The following “better than average story” is the work of a dear friend of mine, Kathy Read, long-time secretary for the Missouri Street Church of Christ in Baytown, TX.
In today’s normal use of the language, we rarely use the word “exhort,” a word meaning “strong or ardent urging.” However, it seems that God inserts a wide variety of exhortations and reminders into our lives, some being ones we would never have even dreamed possible. For example, who would ever have considered the word used for exhortation to be “Arf?”
Now this year’s Bible reading project in my church family is the Psalms. I will freely confess: a regular reader of the Psalms I am not. I am not! But, I am once again giving this project a try.
Evening is when I do my reading in the Psalms and my evenings are spent with the faithful companion that God put in my life about ten years ago. She is a wee, small thing, currently down to her 98 pounds from her high of 110. In the dog pound she looked so beaten down and sad, but she looked at me like, “Please, take me out of this place!” And so I did and named her Shadow.
Now Shadow exhorts me at times. She has various ways to do this exhorting. Sometimes it is with a look. At other times it is an ear-piercing bark. And at still other times it is by simply walking over to the fridge and staring at the door as she tries to get her frozen marshmallows to materialize for our 7:00 p.m. game of catch. They are a relatively safe item to throw in the house, especially the mini-size. Great fun.
But, back to the Bible reading project. Normally about 8:00 p.m. I’ll say to my companion, “It is time to go read the Bible.” And after several weeks of this it is now routine for us, most nights. We go into the living room where the good old recliner and lamp are and we get comfortable; me in the chair and her laying right next to me on the floor. This year after nearly falling asleep reading silently, I decided maybe I’d get more out of it if I read the Psalms aloud … to Shadow. She doesn’t mind the mistakes or mispronunciations. After a few sighs, she looks up at me as if to say, “All is well” and she stops throwing balls at me and talking to me about various topics I’m still trying to understand and we read half a dozen Psalms or so together.
That is “Normally.” Some nights I doze off in front of the television and that is when my personal encourager/exhorter kicks in. She comes over next to me and stands there looking at me until she wakes me up. I’m supposed to move at this point, but some nights I can’t budge. She begins pacing back and forth from me to the recliner, to the recliner and me. If movement does not take place quickly enough, she walks back to me with a soft bark and walks back to the recliner. If by then I still haven’t gotten into gear, her exhortation kicks into high gear. She has the most ear splitting “Arf” you can imagine! You need ear protection for jet engines … and Shadow. By then, I’m on my way to the recliner, my Bible, and the lamp.
I start in with “O Lord” or “Sing to our God” or one of those beginning phrases throughout Psalms and once again the contented sigh is heard in satisfaction, knowing she has accomplished the work that God has placed in her being, to be that encouragement that a person needs in this world today.
Several thoughts come from this little message – exhortations to us all – but two stand out to me in this moment. First, look for the good, the encouragement in the smallest of things, and you will find it. And the second – the most important – is this: if hearing God’s word brings peace and contentment to an old dog, just imagine the joy and happiness it brings to God himself if we take the time to read of his love story to us.
Peace and “Arf!” to you!