I spend most of my mealtimes being hounded. Literally.
Our dog Sally is the ultimate kitchen patrol. A casual glance downward during almost any meal reveals her in one of three postures: 1) nose up, eyes lasering every movement of my hand or fork; 2) nose down, inspecting the floor for the tiniest fallen morsel; or 3) sternal recumbent beside my chair, tired of standing but reluctant to leave for fear of missing something tasty.
Is she a model of hope or a caution against greed? I’m not always sure. But if we can learn about the Good News from a somewhat overbearing house cat, I think we can learn a few things about hope from a food-obsessed Beagle.
So, what can a dog teach us about embracing the hope God offers in Christ?
1. Know what you’re hoping for
When Sally comes to the table, she knows what she’s after: food. Sure, paper and other non-edibles can be fun. But if she had to choose between stealing a dropped bulletin and scavenging a breadcrumb, she’d opt for the latter.
Similarly, we Christians are hoping for something specific. The Greek word for “hope” used in the New Testament implies expectation. We aren’t just kind of wanting something to happen, or placing a bet on something with a less-than-certain probability of occurring. Rather, we are waiting for something guaranteed. God made a promise, and we expect Him to follow through on it.
Specifically, God promised our redemption and the world’s renewal with the return of Jesus Christ. Redemption began with Christ’s death and resurrection but will not be complete until He returns to restore God’s rule on earth, defeat death, and renew creation.
When we accept His redeeming work and rule in our lives, God’s Spirit comes to dwell in us as a “down payment”. We regain fellowship with God and begin the journey of becoming more Christ-like in character. However, we are still waiting for perfection, resurrection, the end of suffering and injustice, and Christ’s perfect rule on earth.
2. Be attentive
Knowing what we’re hoping for helps us focus on whatever relates to that hope. That means that we are ready to notice signs of hope becoming reality.
Once Sally knows I’m eating, she knows to listen for signs of food becoming available – plastic crackling, a cracker hitting the floor, a dismayed exclamation signaling a spill, and so on.
Similarly, Jesus tells us to be watchful and to observe signs of His second coming. Being continually aware of His promised return reminds us to act in wise, God-honoring ways. It also reminds us to put Him at the top of our priorities and to value eternal things over temporary, material things. And it gives us comfort that even though our present suffering feels unbearable, the blessing and glory Christ brings will far outweigh it.
Finally, knowing that God will perfect us at Christ’s coming – finishing His work of making us more Christ-like – helps us to see and celebrate how He is already perfecting us. We won’t be perfect until He comes, but we can find encouragement in our progress toward that goal.
3. Be persistent
If I’m eating a high-value food item, Sally is willing to hang around for minutes on end, even if all she will likely get are a few crumbs. If it’s a low-value food item or she’s having a busy day on yard watch, she will check me out and then retire to the living room. But as soon as I’m finished or her attention returns to food, she will come back to see what she’s missed. And no matter how many times I show her my empty hands and tell her, “All gone, nothing left”, she absolutely must confirm the fact for herself.
We are to be just as persistent in seeking God and awaiting the fulfillment of His promises. When we need His grace and presence in our lives, He encourages us to ask boldly and persistently. When He makes a promise, He wants us to take Him at His word. Even if, like many heroes of the faith, we never see it fulfilled in our lifetime.
Christ assured us that no one but God the Father knows exactly when Christ will return. It could be tonight…or it could be in 100 years (though I hope it’s closer to tonight!). In any case, the waiting and uncertainty can be discouraging, confusing, or outright frustrating.
On a more temporal scale, we also often have to wait for God’s action or direction in matters ranging from career to living arrangements to health to relationships – often with just as much angst. We read God’s promises of empowerment, provision, and divine direction…and then we wait for what feels like eternity for Him to reveal Himself.
Waiting is hard, even when we have some idea what we’re waiting for and how to spot it. God encourages us to persist, believing He will do what is right at the right time.
4. Share it with others
Sally never actually walked up to her adopted brother and said in Dog Speak, “Hey, did you know Megan is a messy eater and will drop us free food? Come with me to the dining room and check it out!” (Actually, she’d probably rather he didn’t know…but I digress.) Yet her excited leap off the couch and beeline for the table must have given the secret away. Because when she sails in, Little Brother often tags along – or even wanders in by himself while she’s taking a break.
Hope is contagious. Who doesn’t receive some miraculously good news and want to tell someone? Even when no words are spoken, you can usually tell the difference between someone expecting a good test score, stellar performance, or other positive outcome and someone anticipating disaster.
That’s because hope produces joy. Not necessarily a warm fuzzy feeling. or hand-clapping exuberance. But deep, unshakable, life-sustaining gladness and gratitude for what God is going to do, regardless of what He seems to be doing (or not doing) now.
The world needs that kind of hope. Battered by waves of endless uncertainty and bad news, people need a point of stillness and certainty. A reference they can use to regain perspective. Something good to look forward to that will outweigh and somehow remedy the present pain. Something that is always the same, no matter how many times they refocus on it or from what vantage point, Always the same, but getting closer.
Until it arrives.
One big difference between Sally and us is that, as we sit by God’s table, we aren’t hoping for bits of His kingdom to fall on us by accident. No, we are waiting while He mindfully, meticulously prepares a masterpiece, to be delivered at the proper time. Every gift, every glimpse is intentional on His part.
So as we sit at our Master’s feet, waiting for His hand to extend to us with tastes of His goodness, let’s eagerly expect what He’s promised. Let’s fix our eyes on Him and keep our ears pricked for His voice. Let’s be persistent, and invite others to join us.
Because, one day soon in God’s time, He’ll pull back all the chairs and invite us to a feast fit for kings. And queens.
What steps can you take to be more continuously mindful of God’s promises? How can you live in a way that is consistent with those promises? What can you do to share the hope of Christ with others?