One Sunday evening on the way home from church Heather and I noticed a sign at the local animal shelter advertising “Puppy Adoptions,” so, we pulled in (mistake number one). In the past we’ve owned larger dogs, but had not owned one in several years due to our ministry assignments and living arrangements.
We stopped thinking “if” they had a boxer maybe we would be interested. They didn’t have a boxer; however, they did have a litter of Lab/Shar-Pei mix puppies that were absolutely adorable. Two of the brothers looked almost identical. Within a few minutes of being there, we found ourselves in a room spending time with these two pups (mistake number two).
To make a long story short, we ended up adopting one of them. We named him “Cash,” yes, after Johnny. From the beginning, Cash was a very affectionate puppy; he really enjoyed being with us. He was such a happy little guy that in his excitement he peed a lot. After about a week with Cash, we started wondering if his brother had been adopted. So, I called to inquire and discovered that he had not (mistake number three).
You guessed it! We ended up going back to the animal shelter and adopting Cash’s brother, too. We named him “Hank,” yes, as in Hank Williams. It didn’t take but a few days to realize that Hank was very different from Cash. Cash thrived on our affection. Hank didn’t seem to care if we were around or not. He was sweet, but he was also very distracted and a bit mischievous.
Part of the schedule for Hank and Cash included waking up early and walking them every morning. One day, after several weeks of walking them, I decided to walk them without a leash (another mistake). Since I’d spent over a month training them and figured the bond was strong enough for a short walk off the leash. Besides, I had worked very hard to establish myself as the “pack leader.”
Within the first few minutes of our “pack walk” Hank darted off after another dog. After running to retrieve him, I put him back on the leash. Cash, on the other hand, didn’t need the leash; he walked very close to me the entire time. Within a short distance, things had calmed down enough that I thought I’d give Hank another chance. I took the leash off and he did okay for a couple of minutes. Then he spotted a bird and immediately went after it. Again, Cash stayed with me.
I attempted the pack walks several times over the course of a few weeks. Each time Cash stayed right by my side while Hank was continually distracted. Some days Hank would do better than others, but most of the time it was a similar result. While Cash was only concerned with walking close to me, Hank kept wandering off the path chasing birds, exploring people’s yards, and running off after other dogs. My conclusion was that Hank was going to need a lot of extra work to learn to be obedient.
One day I sat down in the cul-de-sac at the end of the street with Hank and Cash. My neighborhood is rather secluded and this particular cul-de-sac doesn’t have any houses on it. It was just the boys and I spending time together in the quiet of the morning. Cash sat by my side on the road while Hank stayed about twenty feet away staring off into the woods.
It became obvious that Cash loved being close to me. It was also apparent that it made him very happy when I displayed affection toward him. On the other hand, Hank’s lack of connection with me was frustrating, and even a bit hurtful.
I had worked with these guys day and night attempting to train them; one was responding and the other was not. This caused me to develop a burden for Hank. His lack of response to those who wanted to care for him was troubling. If he didn’t bond with us he would be more susceptible to getting lost, being hit by a car, or wandering off into a dangerous situation. These thoughts caused me to work harder with Hank, but even after another month or so, there wasn’t much change.
The Lord taught me some valuable lessons during those early months with Hank and Cash. I believe God feels like I did when we respond to Him the way Hank and Cash responded to me. One was a source of happiness; the other caused me a lot of grief and frustration.
God showed me that the same kind of heartache Hank caused me is how He feels when we stray away from Him. He reminded me that He always has our best interest in mind; He wants to lavish us with goodness. The Lord longs to bless us, show us the way to abundant life, and walk in intimate fellowship with us all the days of our lives. However, while we may profess Jesus as savior, if we’re honest many of us would have to admit that we are often very distracted.
Like Hank, we have the tendency to get sidetracked, always looking for the next big thing or chasing dreams that aren’t God’s best for our lives. When we do this we communicate through our actions that intimate fellowship with Jesus is not that important to us. This grieves the presence of the Holy Spirit and hinders our relationship with God.
Cash, on the other hand, represents an attitude that’s pleasing to God. Cash loves me to love him; he enjoys the connection with his family. He is affectionate, obedient, and loyal (although he still gets excited and pees). The Lord has shown me through Cash that “God loves us to love Him to love us.” Read it again, because that’s not double-talk: “God loves us to love Him to love us.”
Cash loves it when I show him affection, and I love the fact that he values my affection. I love it when Cash loves me to love him. It’s frustrating when Hank ignores my love and affection. In the same way, God is heartbroken when we don’t value His affection, or when we overlook His presence, or when we disobey His instructions. On the other hand, God loves us to love Him to love us. And that, my friends, is an astonishing fact!
At various times in my life, I’ve been Hank and Cash; I think we all have. As a pastor, I’ve noticed that almost everyone who calls him/herself a “Christian” is a lot like either Hank or Cash. Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time rejoicing over those who respond to Jesus like Cash. However, I’ve also spent a lot of time praying for the “Hanks” of the world. As a spiritual leader and one who instructs people in their relationship with God, I’ve noticed that I spend a lot more time reeling in the Hanks than I do worrying about the Cashes.
What about you? Are you more like Hank or Cash?
Are you distracted? Is your life a source of frustration and sorrow for the Lord? Is God always trying to reel you back in from chasing something other than Jesus? Do you often neglect the grace and goodness of God? Or is your life characterized by joy and gratitude in your relationship with the Father? Is intimacy with Jesus a significant part of your everyday life, or are you distracted?
Since those early months, Hank has come a long way. He’s actually sitting by my side right now with his head on my lap. He’s beginning to understand how much I love him. When we truly grasp the fact that “God loves us to love Him to love us,” it changes our perspective about everything else. So, learn to enjoy His presence, bask in His goodness, and let Jesus saturate every part of your life. You’ll be glad you did.