“Blessed are the deficient in spirit, strength and courage, for they shall inherit the earth”
As you read that, you were most likely searching your memory for who would have said such a thing. Would it surprise you if I said it was Jesus? Would it surprise you even further if I added that Paul describes Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for all mankind, as deficient in spirit, strength and courage?
Thankfully, you have no need to believe it because it isn’t true; it cannot be true. What Jesus truly said was, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). What Paul truly said was, “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1 NKJV).
As a culture, we have made meekness synonymous with weakness. In fact, the idea of being “deficient in spirit, strength and courage” comes from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of meek. Yet that was clearly not the definition Jesus intended, so what did He mean?
The answer lies not in our conventional wisdom but in the root of the original word used by Jesus: praus. This word, along with its variants, was used by the Greeks to denote a war horse, whose energy was not depleted, but tamed and groomed for the purposes of battle. As someone with years of experience working with and helping train horses, this resonated with me and caused me to dig into a modern-day example of meekness shown through horses.
Training a horse is in some ways like training any other animal. They come filled with energy, excitement and power — all traits that you are attempting to contain. At the same time, a horse is different in that, if a dog you are training jumps up on a guest at the door, the consequence is minimal, but if your horse does that, well, you should hope you are nowhere near it. Training a horse requires a lot of time, energy and patience from both you and the horse. As the trainer, your goal is not to rid the horse of its strength and energy, but contain it. The horse, in turn, must learn your cues and what behavior is or is not acceptable. The horse must model its behavior after the rider. As a horse progresses in its training, it begins to grow stronger but with a tamed strength that is not directed by its own will but by the will of the rider.
The horse’s will is important in the training of a horse. Horses all have strong and unique personalities. Some horses are playful, some are shy, and some are just plain mean. I have worked with horses who love exercise; others, not so much. In the end, it doesn’t matter what they like or dislike. It matters if they are in tune with the will of their trainer. Just like us, horses can have days where they don’t feel like exercising, or they are tired or grumpy. A sign of a well-trained horse is that none of that matters. Instead, a well-trained horse is submissive to the will of its master, not weak in the face of a daunting task.
So too are we called to be submissive to the will of our Master. When Jesus says blessed are the meek, He is referring to us tempering our spirit and courage to fulfill His will for the kingdom. We must learn God’s cues and model our lives after the life of Jesus. Our spirit and courage should not be weakened by God, but instead strengthened in Him and used in submission of His will.
I trained and competed in the sport of equestrian vaulting. Training a vaulting horse involves an added layer of complexity stemming from the fact that vaulting horses are typically not trained as green (inexperienced) horses. They are instead trained as transplants from other disciplines. Many high-level vaulting horses were originally trained for sports such as dressage, where leg and hand cues are vital to every small movement. In vaulting, however, the method of control is completely different. In fact, the person controlling the horse is not even sitting on its back, but instead 20 feet away attached by nothing but a rope, or lounge line, connected to the horse’s bit with no other aid than a lounging whip. The way the horse must learn to think when becoming a vaulting horse becomes drastically different. Whereas before, they were trained to react to the slightest change in pressure from the legs or the slightest tug on the reigns, they now must ignore everything that is happening on their back and pay attention to only the cues relayed to them through their bit.
In many ways, as we continue our walk with the Lord, this is how Christ teaches us. While we may know of Him and His teachings, and believe in His salvation, because of the fact that we are human, because we are flawed and because there is sin in the world, sometimes God has to retrain us. Sometimes He teaches us new cues, which seem impossible to learn because of our entrenchment in our old ways, but if we are meek in spirit — tempered in our strength in accordance with and in submission to His will — we will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the tempered in spirit, strength and courage, for they will inherit the earth.
Kaleb Patterson, a student at Middlebury College, was an internationally ranked equestrian vaulter from 2014 to 2017. He attends the Warm Beach Free Methodist Church in Stanwood, Washington.1