Unforgiveness: A Loose Cannon Below Decks Redux

The first sermon I ever preached was based on the passage in this entry. Over the years, as I’ve grown in my understanding of this scripture, this core issue of the faith, this key to living a life of peace and hope, I’ve added to it. This is the most recent iteration.

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Colossians 3:12-13:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

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Quatrevingt_treizeFrench author Victor Hugo, best known for Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was also the author of the novel, 93, (Quatrevingt-Treize). The book is centered on the year 1793, Year Two of the French Republic, which saw the execution of Louis XVI.

In a chapter entitled, “Tormentum Belli,” which Hugo translates in the text as “war machine,” is the story of the corvette Claymore. The author tells us that the three-masted, square-rigged warship was in rough seas when suddenly an awful noise arose from below decks. Hugo tells us: “a frightful thing had happened.”

The vessel was equipped with thirty carronades, short smoothbore cast iron cannons able to fire large shot at short range. These had been fastened below deck by triple chains and the hatches above had been shut. Now, one of these cannons had broken loose and had become something akin to what Hugo calls an “indescribable supernatural beast,” rolling, pitching, rushing, and crashing into the ship’s sides. “Nothing more terrible can happen to a vessel in open sea and under full sail,” Hugo reports, for a loose cannon is “a battering-ram . . . [that] has the bounds of a panther, the weight of an elephant, the agility of a mouse, the obstinacy of an axe, the unexpectedness of the surge, the rapidity of lightning, the deafness of the tomb. It weighs ten thousand pounds and, it rebounds like a child’s ball.”

“How to control this enormous brute of bronze?” Hugo asks. “How to fetter this monstrous mechanism for wrecking a ship? . . . The horrible cannon flings itself about, advances, recoils, strikes to the right, strikes to the left. . . crushes men like flies.”

The whole ship was now in awful tumult as the cannon, which is said to have appeared to the crew as owning “a soul filled with rage and hatred,” tears apart the insides of the ship. Hugo tells us that often it is true that more dangerous to a ship is a loose cannon inside than a storm outside. And what is true of ships is also true of human beings. A loose cannon inside is more dangerous than a storm outside.

God’s Word invites us to go “below decks” for a look at the turmoil that can result when the cannon that is unforgiveness gets loose. And it is in the Word that we will find the help needed for taming this “beast,” this “battering ram” that—left uncontrolled—can wreak devastating havoc.

51FT3YfKAhL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgPerhaps we might begin our consideration of unforgiveness by looking at what acts can set the cannon loose. Author Lewis Smedes suggests these may be summarized as acts of disloyalty and acts of betrayal. Now, I’ve wrestled with whether that summary is sufficient. Disloyalty may sometimes be confused with honest dissent, and the saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from our enemies. So what about our enemies? Well, they fit under this summary as well for enemies are only revealed as enemies when they behave like enemies and their revelation as such may come at us like a betrayal.

Words like treachery, abandonment, double-dealing, forsaking, infidelity, letting down and back-stabbing are attached to acts of disloyalty and betrayal and these also capture the nature of the hurting involved:

When your spouse has an affair with your best friend.

When your mother or father fails to show up at your wedding or at a banquet at which you’re honored with a hard-earned award.

When you fully dedicate yourself for years to doing your very best work at your place of employment and a new manager moves into play and tosses you out on your ear.

When a tornado or a hurricane or other natural disaster sweeps through leaving your house in runs. When you return only to discover that looters have taken everything that was left that wasn’t nailed down.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer.

When you commit a colossal blunder or fail to follow through on a promise to a dear and trusting friend or when you speak a word you believe needs to be spoken and it’s received as an attack.

When your loved one contracts a debilitating illness that lingers on for years or when that loved one is unexpectedly taken in death in the blink of an eye.

When a gunman walks in and shoots a roomful of folks gathered for a Bible Study.

When faced with these challenges of life, we may feel betrayed by the spouse, the parent, the friend, the authority figure, the neighbor, our bodies, ourselves, God.

