We have a dog who lives at our house – in our house. And she seems to rule the roost. My bride takes very good care of her. When this dog was a whole lot younger, we used to walk her around and about through town. Now that she (and we) are more aged, we do not do that anymore, but she still rules the roost. She goes outside to do her thing and upon her return, begs for a treat until one is given her.
Early on when she came to live with us Molly would often linger around the dinner table hoping for some treats to be left on the floor inadvertently during our meal. Don’t tell our veterinarian this, but dogs are the best after-dinner vacuum cleaner a man can have. And if we were sharing a snack in the den? Molly was right there, staring at us all the while we are eating the snack. Now that she is older and “trained” (or are we trained?), she doesn’t stare much anymore; she just waits until the diner dishes are rattling around as the table is being cleaned, then she comes in to check out the floor underneath our chairs for crumbs and other delicacies.
Thinking about Molly brought to mind a conversation I had with a man several years ago. He and his wife had attracted a stray golden Labrador retriever to their home. The dog just showed up one day and kept coming back to stay, no identification or indication of where the dog belonged or the identity of its owner at all. It did not take long for this couple to discover that this dog had been trained to be an indoor house dog, as well as a “go-and-fetch” retriever. This indoor house dog caused quite a ruckus in this fellow’s home. He said, “You can’t eat anything with that dog around.” When I asked him why, he responded, “Because that dog just looks at you and stares. His eyes never move from watching you and the food you are eating. And it isn’t long before two strands of drool just seep out of either side of his mouth. You know he’s just waiting for you to make a move so he can move in to clean up the leftovers.”
Been there. Done that.
You know, there is a lot of similarity between the way that Labrador retriever responds to food and the way a true Christ-follower should respond to God. With the dog, the entire focus of his life was the bite of food that my friend was putting into his mouth. He stared and stared and stared at that food. He would not in any way suffer distraction from his focus on that tidbit of flavor. His determination was simply to taste the morsel, if and when the opportunity ever came for that to happen. And he was not going to miss that opportunity by not being alert.
I am convinced that is a truth that is taught in the Word of God. The Bible tells us to, “Run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Like a Labrador retriever, intent on getting a morsel of food from the hand of his master, so we, too, should be intently fixing our eyes on Jesus. We should be so constantly staring (but without the drool?) at the Master that all other things seem to dim in comparison.
Now, you may ask – and rightly so, I might add – what does it mean to “fix our eyes upon Jesus”? I mean, after all, we cannot see Him, can we? Are we supposed to constantly stare at a picture or a stained glass window? How do we do this and go about our daily lives? The context of those verses in Hebrews is the context of running the race, of laying aside the sinful ways which so easily entangle us, and of running with endurance the race set before us. The image of Christ is one of Him laying aside the immediate joy and satisfaction of the present in exchange for the enduring and eternal value of the cross. When we run the race of life “fixing our eyes upon Jesus,” we run with that in mind, exchanging the momentary victories of the present for the painful but rewarding victories of the eternal.
A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with the relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and paused. Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them. One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line, crossing it all together at the same time. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for 10 minutes.
Now that’s what God meant when He talks about “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” and running the race the way Jesus would have run it. God wants us to be Labrador retrievers or mutts (Molly) for Jesus, consistently staring at the Savior and watching Him give to us the victory.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.