Unlike many I know, I’m not a dog lover. I never remember a time it was otherwise, to the utter disappointment of my family. Maybe it’s due to those few encounters with “man’s best friend” when I was younger. Encounters from which I still bear scars … not just on my person, but deep in secreted places of my heart where they continue to reside.
Several years back, after decades of city-sterile apartment dwelling, I moved to a small town, taking up residence in a neighborhood whose history goes back well over 150 years. Not an autonomous matriarchal town, but a lovingly established country community … boundary-less … profuse in oaken and pecan sentries … and dogs.
I love to walk, and coming to this country community seemed a dream come true. I just knew I could now invest my heart in unrestrained leisurely strolls down shady wildflower-enhanced country lanes. I hadn’t counted on the dogs. They’d staked their claim first, and weren’t in the mood to share their territory.
Neither are the dogs limited to my meandering down their pathways. They aren’t overly thrilled when I leave my house, nor when I attempt to make it from personal car to friendly domicile.
The dogs seem bent on confusing their territory with mine. It’s been their way with me for eight years.
They even occupy my sleep, spreading the alarm throughout the night, alerting every inhabitant in earshot to each wayward deer or overly curious opossum … and heaven help any venturesome armadillo. Dusky nocturnal ballets, those inhabited by guileless multitudes of leafy fall performers, receive no better treatment … so I guess I shouldn’t feel singled out.
And have you noticed? Dogs don’t work solo. Once one has sent out the alarm, magically it’s picked up, in an instant, and amplified by every canine in ye ol’ township. It can be downright irritating.
But you know, it’s their instinct, their nature, their highly specialize designer encoding.
No, their sentinel instincts don’t put me at ease, not even when it’s the family pet. Rather, it sends my heart racing uncontrollably, engages my ‘fight or flight’ mode. Then maybe, that’s the idea.
This past nightlong canine serenade has put life, real life, to Paul’s words.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful …” (Colossians 4:2)
At last I get it; I truly get it. As children of the King, we’ve been issued Rules Of Engagement by our Commander-In-Chief, but until we’re operating in that sentinel nature, that instinct of ever-alertness our canine friends have mastered, we don’t even recognize the need to engage.
Have you ever watched a dog when something, someone, comes into the range of its territory? Every hair on its body comes into play. From apparent deepest sleep, it instantly hurls itself headlong into full engagement, every sinew at the ready. At the same time, it makes certain every other ‘member of its family’ is fully alerted to the presence of possible danger. That’s what makes them the daunting, nerve-rattling, much-sought-after sentinel. A dog never lives outside that fully alert soldier mold, never.
That’s what Paul is attempting to tell me. I’m to be living on ‘dog patrol.’ As I said, I’m ‘getting it.’ Paul’s words are spilling onto an arena I can see, I can understand, I can begin to engage in my own heart and mind.
I have an enemy that desires to stake out my territory as his. He’s been doing it since clay first look longingly at a tree.
I can almost hear the exasperation in Paul’s voice, “Don’t you get it yet? Be watchful! Put our unseen but ever present enemy on his guard. Pick up his scent. Recognize his presence and his encroachment on what now belongs to God. Remove him from his comfort zone. Let him know you’re sending up the alert, that you’re aware of the lay of the land, and that you’re ready for engagement.”
I hear you. At last I hear you.
“It’s taken a long time, LORD, but I’m finally getting the picture. At last I coming to see what You’re calling me to when You declare, ‘Be watchful. Be alert.’ When I died with Christ, when I knew resurrection in Him, You sealed me with the Holy Spirit, that highly specialized encoding that alerts me to Your enemy. An enemy approaching from all sides, day and night. But he’s not to be feared, only recognized, guarded against, that You and You alone might reign sovereign in my life. Through Your indwelling presence, keep me ever on patrol, for Your Name’s sake and for the glory of Your kingdom.”