Bitterness. Bitterness is what you get when you leave anger out to rot. It’s what results when injury is added to injury. It begins to root when you go to bed angry, when somebody rubs you the wrong way and the rubbing turns to chafing. It grows in the fertile fields of jealousy, abuse, and vengeance. It hangs in the air. It’s heard in the “us and them,” in the “you did this to me,” in the “he said, she said,” in the “I can’t forgive myself for . . . ” You fill in the blanks.

Anger is a natural reaction to injury real or imagined. Bitterness, resentment, revengeful actions, and unforgiveness are the sins that grow out of unresolved, unhealthy anger. The antidote for these sins is forgiveness.

But who should we forgive? What should we forgive? When should we forgive? Why should we forgive? How do we forgive? Must we forgive the one who keeps sinning against us in the same way over and over? Must we forgive the unrepentant? And really—before we touch on those questions and we can only touch on them as I’m trying to keep this message to under five hours—what is forgiveness anyway? We throw that word around, but we may have radically different ideas on how to define it. And what does it mean to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us?

We’re helped toward a deeper understanding of unforgiveness through a story told by Jesus about a king who one day decides to settle accounts with his servants.

In Matthew 18, verses 21 to 35, we find our Lord sharing a parable about an unmerciful servant, an unforgiving individual. The passage begins with a question from the apostle Peter. “Master,” he asks, “how many times must I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”

Jesus then relates the kingdom of God to a king squaring accounts with his servants. One man is brought before him. His debt? 10,000 talents which is the contemporary equivalent of about a hundred thousand dollars. This man was hopelessly enslaved to debt! Since he was unable to pay, the king ordered the man, his wife, children and everything be owned, be sold to repay the debt.

Ever been in debt? In debt now? Can you remember—or do you now know—the fear, the worry? Things can look pretty bleak, can’t they? Our passage is telling us that unforgiven sin is like those unpaid debts. They weigh heavily upon us whether we’re talking about a little sin, a great big sin, or a great many sins. Each of us, like the debtors in the text, must settle accounts with the king, God Almighty Himself for all sins are sins against God.

Well, the king, in our parable, calls his subjects before him and the one who owes the thousands pleads for the king to have patience and promises that he will repay the debt in full.  The king is moved to mercy and erases the debt!

One point of the parable is that God is like that merciful king and He is willing and able to cancel impossible debts. He is willing and able to forgive. As Stephen M. Crotts notes in his exposition on this passage, the Greek word for forgiveness may also be translated “let loose.”

“It’s like a terrible knot that suddenly gives and is completely untied. It’s like a horrible bondage from which there is sudden release.”

And what does this free man now do? He goes out and happens upon a man who owes him the equivalent of a measly few bucks. He grabs him by the throat and demands he “pay up!” And when the debtor says he can’t and asks for patience, the man throws him into debtors’ prison and folks who witness this go and tell the king.

What does the king do? He brings the man back, chastises him for his unforgiveness and says, “Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?”  Then he has the man tossed in jail where he will sit until the debt is paid. The point of the parable is clear. If God forgives us, we must forgive others. We must forgive as—because—the Lord forgave us.

But those of us who frequent church services know this—at least on some level—don’t we? So why do we see so little forgiveness in Christian circles when repentance and forgiveness are the very foundations of our faith? Amazing grace is what saves wretches such as we all. We, who have turned to Christ for salvation, have been the beneficiaries of amazing grace, amazing love. We’ve been set free. And yet too often we hold one another hostage with our own unforgiveness.

In an older issue of Leadership Journal, I found an article on grace and redemption entitled, “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard.”

The writer, Michael Cheshire, recalls sitting in a sports bar in Denver with a close atheist friend. During lunch, the latter pointed at a TV screen on the wall that was set to a channel recapping Haggard’s fall in a sex and drugs scandal. As he did, he said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”

Cheshire assumed his friend was referring to Haggard’s hypocrisy but he was wrong. His friend laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.”

Then Cheshire says his friend uttered words that left him reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”

That prompted Cheshire to investigate what was being said about Haggard in Christian circles. Most folks with whom he spoke shut down and demanded he drop the subject while others dismissed as foolish or silly his question, “Why can’t God still use Ted?”

