Can You Run With the Horses?


By Stephen Terry



"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses?  If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”  Jeremiah 12:5


Often in our prayers we give thanks for the religious freedom and toleration we enjoy in the United States.  We attend church freely. We own not just one but several Bibles in different versions without challenge.  Even those who never attend church can usually find a dusty, unread copy of the Bible in their homes somewhere.  Truly we live in a land of peace, when it comes to worship.  How then do we find it hard to boldly proclaim Jesus to our neighbors?  It is not illegal to do so as it is in some countries.


In an editorial in the January 2008 “Adventist World,”  North American Division President Don Schneider wrote how he lived several years next to neighbors that he prayed for regularly yet never made the effort to reach out to them before he himself moved away.  He was afraid of offending them.  Bothered by that, he went back to the husband and apologized for not introducing them to Jesus.  The husband insisted they also tell the wife, and God blessed that visit.


President Schneider wrote: “Far too many times I have let the fear of offending someone shut my mouth when I should have spoken boldly about Jesus.  He is my Savior, and I’m thrilled!  I want everyone to know Him.  He invited me to live with Him forever, and He wants me to pass on the invitation.”


Sometimes it is fear of giving offense; sometimes it is fear that compromise with the world will dilute our witness.  Yet the same God who inspired Joseph and Daniel will also be with us as we go forth into the world to proclaim Jesus boldly.  Joseph was totally assimilated into Egyptian culture, so much so that even his brothers did not recognize him when they too came down to Egypt.  His wife, Asenath, was the daughter of a pagan priest of On.  Genesis chapter 41 tells us that Pharaoh dressed Joseph as an Egyptian.  The signet ring Pharaoh gave to Joseph was in all likelihood emblazoned with references to the pagan culture of Egypt.  Yet we look to Joseph as an example of faithfulness to God.


We can do this only because Joseph realized at an early age an intimate relationship with God.  This relationship sustained him when tempted by Potiphar’s wife.  This relationship sustained him when unjustly imprisoned.  It also sustained him when he was forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler.  The closeness of that relationship can be seen in his statement to Potiphar’s wife “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”  In his statement to her, Joseph truly “kept pace with the footmen” and was later honored to run with the horses as he managed all of Egypt for Pharaoh.  


Joseph crossed the cultural barrier between the Semitic tribal culture of his family in Canaan and the civilization of the Egyptians and ended by saving both cultures from severe famine.  Archeological findings confirm that many Semitic peoples came to Egypt during the widespread famine to find food.  Jacob and his sons were only some of the many people Joseph saved from starvation because he had the courage to be what God wanted him to be at the right time and place.


Daniel also was an example of one who was willing to cross cultural boundariesfor the Lord.  Like Joseph, he was taken to another country as a captive.  He could have refused to be assimilated into that culture, but he chose to avail himself of all that culture had to offer to glorify the Lord through service.  This did not mean he compromised his faith.  In Babylon, the king was the equivalent of a god and food served at his table was considered an offering to this god.  To partake of that food was to acknowledge the king’s divinity.  Daniel chose not to do that and asked for what would have been considered peasant food instead.  Since peasants were not considered to be specially honored by God, there could be no mistaking that he was paying any respect to any Babylonian deity.


Throughout the book of Daniel this issue is repeated.  When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow to the image on the plain of Dura, when Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself and was driven from men to eat grass like a cow for seven years, and when Daniel was himself given the choice of petitioning Darius with his prayers or the God of heaven and ended up in the lions den, the issue was the same.  Culture was not the issue.  The issue was Who is ruler over men no matter what the culture.


Daniel rose to great heights in Babylon under the Babylonians and later the Persians.  He probably would not have done so had he rejected everything about those cultures.  Even those under him could find no fault with him except that he faithfully worshipped his God.  The record reads “they could find no ground of accusation or corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.”  Daniel 6:4   Because Daniel chose to remain faithful while “running with the footmen” as a young captive taken to Babylon, he also was allowed to “run with the horses” and be responsible for the well being of many.


