When I was living in Kremling, Colorado I had the rare experience of being invited to go on a real cattle drive. No we didn’t go across the plains and wind up in Dodge City, Kansas or Kansas City, but it was on a ranch on the continental divide. We were taking about 600 head of registered cattle up to the high country for the summer grazing. It was a two day trip on horseback.
The day before the drive we spent branding cattle which was a new experience for me. We only branded the young stock as the older ones already had their brand as it only needs to be done once. The same is true for Christians. Once the Lord has sealed you with the Holy Spirit it never needs to be done again as the brand remains for life.
In order to separate the unbranded cattle from the branded ones we had to do a process called cutting out the cows. In order to separate them we would ride into the heard and find an unbranded cow and began to ride between it and the heard, all the while working toward the cow. If it went right we would ride right. If it stopped we would stop and then move toward the cow. We would continue broadening the gap between the cow and the heard. About the time it reached the edge of the heard it would bolt and try to get back into the heard where it felt safe. The skillful cowboy would successfully cut it off and move it out of the heard. We are just like those unbranded cows. We don’t know what the Lord has in mind for us but we want to be in the heard. When we feel singled out we panic and try to out maneuver the Holy Spirit, and may even do some stupid things that we wouldn’t normally do.
If the cows become real skittish the cowboy has another trick up his sleeve and that is to scatter some hay on the ground and the cows move promptly to it. That gets their attention off the cowboy and on to something that they really like (eating). After the cows have been separated from the heard, they begin to respond to the directions of the cowboy and are moved to a corral where the branding takes place.
There are a lot of reasons why cows need to be cut out of a heard. They never understand why it is being done and they always seem to resist being separated until they learn that the cowboy is there to care for them. He prevents them from being exposed to diseases that would kill them; he moves them to a summer range where there is water and food; etc. The cowboy is much like the Holy Spirit as He leads us, and guides us, and teaches us and comforts us on our journey through this life and separates us from our sin.
The next morning we began getting ready for the drive. I was fortunate in that my dad had given me a set of chaps. Chaps are a covering made of leather that you wear over your legs so that you are protected from thorns and or limbs that can stab you while riding through the brush. I also had my cowboy boots which protected my feet and were designed to aid the foot to stay in the stirrups. I had my Stetson hat that a friend had given me. I got my thermos for hydrating and a light jacked which I tied to the back of the saddle and I was ready. As Christians we also wear armor for protection from the fiery darts of Satan.
We mounted up and began to move the whole herd along the way to the high range where they will spend the summer in tall grass and mountain springs. As we traveled on the trail we came to a place where we were moving sideways around a hill. Cows don’t like to move sideways around a hill because they are quite top heavy and they have a hard time on uneven ground. They can go up and down fine but they don’t move laterally very well. About then some of the cows began to try to go downhill and others followed. It happened that I was on the downhill side and I had to drive them back up with the other cows to the trail. They joined in with the other cows when they saw that they were making their way on the trail. I guess we are a lot like that, too. We don’t like things when it gets hard and we are uncomfortable. Sometimes we try to find another route than the one we are on. If only we could see as the cowboy sees and not like a bunch of dumb cows.
About mid day we decided to take a break when we found an area with grass, shade and a good stream. It seems that a cow is primarily interested in eating so they wouldn’t wander far from the things that they were primarily interested in. Just in case there were other factors we kept a couple guys on the outer fringe to alert us if something changed. The time was refreshing for us and the cows; in fact it took a little urging to get the cows to move on up the trail. I guess we are like the cows in that we like to be comfortable more than we like to move on along life’s trail.
The afternoon was filled with moving the cattle through the woods toward the high country. All along the way we constantly had to flush the cattle out of secluded area where they could be overlooked and left behind. Sort of like the Holy Spirit finds us when we try to go our own way and neglect His guiding. After chasing cattle out of draws and bushes all afternoon we were exhausted and looked forward to settling down for the evening but first we had to see to the herd. This was a reminder to me that the Lord in infinitely more concerned about us than the affairs we are concerned with. We came to a cabin where there was grassy meadow and water for the cattle and spent the night there.
The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast mounted up and finished moving the heard to a valley where all their needs would be available for the summer. Good Water, plenty of grass and an area where the older cattle were familiar with. We left them there to graze for the summer and headed back home. It was late afternoon by the time we got back to the ranch and I began to reflect on the drive. Cows are primarily interested in consumption and will resist guidance just as we resist following the Lord in preference to our own desires. I thank the Lord for His wranglers (Angles and the Holy Spirit) who constantly are guiding us to that which is for our best even though the trail may be hard at times.