What I Learned About Reading Scripture From My Dog

February 22, 2018

It is fascinating watching my dog as I bring her a meal. The same dish, the same place, the same food. And she can’t wait to dive in!

It’s not that we don’t give her something special or something different from time to time. It’s not that we don’t have a good supply of treats to reward good behavior or for use in training. But what is regular, common, habitual is mealtime. And her seeming endless delight in the apparent sameness of her food stirs some thoughts about life, and discipleship, and regular “eating.”

Every day we have the opportunity to open the Scriptures. We pick up the same book, often sitting in the same place we typically sit, and we get to feed on the same food we’ve often looked upon. But I am sad to say that I don’t seem to have the same appetite and enthusiasm for the Word of God that my border collie has for her daily food.

I don’t want to anthropomorphize my dog. I don’t want to attribute to her thoughtful motives beyond what is appropriate for a pet. But I am intrigued by the contrast between her evident delight and the often absence of delight I see in myself.

What can explain the difference? Nothing definite comes to mind, but I have a few thoughts.

My dog has grown up finding that the food offered satisfies her. She has never nibbled at a few pieces and left the bowl unattended. She eats a meal. And she feels fed.

Sometimes I just nibble. I open the Book, read a little, but I don’t always keep on pressing on in a passage until I feel fed. Without the habit of feeling fed—perhaps because I just haven’t eaten enough—I won’t return to the Book with delight.

I remember what was said of Ezra: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The word for “study” means “to seek out” or “to pursue.” This is similar to how Luke described the believing community in the early days of the church: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . .” (Acts 2:42). These believers were absorbed in, caught up with, the words of the apostles. There was a purposeful attentiveness. Perhaps that would contribute to feeling well fed.

My dog has been trained to eat what is good for her and not to hunt out strange and different things to eat. Although—as I mentioned—she sometimes get treats, treats have never been the core of her diet. We haven’t distracted her from good food by distracting her with less nutritious snacking.

Sometimes I look for a distracting snack. Even after reading a bit of Scripture, I can find myself looking for a clever quote or a devotional thought or a meme or a video or a song or . . . . It’s all too easy to slip into the habit of feeling that those less nutritious snacks can fully satisfy my soul’s hunger. With such common distractions, it’s not surprising that I don’t return to the Word with delight.

I remember how Paul wrote that the Scriptures alone can provide all I need for “training in righteousness” so that I will be “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). It is those “sacred writings” which can give us “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Paul is aware that the substantial food for the Christian life is contained in the Scriptures. Perhaps that awareness would contribute to my not being distracted by something less nutritious.

I am sure that my dog doesn’t know that she has been teaching me, provoking me. But it does seem that there is something to be seen in the way she goes after what tastes so good to her and is so good for her.

How sweet are Your words, O Lord, to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live. (Psalm 119:103, 116)

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