Both Joseph and Daniel also recognized the brotherhood of all men.  This allowed them to work together for common purposes with those in the culture where they found themselves.  Joseph could have said “I am not going to join in common purpose with those pagan Egyptians,” and would have accomplished little.  He could have chosen while in prison to stay in his cell to avoid having to listen to the vulgar stories and witness the crude actions of the other prisoners.  Instead he chose to minister and serve and this gave him opportunity to be present and of service to Pharaoh’s butler and baker.


Daniel could have said “I am not going to be tempted by to serve a pagan culture.  I will not serve those who destroyed the temple in Jerusalem.”  Had he done so, we might not have had the great prophecies of the book of Daniel including the prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah and the teaching about the Investigative Judgment which is foundational to Adventism.


The love of Christ compels us not to view those in the unchristian culture around us as enemies, but as lost sheep needing a Shepherd.  We must work together with those sheep to bring them to Jesus.  We also must work together as Christians to bring them to Jesus.  It was when the disciples were united that the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1 could take place.  Thousands were brought to Jesus in a single day by the power of that presence.  A power that can only be present if we set aside the controversies that beset us and come into a unity that transcends issues of cultural difference.


The Bible speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit as a former and latter rain.  The former rain started the grain growing after the seed was sown. The latter rain prepared the grain for harvest.  There is a harvest coming soon, and God wants to share the latter rain of his Holy Spirit.  We must somehow overcome the animosities that exist among us over culture, or we will not be among those receiving it. 


“Only those who are living up to the light they have will receive greater light.  Unless we are daily advancing in the exemplification of the active Christian virtues, we shall not recognize the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain.  It may be falling on hearts all around us, but we shall not discern or receive it.”  Testimonies to Ministers, pg 507


The Christian virtues tend toward unity, not disunity.  In Testimonies, Volume 1, page 701 is a list of virtues: “energy, integrity, honesty, patience, courage, diligence, and practical usefulness.”  These virtues were shared by both Joseph and Daniel and must be held by all who would “run with the horses” as they did.  Note that none of the qualities that destroy unity are listed, qualities like criticism, gossiping, and hindrance of the ministry of others.  


The apostles did not understand how important it was not to hinder the ministry of others.  Three of the gospels record Jesus correction of John regarding this issue: “John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. "For he who is not against us is for us.”  Mark 9:38-40


Jesus Himself taught that unity among His followers is essential.  We can find his words in John 17: 21-23. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”


Notice that our unity witnesses that the Father has sent Jesus.  Would it not bear true then that our lack of unity would witness exactly the opposite?  That Jesus was not who He claimed to be?  How can we take the name of Christian and dishonor Jesus in that manner?  When we turn our back on our brother or sister, when we walk out on them, we are not witnessing to a spirit of unity.  We are not witnessing to the truth of Christ’s testimony.  Let us instead lift up one another and our differing testimonies to Christ.  Each one of us is called as unique individuals to a unique ministry based on our individual experience.  Yet in that individuality if we support one another with a unity of purpose, we will create a harmony of heavenly quality.


If you look in the hymnal at any hymn you will find that each is composed of many different notes.  These include quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, stops and rests, yet while so many differences exist they all come together to produce harmony and a recognizable melody.  If one note were to insist that all the other notes must be like him and see everything his way, there would no longer be harmony, no longer a melody.  We could march lock step through the hymn singing the same note over and over but who would enjoy it?  God made us all unique for a purpose.  Harmony can only exist in diversity.


We live in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity and freedom to share the good news of Jesus.  If we cannot do so in unity in such a time and place as this, how shall we do it in difficult times?  If we cannot run with the footmen, how shall we run with the horses?  In the words of Jesus, “If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  Luke 23:31. While we still have the opportunity let’s begin making beautiful music together.  Let’s find a way to bring harmony from our many different perspectives.  Let’s witness through our unity that Jesus is Savior, and we are His.