It's a Dog's Life
It struck me as I was packing the car. There was poor Martin, my schnauzer, bouncing about frantically as he observed the packing process. Things were going out of the house and into the car in a steady stream. He didn't know for sure what was happening, but he was familiar with parts of the process. Sometimes he had found himself left behind at the kennel when this packing thing occurred. I cannot imagine what his brain was doing with the information he was gathering, but he didn't like it, and he was intent on not being left behind if there was anything he could do about it. Naturally, since this was occurring at the 'other end' of our trip, Martin's fear could have been heightened because he may have thought he was in danger of being left behind in unfamiliar - read: not home - territory.
What struck me is how much like all of us Martin's behavior was. He observed things that communicated a sense of unease to him, and the potential for circumstances arising that he did not want to experience, and he was frantic! He was in no danger of being left behind, but he did not know that. He could not have known that. If he had been left behind, he would have been with people he knew and enjoyed being with, but it wasn't any comfort to him. His people were leaving, and he intended to be among them as they left. We had carefully planned for his traveling with us, and he was going to be put in the car in mere minutes, but that was beyond his ability to draw to mind in the situation, and he was in canine distress and worry and doing all that he could do to make sure he got where he thought he needed to be.
We also face circumstances in our lives that threaten us. The danger we perceive in these situations may not be as real or present as we imagine them to be, but we often find ourselves unable to make that thought come to mind, and if it does, it seems very pale comfort in our distress. We find ourselves troubled by the thought that we cannot stop the things, events, or whatever coming toward us, and while we have no real understanding of how the things we fear will actually impact us, we act out the human equivalent of Martin's bounding about, barking and yipping, hoping to make some sort of difference in what is to come.
We don't bark and yip and leap up on the pant-leg of our owners; we cry, we fear, we pray (hopefully), we may try to bargain with God, and we torment ourselves by imagining the worst that can happen, and finding that "worst thing" as unfortunate and painful as we can imagine it to be. Doing so is as silly as if we did bark and yip and jump about - which, by the way, some ancient pagan religions actually had people doing, if you can feature that. We have a gracious God, whose will toward us is steadfast good, and we have promises from Him about how He will handle those difficult things, and how we should, therefore, approach them as well.
The first reality we must face in such circumstances is that what we are frightened of is "the Unknown". That means, of course, that we do not know what is coming, for sure. We do not know how it will impact us. We do not know how we will get through or past the things which are coming and over which we are wasting our energies being frightened. We can imagine, and we can often call to mind someone else who faced something similar to what we think we are about to face, but we do not know.
We imagine, instead of knowing. Martin imagined that he might be left behind. He has been left behind on occasion, so he has a foundation for that fear, even if there is no present reason for it. We can imagine all sorts of evil things happening to us. That is because we don't always stop and think from the foundation of our faith. We imagine from the fountain of that which is in us - and the Bible says that "the imagination of man's heart is evil, continually, always." The passage refers to our proclivity toward sin, but it is that sinful nature which leads us to distrust God and begin to expect that most everything coming down the hill at us is going to be painful and ugly and deleterious.
What is to come may actually turn out to be good - as we perceive it. Perhaps it won't be instantly wonderful, but so many of the good things in our lives initially arrived wrapped in uncertainty, and sometimes even in ways that we would have chosen to avoid. We may lose an opportunity we really desire and discover that the loss opens the door to something else - or causes us to notice something else which we discover is better than what we thought we lost. Sometimes we find that we are denied the chance to do what we want to do, and what we frankly were not very competent at doing anyhow, only to discover something else that we are quite competent at doing, and we excel where we might have only been middle-of-the-road if we had been allowed our original preference. The disaster of our crushed ambitions then become the sweet savor of success, but we had to go through the disappointment first.
Some of the things we fear turn out to be quite pleasant, surprising us. I know a man who was forced into retirement, only to discover that he could do the things he enjoyed about his job, and make a difference, without facing the stress and pain of his work - his former work. He found that he could do more of the sort of things he loved without facing the things that made his job stressful. I even know a man who was diagnosed with cancer - terminal cancer - who discovered in his cancer the freedom and opportunity to confess Christ, and discovered great joy in the confession of Christ and in the facts that the Lord had given him this gift. I was the man's pastor before his illness, and I will attest that he was a new and a happier man as he approached his death. He would never have asked for the cancer, but he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. It made a new man out of him - and the man I had known before had really needed renewing!
