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Lessons from Man’s Best Friend


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I think God put animals on this earth to keep me humble.

At least, I believe He’s put the animals that I currently own in my life for very specific reasons, one of which is to help me in the never-ending quest to learn humility. Pride is, of course, a natural human tendency; the assumptions that I’m not so bad, that my way of viewing the world is pretty reliable, that my expectations are adequate and my duties no more difficult than making myself relatively happy. All ideas common to man that fly in the face of a Holy God who calls us to a deep relationship full of worship and purpose. What amazes me is how creative and loving God is in His pursuit of raising my eyes to His holiness.

“I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.” ~ Psalm 121:1

At the present, the means of His divine humbling are most often delivered through my dog Ozark. He’s an Australian Shepherd, 7 years young and full of energy, 60 pounds of love who would gladly crawl into my lap if he hadn’t outgrown it 40 pounds ago. He’s loves food, sleeping on the porch furniture, and won’t leave my side when I’m outside.

And when he gets an idea in his head that is contrary to mine, he’s stubborn as a mule and sneaky as a thief. No matter how many times I tell him not to eat the chicken’s food, the minute my back is turned he’s scarfing it down.

This happens every day; somehow he “knows” the instant my attention wanders, and he’ll do exactly what I just asked him not to do. One minute he’s adoring affection, the next he’s chasing the neighbor’s car up the road, ignoring my urgent commands to stop risking his neck on a useless pursuit. He has learned to wait patiently for his dinner bowl, but that doesn’t stop him from fighting his sister for every scrap of chew-bone in the front yard.

What bothers me the most by all of these behaviors is how much of myself I see in him.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thy own eye?” ~ Matthew 7:3

I have this terrible habit of thinking my life is mine to do with as I please. I am very task-oriented, and take pride in getting a job done quickly and efficiently. This handy skill is offset by the fact that it also brings out every ounce of my German stubbornness; I have a plan on how to accomplish something, and if anything or anyone gets in the way of that plan they face my wrath.

When stubborn defiance fails, I’m not too proud to sneak behind whoever I think is watching and get things done my own way. As long as I get what I want in the end, the way I wanted it, how I got there can often seem relatively unimportant.

But it’s very important to God.

“And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, 13To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” ~ Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Let’s get back to Ozark for a moment. All I want is for my dog to be happy, healthy, and obedient. I want him to trust that I have his best interests at heart, that my requests really aren’t as odious as he sometimes thinks they are, that the reward is going to be worth the small price that I ask. I love my dog for who he is, and am aware of his shortcomings; at the same time, I can’t help but try to draw out all the potential I see in him.

My dog has a secure place in my heart, but he’s still here to do a job. As long as he’s not fulfilling that job, I am left feeling vaguely disappointed. I’m less likely to seek him out, for special tasks or even just a spontaneous evening stroll. My relationship with him is not as deep or as purposeful as it could be, because he chooses his own stubborn way instead of letting me lead him.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” ~ I John 1:7

I think this is a glimpse of how God sees His children. If you read the accounts in the Old Testament of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, you’ll see a similar pattern: a loving God willing to rescue and provide for His chosen people, and a nation alternately devoted to Him and then devoted to everything out there BUT Him!

It’s almost bewildering how consistently they fall away, suffer the inevitable consequences despite very clear warnings from God, then desperately cry out for help when it finally becomes clear that they cannot save themselves. Almost as bewildering is how consistently God is willing to bring them out of bondage and into His love once more.

His love is so much deeper and complex than we can understand; but I sure am grateful for it, for that same love and grace and salvation are extended to you and me as well.

So, lately my dog has been doing a pretty good job of keeping me humble. Whenever I am tempted to lose patience with him, I am halted by the thought that God is so incredibly patient with me. I’m reminded of my own shortcomings, my own tendency to balk at a task because I think I won’t like it.

I too often choose to mope rather than trust. And I have even fewer reasons for misbehaving than Ozark does, because my Heavenly Father never runs out of time or energy to put into making me the best I can be for His service. I am also reminded to have patience with my fellow humans, because I too am fallen and faulty. None of us are truly good (Romans 3:10); we are only able to serve a good God (Matthew 19:17).

“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” ~ Psalm 1391:1, 23-24

Contributed by Joelle Heilemann.

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