The Heart of Horses and Humans: When Burn-out Wins


It’s a well-known fact that horses teach things that we are too hard headed to learn otherwise, but do we really emulate their lives?  Will James’ classic story Smoky the Cow Horse is being lived out by people all over the place.  If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Smokey is a mouse-colored horse born on the open range that belonged to the Rocking R ranch.  After 4 years of running the range, he is ridden for the first time, builds a relationship with Clint the trainer, and utilized to his full potential as a cow horse.  In Clint’s mind, Smoky was the finest cow horse the world had ever seen.  He thrived on being utilized, challenged, and working.  One day during a snowstorm, a man came and drove Smoky and his band of horses into a trap and changed their brands.  The thief abused Smoky and pushed him to a breaking point.  When Smoky retaliated, the man made him into a rodeo bronc.  Through the Rodeo, Smoky’s name was changed to “The Cougar” and men challenged his ability daily.  When Smoky, now infamous as the Cougar, one day just stopped bucking..  He didn’t see the thrill of it anymore.

The Cougar was sold to a stable that needed another saddle horse for tours.  Another name change and Cloudy became a favorite amongst visitors.  During one ride, after years of tours, a young girl found the thrill of running Cloudy.  She pushed him so hard that steam rose from his back and sweat poured from his hide.  James writes: “The feel of the sweat and lather that covered the horse left her dumb, and then she noticed how hard he was breathing…She’d never seen a horse shake and quiver all over like that one was doing.  He seemed hardly able to stand up, rocked back and forth like he was going to keel over any minute.  Cloudy was jiggered and his staggering scared her all the more.”  She walked Cloudy into the creek to cool him off, but the walk back was like a “funeral march.”  Cloudy, unable to recover from that heart breaking run, was burnt-out and sold to a man who carried chicken feed on a cart where he waited to die.  Smoky’s heart was gone in much the same way that Timothy was struggling in Ephesus.

Timothy had been helping Paul for nearly 20 years.  He began as a young man, when he joined the second missionary journey at Lystra. (Acts 16.1-3)  He was with Paul as he wrote letters, preached sermons, and stood for faith.  He was also imprisoned along side Paul (Philemon 1.1; Col. 1.1; Phil 1.1).  Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to minister to the church there as Paul continued to travel and encourage Churches around the world, but it wasn’t going well.  Ephesus was a hard city to do ministry in.  Magic and Divination was rampant, the morality of the city was atrocious, and the church was struggling.  Timothy, feeling a bit overwhelmed in his first ministry, sickliness is taken hold of him (1 Tim 5.23) and his youth is being called out.  It is a tough road in ministry.

Ministry and service has a way of taking it out of a person.  Getting caught up in schedules, calendars, administration, and tasks.  Before we even know it, we are not doing the things that we were created to do.  Timothy was extremely gifted for ministry but the ministry was killing him.   Paul understands how the day to day can cause take focus from the important.  Paul starts off his final letter to Timothy reminding him to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1.6-7)

Image When it comes to ministry, Timothy’s giftedness wasn’t being used in the way it should be.  Smoky, the greatest cowhorse on the range, was meant to be saddled, rode, worked, and challenged.  Smokey loved to learn new things, to partner with Clint, and to work.  Timothy was meant to do ministry, to teach, to believe, and to invest in others.  Somwhere in the doldrums of ministry he forgot that.  Paul, playing the part of mentor, reminds Timothy to use his gift.  The quickest path to burn-out in ministry, in faith, and in ministry, is to feel like your gifts are not being used.   I speak this from personal experience.  I grew embittered in ministry because I felt like the things I was called to do were either unappreciated or untapped.  Through these times, Paul’s words to Timothy rang true every day.  I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t able to put it into practice.

How does it get fixed?  For Cloudy, it was a trip that his owner took him to town to run errands.  The old chicken farmer, pulled him up next to a hotel lobby, where two cattle buyers sat inside.  One of which was Clint.  He couldn’t even recognize Smokey beneath the disguise of cloudy.  Days later, Clint saved Cloudy from the whip of his owner.  In the investigation, Clint learned the true identity of the mouse colored horse and took him home.  After months of nursing him back to health and putting meat on his bones, the spark returned to Smoky’s eyes.  When Clint opened the corral gate to let the horses range for the summer, he didn’t expect to see Smoky again for the summer.  James finishes the story this way: “Clint dropped his bucket in surprise at what he heard and then seen.  For, standing out a ways, slick and shiny, was the old mouse-colored horse…the heart of Smoky had come to life again.”  It was he and Clint’s relationship and his giftedness the fanned the flame of his heart and gave passion to heart.  Timothy needed to be doing what he was created to do to keep his heart in ministry.

All of us have lost heart at some point in time.  I am still trying to recapture mine.  It is vital to our hearts, that we serve and act in the ways that God has wired us.  So how do we do that?  If you have lost your heart, like I had mine, her are three things for you to do:

  1. Find your giftedness…know your spiritual gifts and then put them into action.  Your heart will return when you are being utilized.
  2. Read stories…the Bible is full of people who learned how they connect and worship and serve God.  Study the lives of Paul, Timothy, Joshua, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and others.  Find one of them that you connect with and dive in!
  3. Serve…our hearts come alive when they are put into the service of God.  God is the one who gave us our passions and dreams.  They were given to us in order to be in service to Him.  Come alive as you serve Him.

Find your heart, by learning how God made you and wants to use you.  Like what happened to Smoky, the world can do a number on a heart.  We owe it ourselves and God, to find our hearts and put them to work.

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