05 March, 2009

A Lesson From the Dogs

I happen to live in a historic part of town with big old houses on a wide brick street with nice sidewalks. Because it is a fairly nice and safe area, we have a lot of people from town who choose to walk through our neighborhood, including those who like to walk their dogs. This morning is one of the nicer mornings we have had in quite awhile, so I took my coffee and sat out on the porch swing for awhile. As I sat there there were many people walking by, several with their dogs. It was interesting watching the people and their dogs. One of my neighbors who walks her dog every morning came by and stopped to say hello. Her dog walked along side her and when she stopped to say hello, he stopped and stood at her feet. When she began to walk again, without a word her dog got into step and walked with her. Then there was this man who came by with his dog, and I had to laugh and wonder, "who is walking who?" I'm sure we've all witnessed that scene before, where someone is walking a dog on a leash when the dog doesn't want to go where its owner is going. You know, where the owner is constantly tugging on the leash, pulling the dog this way then that way and barking orders at the dog to "get over here" or "get out of that." Watching this scenario today several different times, it hit me that this is how a lot of us live our religious lives. It's as if we are on a leash called "the Law." For so many their lives consist of "Stop that; don't do that; do this; you can't; you must" (and so on). The way this unfolds in our life is more like: "Read your Bible; pray; go to church; pay your tithes; witness". Don't misunderstand me, these are certainly the things we should be doing, but I don't believe that God ever meant us to do them at the end of a leash. Go back to the scene of my neighbor and her dog. What makes the difference? Relationship! The dog doesn't really need a leash to go for a walk. Its owner can just speak a word and the dog responds. In fact, the dog knows her so well that when she begins to move, he moved. I'm not meaning to compare us to dogs, but rather I'm trying to compare performance-based Christian living to relationship-based Christian living. There is such a huge difference!
In 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, Paul wrote:
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God; who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive." We need to fully comprehend that when God redeemed us, He wrote His law in our heart and mind. (See Heb 10:16) What that means to us is that God wants to relate to you and I from the inside. We really should not need to look to an external system of rules to keep us in line, because we have God's Word written in our hearts and as we develop a deep relationship with the Lord, we have an inner desire to obey and please Him.

Back to the illustration of the dogs for a moment. The dog who was constantly pulling this way and that way was looking for freedom from the leash. The one who stood obediently and patiently at his master's side has discovered that freedom is not in running, it is in staying close to and obeying the master. I have two dogs. I will take them out on their leashes and they are exact opposites. One dog, "Copper" is constantly pulling and tugging at his leash. Let him off of his leash and he is gone in a flash. We really have to watch him because we live on a street with heavy traffic and he will always bolt for the street. The other dog, "Rowdy" stays within the limits of the leash without struggling. I can let him outside without a leash and he never leaves my eye sight. Call him, and he comes running. When I bring them back inside, Copper will invariably always do the same thing. He comes in the door, goes to his food and water bowl, not to eat, but just to check and see that they are there, and then he bolts across the kitchen headed for the dining room... until he hits the end of his leash and literally flips himself, snapping his neck. (You'd think he'd learn.) Rowdy on the other hand, comes in the door and stands at my feet waiting for me to remove the leash and rub his head. After I pet on him, he will depart to do what ever it is that he does. I really believe he longs for that few seconds of "loving" that he gets and he waits for it. Copper loves to be held and petted too, but he wants to run free until such a time as he wants that interaction between us. I've learned that often times Copper comes for "loving" when he wants more food or water.

In my mind, this reminds me of how so many of us are with our relationship with God. Some are always pushing the limits to see just how far they can go, always looking for some sense of freedom, oblivious to the fact that danger is out there beyond the "leash". Some only want to draw near to God when they want something from him. When we discover that staying close to the Master and recognizing that He knows what is best for us and that the deeper our relationship, the greater the reward, we will find the joy and contentment of living in harmony with the Lord instead of always trying to go our own way.

May we learn the lesson from the dogs today.

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