As he lived within close proximity of Haggard, Cheshire contacted him to see if he would be willing to meet with him and a couple of the people from his staff.  Cheshire found Haggard to be brutally honest about his failures, filled with a wealth of wisdom, deeply caring and pastoral. He learned that Haggard now had a growing church in the very city that knew him and knew about his failures. And God was causing that church to grow.

When some other Christians learned that Cheshire had reached out to Ted, they said they would distance themselves from him if he continued to do so. Several people in his church said they would leave. He was told that his “voice as a pastor and author would be tarnished” if he continued to spend time with him.

Cheshire concluded: “It would do some Christians good to stay home one weekend and watch the entire DVD collection of HBO’s Band of Brothers. Marinate in it. Take notes. Write down words like loyalty, friendship and sacrifice. Understand the phrase: never leave a fallen man behind.”

Where was the love? Where was the forgiveness?

In his wrap up, Cheshire wrote: “The Ted Haggard issue reminds me of a scene in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Huck is told that if he doesn’t turn in his friend, a runaway slave named Jim, he will surely burn in hell. So, one day Huck, not wanting to lose his soul to Satan, writes a letter to Jim’s owner telling her of Jim’s whereabouts. After folding the letter, he starts to think about what his friend has meant to him, how Jim took the night watch so he could sleep, how they laughed and survived together . . . Huck realizes that it’s either Jim’s friendship or hell. Then the great Mark Twain writes such wonderful words of resolve. Huck rips the paper and says, ‘Alright then, I guess I’ll go to hell.’”

And Cheshire decides that “if being Ted’s friend causes some to hate and reject me—alright then, I guess I’ll go to hell.”

You might recall here the chastisement Jesus received from the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, who disapproved of Him having a meal with sinners and tax collectors. How could He do such a thing, they asked His disciples.

In our passage from Colossians, we read: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

51zoZJQZV4L._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_In my library is a book entitled, The Sunflower. It’s a story, written by Simon Wiesenthal, a man with whom you may be familiar. He was well known and well regarded for his activities in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

In the book, Wiesenthal tells us that he was a prisoner in the Maut-haus-en concentration camp in Poland. One day he was assigned to clean out rubbish from a barn that the Nazis had improvised into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Toward evening a nurse took Wiesenthal by the hand and led him to a young SS trooper. The soldier’s face was bandaged with rags yellow-stained with ointment or pus; his eyes tucked behind the gauze. He was perhaps 21 years of age. He groped for Wiesenthal’s hand and held it tight. He said he had to talk to a Jew; he could not die before he had confessed the sins he had committed against helpless Jews, and he had to be forgiven by a Jew before he died. So, he told Wiesenthal a horrible story of how his battalion had gunned down Jewish parents and children who were trying to escape from a house set afire by the SS troopers.

Wiesenthal listened to the dying man’s story, first the story of what he referenced as his blameless youth, and then the story of his participation in evil. As the man spoke, Wiesenthal’s thoughts drifted to the graves of the Nazi soldiers that he had seen nearby. Each one was decorated with a sunflower and so each one was visited by butterflies. Wiesenthal believed his place of interment would be different: a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of him. No sunflower for him. No butterflies for him.

In the end, Wiesenthal jerked his hand away from the soldier and walked out of the barn: No word was spoken. No forgiveness was given. Wiesenthal would not, could not, forgive. But he was not sure he did the right thing.

And some 30 years later he related the story in the book, The Sunflower, and he ended his tale with a question: “What would you have done?” Ten eminent persons contributed their answers in the original release, and when the book was reprinted ten years later, the responses of another 36 were included. Among these were Christian and Jewish theologians, writers, philosophers, and survivors of genocide; a dissident who spent 20 years in a Chinese prison; a son of Holocaust survivors; a former Nazi; the 14th Dalai Lama; and Dith Pran, a war correspondent for The New York Times who was starved and tortured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Most said Wiesenthal was right; he should not have forgiven the man; it would not have been fair. Why should a man who gave his will to the doing of monumental evil expect a quick word of forgiveness on his death-bed? What right had Wiesenthal to forgive the man for the sins he had committed against others? “Let the SS trooper go to hell,” said one respondent.

Now, there is a great deal more to the story and I would commend the book to you for its powerful wrestling with the themes of justice and forgiveness. But, for our purposes this morning, I want to acknowledge simply that many of us, truth be told, feel the same way when we or our loved ones are sinned against in far less horrible ways.

