I recently volunteered at a canine obedience trial. Some dogs and handlers make it look so easy! They move around the ring at the judge’s command, the dog’s head never moving more than an inch from the handler’s side. And yet, the biggest test of obedience often comes not during the intricate heelwork, but during a seemingly simple part of the trial. For three minutes, all the dog has to do is sit… while the handlers walk out of the ring and out of sight.
As the handlers leave the ring, some dogs sit stoically without a glance to the left or right (impressive!). But, there are always those dogs whose expressions grow concerned. You can almost see the little thought bubbles forming above their heads. “Did she tell me to stay? I wonder if she really meant that? She’s not even looking! Surely it’s okay if I just lie down?” They shift, they crane their heads around to see the point where their handler went out of sight, and sometimes, they slide down into a more comfortable position…and are disqualified.
How like these dogs we are when it comes to doing our Handler’s bidding! Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), we listen to that little voice that begins to question. “He didn’t really say that, did He?” Did God really say you must not eat fruit from any tree in the garden?
The question is followed shortly by reassessment. Just like the thought bubble forming above those canine’s heads, we begin to think that what God said doesn’t really jive with what we’re seeing. And based on what we’re seeing, we begin to put words in God’s mouth. What He probably really meant was… When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye…
Which leads us to the action. We decide to test it ourselves, just like those pups going from a sit into a down. That isn’t being willfully disobedient, is it? She took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
But no matter how we reason, no matter how much we think God may not be watching, disobedience has a consequence: “Disqualified!” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
It is disappointing for handlers to return to the ring and see their dogs in the wrong position. No matter how perfectly they had executed all the other exercises, this one test of obedience and endurance is enough to send them out of the ring empty handed. How much greater disappointment must our God feel in us! Dog and handler lose a ribbon and points toward a title, but we lose fellowship with our God. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25).
God calls us to obedience to his Word and to his command. The more we question and the more we begin to rely on our own judgment to make a decision, the more we will slide down into a more comfortable position…and be disqualified. Thanks be to God we have a Savior who has invited us back into the ring! It is through our faith in Christ that God looks not upon our disqualifications, but upon Christ’s qualifications. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but by staying an inch away from His side, we can execute even the most intricate patterns of obedience. And during those times when we look but cannot seem to see Him, it is through adherence to His commands that we will remain in the exact right place.
Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).