Story started in the early 1990's, continuing today, September 20, 2016
I have struggled with two irrational, paralyzing fears in my life, the fear of heights and the fear of dogs. This latter fear, the fear of dogs, became one of the main themes in my walk with the Lord, beginning with a period of great personal failure in the early 1990’s, and continuing through the long series of ups and downs that followed.
In 1992, much of my life came crashing down around me, all because of my own failure to manage the anger and fear that had controlled me since childhood, anger expressed through verbal and emotional abuse of my wife Sherry and our children, and the fear that drove me to try to control everything in my life with an iron fist.
To add perspective, I had been a Christian for over twelve years by that time, and had experienced a lot of growth in many aspects of what that means. By then I had been an active member of a Vineyard Christian Fellowship for over eight years, and had learned much about hearing God’s voice and moving in the gifts of the Spirit. Part of the Vineyard culture is the belief that we become more Christ-like through a range of methods that God can use to heal and deliver you from brokenness, sickness and oppression.
My total failure to handle anger and fear happened despite my whole-hearted efforts to find healing. I had taken advantage of everything the Vineyard had to offer – inner healing, one-on-one counseling, deliverance, prayer and a series of small groups. Yet, the anger and the fear continued to control me.
I’m sure that the Lord used all of the prayer and ministry I received, both at the time and over the years since then, but it didn’t prevent what happened; it didn’t stop me from reaping what I had sown. By 1992, my marriage was broken, my relationship with my children was broken, and I was broken. Sherry and I had separated, I was living in a rented room in another town, with a restraining order keeping me from contacting my family, and a court order to receive counseling. Emotionally, I was a total mess. I was still angry, but also humiliated, depressed and disillusioned about my walk with the Lord and with who I was as a person.
One evening as I walked home from the train, I asked the Lord what He wanted to do with me. Not your normal prayer, it was the visceral, primal prayer of a man at the end of his rope, a bewildered yearning for help. As I walked, I suddenly saw a large black dog walk slowly into the middle of the sidewalk about a block ahead and come to a stop. As the dog stared in my direction, I immediately froze, my first reaction total, irrational panic. I stopped and looked at the dog, my heart pounding in my chest. And the dog just stared back at me.
Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to walk forward, gradually getting closer to the dog as my fear grew more intense, until I finally could reach out and pet him if I dared. I could see that he was very old, and probably totally harmless. Yet I was still very uncomfortable, though now I felt foolish about it. At first, I moved sideways in an attempt to go around him, but he stepped in front of me to block my way.
To this day, I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached out to pet him despite my fear. And as my hand touched the top of his head, something totally unexpected happened – the power of God poured through my arm into the dog. It was like a great wave surging through me, pouring out of my hand and spreading out across the dog’s back. Not knowing what to make of it, I held my hand in place and waited for it to pass. The dog just stood there shivering until the power stopped. I had experienced God’s power moving through me in prayer many times in the past, but never so intensely and so liberally.
When the power dissipated, I lifted my hand from the dog’s head. He looked up at me for a moment, turned around and walked away. As I walked the rest of the way home to my room, I laughed to myself about the comical extremity of what the Lord had just poured out on this old, humble dog. And I felt the Lord tell me that He had answered my prayer. He was telling me that He planned to use me in the areas of my greatest fear.
A quarter century has passed since my encounter with the dog, a quarter century of trauma, loss, and repeated failure met by God’s grace, God’s healing and God’s love in every area of my life. My kids are all grown now and on their own. My marriage has been miraculously healed and restored by the Lord, and I am in a new church, a small, loving group of believers called LifeSource Fellowship in Sterling, MA.
By far the most important result of those years is the dramatic increase in the love of God in my heart, especially over the past few years. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not and will not take credit for any of it. Every bit of it has been by His grace, His unmerited favor. My part has been to not give up when I failed, and even that has been by His grace.
Most recently, I have been led by the Lord to a daily meditation on Romans 8:35-39. I have written about it in these posts: Romans 8:35-39, Romans 8:35-39 Versions, and The Love of Christ, and have posted a series of translations of it daily on my Facebook account for several months. I have been daily calling out to God to make His love for me – not just His love, but His love for me – increasingly real in my innermost being. I want to know that I know that His love will never fail. I want His love to be the rock on which I stand.
I know I’ve only just begun, but I have already experienced a noticeable increase in devotion to Him since I began this meditation. With it, my love for Sherry has increased, which I honestly didn’t think was possible, and I’ve experienced a growing sense of calm, a peace that stays with me day and night. With it, my desire for His love to be rooted in me has increased more and more.
This morning, as I was walking to work, I asked the Lord for more of His love. As I prayed, I saw a sight I hadn’t seen since that day in 1992, a dog standing on the sidewalk blocking my way. A large dog, just as before, but this time younger and healthier and noticeably less friendly. He didn’t bark or growl. He just stood and stared, his tail pointing down. I could tell he didn’t like the idea of my coming near him.
I began to feel a little of the old fear but before I could react in any way, the Holy Spirit fell on me; it felt like waves of rain washing over me, filling me as the fear melted away. So I kept walking straight toward the dog, passed him and kept going. I didn’t stop to pet him, but I did greet him as I passed.
I was struck by how different my reaction was this time. The irrational panic I felt so long ago was replaced by the peace and presence of the Lord. I honestly was not afraid of the dog this time, though I did respect his territorial instinct and gave him no reason to feel threatened.
Another favorite passage about God’s love came to mind, this one from 1 John.
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:16-19, NASB
The love of God, the very same love that I had been praying for and that He had given me, had conquered one of my deepest fears.
“Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For the Lord God is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.” – Isaiah 12:2, NASB
Over the past twenty four years, the Lord has repeatedly used dogs to teach me many important lessons about His ways. Central to that was our dog Blue, who in his playful, gentle way taught me much of what I now know about trusting the Lord's provision and walking in His love. I will write about him elsewhere, but I miss him and will forever be grateful for what he gave me in his simple, innocent way.