Friday, April 08, 2011
Maggie Macleod lives in Gress on the Isle of Lewis, is married to John and they have three grown up children.
I’ve always been soft-hearted when it comes to animals, dogs especially, and it is getting to the stage where our house is starting to resemble Noah’s ark. Two dogs, two cats, two ducks, plus numerous chickens, quails and a rather quirky pheasant called Jessie. The standing joke is that my son is studying Naval Architecture, so he can oversee construction and I’m already collecting the crew.
Looking after creatures brings its own problems though, in particular, the two dogs. They need regular feeding in the correct quantities, frequent walks and obedience training. Meeting their needs in terms of sustenance and exercise is simple enough - I make sure they have what they need, when they need it and try to ignore the pleading eyes and hopeful wagging of tails when their noses tell them I have a roast in the oven, as the aroma of tender meat braising on a bed of oxtail brings them hotfoot into the kitchen. The obedience training is another matter.
We acquired one dog as a pup and began his training almost immediately. He very quickly learned the basics of ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave it!’ It took a little while longer for him to master the ‘Down!’ command. However, I persevered and eventually he grasped what his owner was asking of him. The other dog arrived fully grown and needing rehoming. She settled in very quickly and proved to be an obedient (for the most part), content and welcome addition to our family. The merits of obedience training, however, became very obvious a couple of days ago, when I took both dogs on their regular 5 a.m. morning walk (don’t you wish dogs had a snooze button…). Towards the end of the walk, both leads got tangled and as I tried to sort out the ensuing intertwining nightmare, one of the leads slipped out of my hand. Molly, the Jack Russell, immediately took off in the direction of the nearest rabbit hole, which happened to lie on the other side of the main road. It was with a sense of horror that I simultaneously heard the sound of an approaching car, no doubt rushing to catch the morning ferry and not expecting to see someone out walking dogs at that time of day. I took a deep breath and shouted at the top of my voice and with as much authority as I could muster, ‘MOLLY! DOWN!’ Instantly, she dropped to the ground just before the car swept past. Had she taken another couple of paces, she would have been killed. She obeyed me because she had been taught to and because she had learned that disobedience had unpleasant consequences. Did I scold her for running off? No. I praised her for obeying my command instantly. She got a good scratch on that special spot just behind her ears and a little doggy treat, to reinforce the lesson that listening to and obeying her master always brought good things her way. Milo, her canine compadre, didn’t show any resentment that the ‘prodigal’ had got a treat. He simply lay down beside us and wagged his tail as if to say, ‘See? I told you she had doggy chews in her pocket..’ He got a little titbit too, just for being him….
God knows what is best for us. He meets our needs in every way and all He asks in return is obedience to His will; but like the puppy who learns to obey his master’s voice, we too need to learn obedience. This is not something that comes naturally to us. We are, by nature, sinful and disobedient. Our instinct is to follow our own desires and try to justify our actions by whatever means necessary, both to ourselves and others. On the face of it, giving up our free will to follow the voice of God would seem to be the ultimate sacrifice of our individuality. The very opposite is true. Obedience to the Word and voice of God is neither negative nor restrictive. It gives us freedom to truly enjoy life safe in the knowledge that the Lord has our best interests at heart, even when He asks things of us which we cannot understand. We may not know why He deals with us in a certain way, but we do know that He loves us. He demonstrated that with outstretched arms at Calvary and he still waits with outstretched arms waiting for us to come to Him. Just as my dog knows there is safety in my arms, so I know that there is safety in the Lord; in following His blueprint for my life as contained in His word, in listening to His voice, even when in my own sinfulness there are times when I don’t want to hear it. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that I can’t figure out everything on my own. I need to hear His voice, in everything I do and everywhere I go, because He is the only one who can guide me safely through this life until He finally takes me home.
But what are we saying if we choose NOT to obey? Essentially, we are turning our backs on God and saying, ‘Sorry, I don’t trust You, I don’t trust Your will and I know better than You so I’ll deal with this myself, thank you very much. I know what’s best for me.’ For those of us with families, we know the hurt it can cause when children try to go their own way and refuse to listen to parental advice. Inevitably, it leads to tears and heartache, on both sides of the coin. Knowing what He sacrificed for me, how can I turn round and say to Him, ‘I don’t trust you? I don’t want to listen to you. I want to go my own way.’ If we are responsible parents, we will take steps to ensure our children don’t get hurt by their actions, although that sometimes means having to take measures which cause a degree of pain, which may bring tears and which make them face up to the consequences of their actions. Likewise, if we are disobedient to God, He too will take steps to bring us back into line. This chastisement will not be a pleasant experience, but is very necessary if we are to be protected from our own foolishness. But God never promised us that the Christian life would be an easy one. We will face difficult decisions, we will have to accept reproof when it is due. We are not called to be disciples of Christ to be comfortable. The very opposite is true. We are more likely to be asked to step out of our comfort zone and walk a path we would naturally avoid, and that is where obedience training comes into its own.
Proverbs 3: 5 - 8 is the verse that should be a signpost for our lives:
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.’
He deserves nothing less.