As Lewis Smedes rightly notes: “To the guilty, forgiveness comes as amazing grace. To the offended, forgiving may sound like outrageous injustice. A straight-line moral sense tells most people that the guilty ought to pay their dues: Forgiving is for suckers.”

So . . . What is the answer to the unfairness of forgiving? It can only be that forgiving is, after all, a better way to fairness. First, forgiveness creates a new possibility of fairness by releasing us from the unfair past. If we do not forgive, our only recourse is revenge . . . and revenge never evens the score, for alienated people never keep score of wrongs by the same mathematics. Forgiveness takes us off the escalator of revenge so that we can stop the chain of incremented wrongs.

Forgiveness brings fairness to the forgiver. It is the hurting person who most feels the burden of unfairness, but he only condemns himself if he refuses to forgive. Forgiving is the only way to stop the cycle of unfair pain turning in your memory and in your gut.

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is not excusing. Forgiving is not smoothing things over. Forgiving is, what Smedes calls, “spiritual surgery.” When you forgive someone, you slice away the wrong from the person who did it. You recreate that person in your thoughts. God does it this way too: He releases us from sin as a parent washes dirt from a child’s face, or as a person takes a burden off your back, lays it on a goat and sends it into the wilderness never to be seen again. (There you have the origin of the word, scapegoat.)

Mining the scriptures we discover more than 100 references to the concept of forgiveness and the first thing to remember from all of these is that forgiveness is God-initiated.

In Colossians 2:13 and 14, Paul writes: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code . . . He took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Forgiveness is offered graciously and readily by God.

In the gospel of Luke, we find the story of the Prodigal Son who, having squandered his inheritance, returns home seeking forgiveness and finds there the open and loving arms of his father who welcomes him with great celebration.” So it is with our heavenly Father.

To receive forgiveness, we must desire forgiveness and honestly, wholeheartedly repent. This done, there is to be no limit to forgiveness. In the 17th chapter of Luke, verse 4, Jesus tells His disciples that, “if your brother sins, rebuke him and, if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” And, as we’ve noted, in Matthew 18:22, Christ carries this further by saying that even seven times is not enough, but seventy times seven.” But what if there is no repentance?

One of Jesus’ central teachings is that we love our enemies, pray for them, and do good to those who have hurt us. Interesting isn’t it, how many of us can read the Gospels over and over and miss that point. We might get the theology but not the graciousness that Jesus taught and exemplified. And you know, it’s astonishing how our view of a person can change when we begin to muster up some love for them, when we begin to pray for them, when we consider how we might do them good.

And you know something else? How much repentance do you suppose there was in the hearts of those who stood by the Cross while Jesus hung there? There was a complete absence of repentance in the hearts of the sinners who put our Savior on that Cross. But what did Jesus pray: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Often, those who have hurt us don’t even think they’ve done anything wrong. Probably, nine out of ten of the people I’ve have had to forgive don’t think they did anything wrong to me (which suggests that I, too, have probably hurt people without knowing).

Now, please don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I’m not a Universalist. I don’t believe Jesus’s forgiveness extends to those who remain unrepentant, those who refuse to come to Jesus for salvation.

In praying “Father, forgive them,” Jesus revealed His infinite mercy; He still loved them and would forgive them if only they would humble themselves and repent. Now Here’s a crucial point:

When it comes to our relationship with God, repenting and asking for forgiveness are aspects of believing. We know that the forgiveness of Christ can’t help us unless we lay hold of it by faith. The same thing cannot be said about our human forgiveness. We offer our forgiveness to others purely in response to the grace we have already received from the Lord. If we are not willing to forgive, it is an indication that we have not fully understood or experienced the grace of being forgiven. This is true regardless of the “offender’s” attitude towards his or her actions. [Source: Focus on the Family: Forgiving the Unrepentant]

We should note as well that Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them” was answered in the lives of many people. The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, upon seeing how Jesus died, exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus exercised faith in Christ, who promised him paradise. A member of the Sanhedrin publicly aligned himself with Jesus. And, a little over a month later, three thousand people in Jerusalem were saved in one day as the church began. On the cross Jesus provided forgiveness for all those who would ever believe in Him. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins that we commit in our ignorance, and even the ones we’ve committed deliberately. When we are born again we, too, become an answer to Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them.” [Source: Got Questions]

In our passage for today, we find the commandment to forgive: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be willing to forgive. Create the climate for forgiveness.

