It was two-something when the sound of barking woke me from sleep. That kind of bark—that persistent, “I’ll never give up” tone—meant one thing: Some critter was just out of reach of our family dog.
For all her good points, Tessa is not one to give up when she finds a game she enjoys, no matter what time of day or night. Once she figured out that she enjoys chasing cars down the driveway, she requires physical force to keep her from biting at the tires. I’ve gotten in the routine of apologetically telling clients, “Tessa just thinks your car is an oversized cow”—the cow dog instincts won’t let this one escape the premises.
And when it comes to chasing creatures of the night, she is just as determined. I’m not sure she actually goes hunting for animals; I suspect she just stumbles on them in her rounds. But once she has made contact, she won’t give up. She “treed” raccoons on the top of our root cellar and chased cats into tight places in the shop and barn. Once the fugitive is cornered, out of reach, Tessa stands guard with vigilance of a sentinel—and the noise of a cannonade.
So that particular and persistent barking meant that I might as well pull on some clothes and head out into the winter night. There would be no rest until I pulled the dog off the trail.
I pushed open the swinging door that leads from the kitchen to the back porch and a cat shot in. Reversing course, I tracked down the furry intruder, put the cat back where it belongs, and headed out the door—all the while attempting to stay in the warm, sleepy mode.
The cold night air was refreshing—a bit too refreshing. Beneath the old weeping willow our bright-eyed pooch danced and barked. I didn’t find out what she had chased up that tree; I didn’t really care. I just wanted the barking to stop.
I corralled Tessa on the back porch with the cats and headed back into the house for a couple of minutes, hoping to give the treed animal time to come down so that I could let the dog back out again.
Pushing open the swinging door a couple of minutes later, the cat streaked in again and I spotted the dog sheepishly returning from slicking up all the food in the cats’ bowls. We’ve tried to train her to leave the cats’ food alone, but it seems we might as well tell the wind not to blow.
I administered the appropriate swat of disapproval, still trying to stay asleep, postponing the chase of the determined cat. Then I bent over the dog, rubbed her ears, and said, “Are you going to be friends?” I didn’t want to end the night with unresolved tension between me and my dog. We needed to patch things up. I heard myself add, “Are you going to obey?”
I let the dog out and stood under the shelter of the eaves in the drizzle that was just beginning, hoping that the trespasser had gone and that rest was just around the corner. When I finally snuggled back under the covers, I could not help but hear my own voice echoing in my ears: “Are you going to be friends? Are you going to obey?”
And I thought of what Jesus said to His followers, “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
The test of friendship with Christ is obedience to what He has said. He is unimpressed by those who profess to be His friends but want to do things their own way, to play by their own rules. Like the dog with the cat food, we sneak over to enjoy some personal gratification when we think that Jesus isn’t looking. “Surely He doesn’t care about this . . . It won’t matter if it is only once . . . He understands that I need it . . . Everyone else is doing it . . . It isn’t all that bad.”
We have a dozen creative excuses for why what we want is acceptable, why it shouldn’t exclude us from the friendship of Christ—but all the while we are ashamed in our hearts and afraid to be caught red-handed.
The mantra of the church today seems to be, “I love Jesus and . . .” We want the “best” of Jesus and the best for us, too. We want to sing praises to God and enjoy the praises of men. We want to glorify Christ as long as it doesn’t mean sacrifice, as long as His will doesn’t cut across our will.
But Jesus makes the test of friendship crystal clear: Only those who obey Him are His friends.
Others may have friendly ideas about Him or warm, fuzzy thoughts about His Word or cozy feelings about a “personal relationship” with the Lord.
But they are not His friends who do not obey Him.
If my dog could speak and if, in my sleepy mood I was inclined to listen, she could have explained, “You know how I love cat food. The kids use it as a treat for obedient behavior. I just couldn’t resist, being locked onto the back porch with the delicious, forbidden food just a few steps away.”
Or she could have said, “It’s stressful, really, being out alone in the dark every night, fending off all the beasts that set foot on our property. And to be called off in the middle of a chase, to be removed from the scene of action creates double-stress. I needed something to settle my nerves. I deserve a bit of thanks for the work I do, anyway. . . .”
Or she could have argued, “Look, you let the cat’s eat cat food all the time. What’s wrong with the dog having a bite?”
But only obedience to my commands makes for friendship. If the dog loves me (in whatever way a dog can love), she will demonstrate it by doing what I tell her to do. I suppose she hasn’t read the literature that says cat food is not good for dogs, but my word should be enough—if she wants to be my friend.
It is one thing to call Jesus our “Friend”—it is quite another for Him to call us His friends.
The difference is simply obedience.
© Robert G. Robbins