The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

What do you do when God asks you to “sit – stay?!?”

Posted on: January 10, 2017


A number of years ago, my wife and I attended a dog show highlighting canine obedience trials. Inside a large performance arena, one at a time, the dogs had to start, stop, change directions, return to their trainer, jump back and forth over a high, solid wooden hurdle… all without any verbal commands. Only hand signals.

They also had to select, out of a pile of wooden dumbbells, one dumbbell that their master had handled. All the dumbbells were identical except for an identification number.

It was truly impressive to see all these eager canines running, stopping, jumping, returning… without a sound being uttered. Through the entire time, the dog’s eyes were locked on their trainers for the next command.

The final event of the obedience trials was the sit – stay command. During this event, the dog was instructed to sit and stay, while the trainer walked behind a vertical canvas screen so that the dog could no longer see the trainer. The dog was to remain in that position for three minutes, which – in dog years – is 21 minutes, doing nothing!

Of course, some dogs did better than others.

The obedience arena was set up next to a wild greenbelt area.  During its trial, a young, well-muscled, beautiful, albeit imperfectly trained, white German shepherd was attempting to sit and stay when it caught sight of a rabbit gamboling about at the edge of the greenbelt. The shepherd froze in intense concentration, eyes locked on the furry prize. As the rabbit continued to cavort in the bushes at the edge of the greenbelt, the canine statue began to tremble, then started to whine.  Finally, as though shot from a cannon, the shepherd exploded in the direction of the romping rodent, pursuing it like a heat-seeking missile through the underbrush, ignoring its trainer’s specific and forcefully communicated instructions to the contrary.

By comparison, there was a golden retriever that was a model of perfection during its exercises, eyes continuously glued on its trainer, instantly obedient to the subtlest command. After executing all of the hand signs, it returned to its trainer’s side and stared up adoringly for the slightest hint of the next instruction. During the sit-stay test, the retriever sat patiently as the clock ticked down the 180 seconds.  As the trainer came out from behind the canvas screen, there was a gentle wag of the retriever’s tail, but not a hint of “breaking faith,” as it is called when a dog moves before the time is up.

When the trials were complete, to no one’s surprise, the blue ribbon was handed out to the golden retriever. A polite ripple of applause swept through the crowd, which then began to disperse.

As the crowd dissolved, the trainer – a college-aged girl – turned to her dog, clapped her hands excitedly, and squealed. As she did, the dog lunged at her face in a furious attempt to lick her in the mouth. She laughed and pushed him away only to have him try again. She then began running toward her car as the dog barked and ran in circles around her the entire distance.

It was clear that this dog had not been beaten into submission, but instead, had been loved into obedience. It was truly impressive, and a delight to behold.

I learned later that the sit-stay command is the single most difficult command for a dog to master. One would think that it would be more difficult to master the subtle and complex hand commands to run, change directions, stop, jump over hurdles, etc. But not so.  In those cases, the dogs are doing things that come naturally and that they enjoy.

The reason this command is so difficult to master is that the sit-stay command is not natural for the dogs and they do not enjoy it.  During the sit-stay command:

  1. the dogs think that they are not doing anything
  2. they think that they have been abandoned.

Neither is true. They are doing something: they are sitting and staying. And they have not been abandoned. In fact, the longer they sit and stay – giving them the impression that they have been abandoned – the more intense the focus is on them, to see if they’re going to “keep faith”. The moment at which the dog feels the most abandoned is the moment at which the most attention is actually fixed on it.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the Christian life. God is continually working in our lives, trying to increase our faith and obedience.

Harkening back to last week’s blog, we saw that God has a four–step strategy for working in our lives:

  1. He gives us ministry dreams.
  2. Between the giving of the dream and the fulfillment of the dream is often a long dark valley.
  3. The purpose of the valley is not to keep us from the dream, but to prepare us for the dream.
  4. Those who see their dreams realized are the ones who do not give up on God in the valley.

In the valley, God often puts us in the sit-stay position. We don’t feel that we are doing what we should be doing, or we work hard but nothing happens, or we have been removed from the very ministry we feel called to. We feel set aside, doing nothing, going nowhere (remember Joseph, Moses and David from last week’s blog post?).

The purpose of the sit-stay position is to develop

  1. our trust in Him
  2. our obedience to Him
  3. our walk with Him.

This is often very difficult for us because, like the dogs, we feel that we (a) are not doing anything, and (b) we have been abandoned.

Neither is true. We are doing something: we are sitting and staying. And, we have not been abandoned. In fact, the longer we sit and stay, the more heavenly attention is focused on us to see if were going to “keep faith”. That moment in which we feel most abandoned is the moment in which the attention of heaven is fixed most intensely on us.

If we break faith, like the German shepherd, we have to be brought back to the beginning to do it all over again. If we keep the faith, like the golden retriever, we receive honor ourselves, we bring glory to the Lord, and we receive a pleasure and satisfaction in the Lord that disobedience can never know.

So, if we focus on the fact that the sit – stay position has a purpose… to develop our trust in God, our obedience to Him, and our walk with Him… it will help us remain faithful to the process as the Lord transforms us from white German shepherds to golden retrievers.


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