71ZRN2XHMZL._SX295_BO1,204,203,200_So why, when forgiveness is at the very heart of the Gospel, do we see so little forgiveness even, and perhaps most sadly, within the church community? David Augsburger, in his book The Freedom of Forgiveness, offers us some clues. He says forgiveness is rare because it is hard. It is the hardest thing in the universe. It is hard because it is costly. The one who forgives, he says, pays a tremendous price—the price of the evil he or she forgives.

Forgiveness is costly because it is substitutional and this substitution was perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ substituted himself for us, bearing His own wrath, His own indignation at our sin. That’s what forgiveness costs. The sinner either bears his own guilt—that’s cold justice—or the one sinned against may absorb what the second party did—that’s forgiveness. And that’s what God did in Christ on Calvary.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is costly because it demands that kind of substitution, not the literal substitution of our physical lives on a cross but the willingness to relieve others of the burden of their sins against us as we reach out to them with loving and forgiving spirits.

God paid the immeasurable cost of our forgiveness. How can we hesitate to pay the infinitely smaller cost of forgiving our brother or sister—or our enemy?”

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you no longer need to rerun over and over again the hurt you suffered, when you no longer need to punish those who hurt you by rehashing the details over and over again with whomever will listen.

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you no longer have daily conversations, battles in your head, with those who hurt you.

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you find yourself praying that those who hurt you will be blessed and will no longer have to suffer for the evil they did to you or to others.

Forgiveness can be a very slow process and, while we may come a long way in forgiveness, we may well find vestiges of bitterness many years post injury. C.S. Lewis learned how long the process of forgiving can take. He tells the story of a teacher he had as a boy. He hated what he described as “that sadistic person” most of his life but, a few months before his death, he wrote to a friend: “Do you know, only a few weeks ago, I realized that I had at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I had been trying to do it for years.”

With attention to prayer and with the help of God, eventually we can forgive. The Lord works the miracle in us as we yield to His transforming power.

And though this will make the sermon a tad longer, it needs to be said, that it is most often true that the ones we have the hardest time forgiving are ourselves.

Everett Worthington, in his Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past, notes that when you attempt to forgive someone else for an offense, you are adopting the viewpoint of the forgiver. The wrongdoer, of course, is someone other than yourself. However, when you try to forgive yourself, you have to operate from two points of view— both forgiver and wrongdoer, and it’s hard to bounce back and forth from one perspective to the other. We’re with our own selves and our own thoughts all the time. We can’t get away from ourselves and we have insider information about who we really are. We know we’re capable of repeating the same wrongs. We also know that, as much as we profess love for God, we are like Paul who wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

But we must extend that forgiveness to ourselves and seek it from others. There is a marvelous example of the desire for forgiveness in Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The Capitol of the World.”

In this, a father traveled to Madrid to find his son Paco who had left the family farm after a misunderstanding. Keep in mind here that the name Paco is a very popular name in Spain. Well, the father, in hopes of reconnecting with his son, placed an ad in the newspaper which read, “Paco, meet me at noon Tuesday in the newspaper office. All is forgiven. Signed, your father.”

Hemingway reports there were 800 young men named Paco who arrived that Tuesday and stood in line, each one waiting to see if the man might be his father who had granted him forgiveness. 800 Pacos! How many of us, if such an ad had been placed at certain times in our lives, an ad that carried our name, wouldn’t have leapt at the opportunity for reconciliation with our own fathers.

Well, our heavenly Father offers that opportunity today. It is as though He has placed that same ad—the newspaper is the Bible—and when we answer and stand before Him, He is there like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, ready to offer unmerited forgiveness—the gift of forgiveness. He delights in enfolding each of His repentant children in His loving arms.

Have you called on God to forgive you? Your debt is impossible to pay, you know. Have you faced God and told him you’re helplessly a debtor to sin and have you prayed for mercy? You can be let loose from your sins in Jesus!

