. This is the very thing that has made him great — and without these things to overcome, he never would have become great; his powers would never have been developed.
It has been repeated that we should not pray for burdens equal to our strength — but for strength equal to our burdens. Happiness does not come from favorable circumstances. The rich who are not compelled to work and who may do as they choose with their time, are rarely happy. Shall we say, "If circumstances were more favorable — then I could be happy"?
Are we sure of this? By no means. It takes more than circumstances to make anyone happy. The secret of happiness does not lie in circumstances. It lies in us. Our circumstances may be unfavorable — but that does not mean we must be unhappy. People are happy in circumstances which are far more unfavorable than ours. One of the happiest, most cheerful ladies whom I ever met, lay helpless in her bed. She could move her head slightly from side to side, and move one hand a little. Rheumatism had made the remainder of her body almost immovable. But her face was radiant with joy. She told us how happy she was. We marveled at it. For years she had been in this condition. Still she was happy, cheerful, and rejoicing. When we expressed our sympathy she said, "I am contented!" Circumstances, even such circumstances — could put no halter on her.
There are faces that shine in the darkest night with the beauty of an inner glory, with a joy that does not depend upon circumstances. Perhaps you can think of others whose circumstances are worse than yours — yet their lives seem happier than yours. Why should this be true? Why should you be less the master of your circumstances — than they of their circumstances?
Resolve that you will no longer be dominated by your feelings, your doubts, your fears, by your trials, or your circumstances. If you have tamely submitted to these in the past — then make a declaration of independence, start a warfare to conquer them. Be tied up no longer by them. Choose the direction of your own life. Faith and determination, with God's help, will make you master — and you shall be free indeed. When you have gained that freedom, when you are master of your circumstances, when you have the halter on them, when you can tie them up — then you will have gained that victory over life and everything in it that will start the joy-bells pealing! You will then know the secret of the singing heart!