This article was originally published in the June 2013 Newsletter.
I was six years old when my parents brought home a tiny puppy for our family. It was a Norwegian Elkhound – German Shepherd mix. I loved that dog. He was a dog for the entire family but I viewed him as my own. For the next 14 years he was my companion and closest friend, my confidant when times were difficult, and my playmate when times were good. We kept him in the back yard of our house, next to the small barn, on a chain that gave him plenty of length to run. He was quick and smart and could kill birds even while on the chain. His name was Shawn.
I would take him for walks down our shady tree-lined street. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he would take me for a walk, constantly pulling on the leash, dragging me down the sidewalk as he bounded along, nose to the ground, sniffing and occasionally stopping to do his business. This pause would give me just a moment to catch my breath before he was hauling me along again. He loved to run.
It was rare that I would allow him to be off the chain without being on the leash. I simply had not trained him well enough. But whether he was on the chain or the leash, I would often kneel beside him and he would sit at my feet, his eyes watching my every movement. I loved to wrap my arms around him and occasionally he would lean in to lick my face. He loved to be near his master. I missed him dearly when I left for college and I will never forget when I returned home the following summer how he bounded at the sound of my voice as I shouted his name across the yard.
Occasionally he would get off his chain without being on the leash. He would trot to the end of the grass where the chain normally confined him, testing the limits. Then, realizing he was free, he would bolt. He would run to exhaustion. There was no way to catch up with him. I would shout his name as I ran after him but I could never catch up. I could only hope he would eventually find his way home. Thankfully, he always did. The longest he was gone was for a couple of days. He came back looking haggard but quickly settled in back at my feet. No matter how far he ran, I always welcomed him home.
I thought about these memories of Shawn recently when I found myself in a similar position.
I use a software program called Covenant Eyes to give me accountability for what I look at online. The program is excellent. It does not stop me from surfing the web or looking up anything on the internet. But every month it sends an email to my accountability buddy listing all the sites I have visited and flagging anything that is even remotely impure to the top of the list. It keeps me accountable for what I look at online. I want to live a pure life before God. This software helps me to do that. I highly recommend the program. It’s like having a friend looking over your shoulder the entire time you are online. I’ve used it for years to great success and am an accountability buddy for many friends.
The other day, for some reason, my laptop started acting strangely. My internet connection seemed to be on and off. Some pages would load, others would not. Some programs just locked up. It was a mess. I tried rebooting the router. I tried restoring the operating system to a previous restore point. I tried everything I could think of. As a last resort, I knew I needed to try uninstalling the Covenant Eyes software to see if that was causing the issues. So for the first time in a very long time, I got the uninstall code from the Covenant Eyes website, which then notified my accountability buddy that I initiated the code. Then I uninstalled the software and ran a test to see if the software was causing the problem. The computer worked like new. There was clearly a glitch with the software.
I tried installing a fresh copy of the software but the original problems came back with force. So I uninstalled the package a second time and sat for a moment trying to figure out what to do.
In that moment, in that tiny moment, I realized the chain had just slipped off my collar. Without the software, I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would know the difference. I took the first tentative steps toward the end of the security I had lived in for the past 10 years. I began to think, “I could go to such-and-such site. It is not that bad but it would probably flag on a report. Since I don’t have the software installed, why not just go to that site and see what’s out there?”
I took a few steps in the worst possible direction feeling the rush of freedom flooding over me. Adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I wanted to RUN! Everything within me shouted, “RUN!” I hesitated, considering the options, and stopped dead in my tracks.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to the man I used to be. I couldn’t run away like I used to. But I am ashamed that I even took the first few steps. And the fact that I deeply wanted to run was like a kick in the gut to me. I felt like a failure and I could hear my enemy mocking me, taunting me, laughing at my miserable state.
Thankfully, in the moment when I wanted to run wild, I heard my Master’s voice booming out my name. I stopped and turned and looked him directly in the eyes. I saw the love he has for me, the time we spend together, the richness of relationship I enjoy with him, and I knew I did not want to run away from him. I’ve changed through the years. I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God. And I’m just not willing to give all of that up for the sake of a run around the neighborhood. It is just not worth it!
I ran back to my Master and sat back down at his feet, looking up into his kind face. He reached down, wrapped his thick arms around me and held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart beating next to mine. It was love, just pure love. It was where I was meant to be, just sitting at my Master’s feet, relishing the relationship I have with God.
Friend, where are you at in your personal relationship with God? Do you love him with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength? God longs for that kind of relationship with you. Do you have that kind of love relationship with him? I hope you do, because at some point, that relationship may be the one thing that keeps you from straying from the path God intended for you. This is another reason why love matters.
It will be the moment you feel tempted to say negative things about someone or even about yourself, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment pride begins to creep in from some experience of success, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment you are tempted to give up hope, wondering why God hasn’t healed, and the voice in your heart will say “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” The richness of relationship with God will be the determining factor. The reminder of how good it feels to sit at his feet and look longingly into his face will keep you from going where you do not need to go. For some of you, it will be the moment, like me, when you are tempted down a path of impurity, and God will say to you, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.”
But what if, like me, there have been times when you actually ran wild and ran hard? Yes, I said, “like me.” There have been times in my past when I chose to run wild. But my friend, no matter how far you may run, God will always welcome you back. God will never condemn you for turning back to him, for returning to his feet. Yes, there are consequences, many times very difficult consequences, for our sin. But when we turn and run back to him, he is quick to forgive.
Consider these verses:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).
“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).
God understands my tendency to want to run away from him, but he also gives me a desire to run back to him instead. I’m grateful that he doesn’t sneer at me when I am tempted to run away, but instead lovingly speaks my name, calling me back to himself. And I love the way he embraces me when the enemy tries to make me feel like a failure. This, my friend, is why love matters. This is why you need a real relationship with him, for just these kinds of moments.
My dog Shawn died on my twentieth birthday. I went to my room, buried my face in a pillow, and cried like a child. I still miss that dog. But many years ago that mixed-breed dog taught me lessons that help me understand my relationship with God today.
It is better to sit at the feet of your Master than to run where you don’t belong.