And God’s ready forgiveness stands also as an example for us in our relationships with others: forgive as the Lord forgave you.

If you’re harboring unforgiveness, harboring grudges and hatred, you’re playing with dynamite. You’re playing with fire. Just like the loose cannon in Victor Hugo’s story, unforgiveness can crash around inside tearing your guts out, terrorizing your mind, tormenting you!

In Victor Hugo’s story, the loose cannon had to be brought under control and chained so that it couldn’t do any more damage.

Right now, why not ask Jesus to take you below decks? Tell him that you are willing to forgive, willing to go with Him to take care of all the troubling things within. Tell Jesus you’re willing. Ask Him to give you power, power to repent, power to turn from your sins, power to say you’re sorry, power to forgive.

PRAYER OF RESPONSE

Gracious and Loving God, I want to serve you and honor you with my very life, and so I do pray that you might reveal to me those corners and cabinets, those closets of sin, that require cleansing and renewal. I confess my unworthiness before you and give thanks for your mercy which calls me from death to life, from lostness to salvation. I thank you for your love that knows no bounds, for your love that never lets me go. As I sit here quietly before you, I ask that you might hear me and might speak to me in the deepest recesses of my heart as I pray for the power to do that which is pleasing in your sight. Clothe me, Lord, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience and grow in me, please, a forgiving spirit grateful for the forgiveness extended to me. Open my eyes that I may see more. Open my heart that what I see may bring me to humility before you and to deeper worship of you, my great Savior, my giving Savior, my loving Savior, my forgiving Savior through whom I live and move and have my being, the One through whom I pray. Amen

ONE MORE STORY TO SHARE:

A week ago last Tuesday, I was rudely awakened—from a very sound sleep —at 4:45 in the morning—by a ruckus being raised just outside our windows. A Walker Coonhound had begun signalling that he’d treed some creature a few yards from our cottage. I could barely see the dog in the pre-dawn light, but I could make out that he was attempting to burrow his way under a barbed wire fence that serves as a line of demarcation between the RV park at which we’ve been staying and the property that adjoins.

After a good bit of digging, the hound shimmied his way through and began circling the tree and vocalizing (think of an insistent and deep carrying voice like a clear ringing bugle, punctuated by sharp chopping sounds). He kept circling and vocalizing for nine hours, driving me nearly out of my mind, making it quite the challenge for me to focus on my writing assignments. Animal Control had been called and two officers finally arrived just after 2 in the afternoon; the canine then escaped into the brush. The hound returned just before 10 that night and started vocalizing again.

By this time, however, Larry, a neighbor vacationing from West Virginia had returned to his RV after a day of sailing. Larry is a man one who has run hunting dogs and now, at 10 in the evening, he heard the hound, went to his truck, started it up, slammed the tailgate down, and yelled, “Load up, boy!” The dog immediately came running and leapt up onto the bed of the truck. Larry gave the malnourished animal a bowl of food, found the owner’s contact information on the dog’s collar and placed a call. A man came by to collect the animal and told Larry the dog had been missing for three weeks. The owner was relieved to have his dog back in his possession; Larry told us the man had probably paid between $10,000 and $20,000 for the dog. Evidenced by the insistently wagging tail, it was clear the hound was equally relieved and delighted to see his human.

Ok. So why am I telling you this story? I was astonished at the tenacity of this animal, and my husband and I learned from Larry that a well-trained hound will keep signaling and signalling, persisting until its master responds. This little guy was hoarse and exhausted after a day of calling out, but he never lost heart. He persisted. And his master responded.

I was astonished at the tenacity of this animal, and Larry said, a well-trained hound will keep signaling and signalling, persisting until its master responds. This little guy was hoarse and exhausted after a day of calling out, but he never lost heart. He persisted. And his master responded.

I learned SO much through my hours of listening to the tenacious dog. A friend observed, “that’s why they call it ‘dogged perseverance.'” She also recalled the words of Martin Luther: “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat!”

If you’re having trouble forgiving, if you’re having trouble of any kind, if you have no troubles at all, persist in prayer, pray the way the dog watches the meat.

 

 

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