What we are talking about here might be a relatively minor change in circumstances, or it could be dramatic and life altering. The principle is the same. The point is, even when we know what is coming, we don't know what it will do to us, or to those around us, or how it will change our lives. We may think we do, but we don't. What we fear may end up working for our good, for our benefit, or help us to do the things we want to do but don't for some reason. That is the thing about "the Unknown". It is unknown.
And that probably is what frightens us, or makes us angry, or sometimes drives us to do things we probably should not do. We are facing the unknown, and we have no power to stop it or change it or even see into it or through it to the other side.
Our real problem is that, like Martin, we forget who it is that is in charge of what is happening to us. Martin loves me dearly. He would rather lay on the floor at my feet for hours as I do my work than do most everything else he has available to him. He trusts me deeply . . . but only when he can see me, and when he can comprehend at least something about what I am doing and how it relates to him. Oh yes, he also doesn't trust me very much when he is facing circumstances or dangers (real or imagined) which present to his mind dangers or pains he has some sense of understanding or some memory of not liking. He knows I will take care of him, except, of course, when he is frightened.
We often face our lives as though we face them alone, and as though what happens to us is completely random, or guided by some angry or evil energy or intelligence. Remember the last time you were unexpectedly called into the office by the boss. There is typically at least a moment of pause, wondering what you may have done wrong to get into trouble. It is easy to imagine something catching us off-guard and hurting us. We almost never think of being caught off-guard by pleasure or delight or blessings of any sort. Even when we know that there is nothing threatening us, there is sometimes a twinge of "Oh no! Now what?" before our common sense kicks in and we set such thoughts aside.
But we are not alone. We have a heavenly Father who has declared His love for us. First He told us about it, and then He gave us a demonstration of that love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to live for us and to die for us. This was more than a mere demonstration, however. This was the heart of the thing. This gift of Jesus was the substance of His love and the richest part of it. He loved us so much - and in such a way - that He devised the plan of our salvation: to do the impossible so that the guilty could be rescued from the justice of God Himself, His innocent Son die in our place, and God does not violate His own justice, but rescues us sinners who deserve to die. To us, forgiveness often seems like just letting it go and forgetting the sin. For God it meant holding us accountable for our sins, and putting us to death for them just as He promised, while preserving us alive in His love.
We couldn't do it. We could not even take part in getting it done. God had to do it Himself. He had to become one of us, a man, except without the corruption of sin with which each one of us is born. He had to keep the whole will and law of God perfectly, so that he deserved life eternal as a human being. Then He had to bear the sentence of death in righteousness, so that He could grant us the life which we did not deserve for the sake of the One who died the death that He did not deserve. Forgiveness is the product of love and obedience and innocent suffering and death. It is poured out on all, but actually received and possessed only by those that know about the gift, and who take God at His Word and trust Him to deal with them just as He has promised.
So great a love, which God uses to identify Himself, God is love, is the mark and sign of the One who is in charge of what is happening to us. When the events and possibilities of our lives frighten us, or discourage us, it is usually because we have forgotten that our Lord is in charge, and we have forgotten our confidence in His love. I imagine that you can point to things that happen to Christians that you would rather not have happen to you, and argue that fear is only natural. I agree, but what is natural is not what we are to live by, or take refuge in. We are sinners by nature. Our hope is built on the love of God for us and His steadfast goodwill. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
When we view the dangers and terrors of the unknown future, we can take a lesson from the parable of Martin the schnauzer: the One who is in charge of what is happening to us loves us, and has not forgotten us. He has us in mind and under His care at every moment. Even when the things we fear do happen to us, our Lord has our back, so to speak. He has accounted for what is and what is to be, and we are secure and provided for, and never in the danger we think we are. This is true when we face personal problems. It applies to our fears about the future of our congregation. It is also true when we look at the world around us, or worry about our families. When we think we see something happening that we are not going to like, we can cast all our cares on Him because he really does care for us. We are in less danger of being left behind by God than Martin is when traveling with me.
Paul said it well, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Hin, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Yours in the Lord,
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