Our Master’s Voice: Comfort Outside the Comfort Zone (Animal Instincts Trilogy, Part 3)





[Apologies for a very late Part 3.  If you’re able, read Part 1, then Part 2, then this post.  This trilogy includes some extraordinary but true animal stories and offers insight into some of our human tendencies, a.k.a., animal instincts.]

My dog Izzy has grown almost completely blind and deaf, and her sensitivity to odors is failing as well.  We rescued her from a shelter so we don’t know her complete care history or even how old she is.  But she’s been in our family for over 10 years and she’s definitely showing signs of old age.  Often, when she stops during her walks, she loses her bearings and starts up again in a different direction.  Even when I tug on her leash, she somehow believes that her poor sense of smell is a better compass than her master's guidance.  And, inside the house, she bumps into walls and furniture, and often bumps around in circles because she doesn’t know which way is right.
Izzy is out of her comfort zone.  As her owner, I’m also out of sorts because it’s hard to direct an animal that cannot see, hear, or smell.  It’s hard to offer comfort to an animal that is always in the dark.  She used to be very quiet, but now she tells us when she's hungry, thirsty, lonely, and lost.  Being outside of her comfort zone is a difficult phase for her and us.
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Norman, a yellow Labrador Retriever, was blind, but he flourished because he learned to listen.
Norman was scheduled to be put to sleep when he was just 1 year old.  He was 2 days overdue for that procedure when Steve [not me] and Annette welcomed him into their coastal home.  Not long after, Norman began to lose his eye sight due to retinal atrophy and he was blind within months.  But Norman still enjoyed his walks along the ocean beach.





About 4 years later in the summer of 1996, 12-year-old Joey and his 15-year-old sister Lisa, were swimming not far from Norman’s beach.  They vacationed there every year, but this time the swimming got rough so they headed to shore against an aggressive undercurrent.  Joey made it back, but Lisa continued to struggle and pray.  She lost her energy to the strength of the current.
While Lisa wrestled to survive, Annette went to the beach with Norman who quickly dashed off on a mission.  He heard Lisa’s faint cries for help.  When Lisa saw Norman coming to rescue her, she regained her hope and composure, and stopped calling.  She didn’t know Norman was blind.
Annette yelled for her to keep screaming so Norman can follow her voice and save her.  And that’s exactly what happened as Lisa clutched on to Norman, who towed her back to shore.  The blind yellow Labrador rescued Lisa, who fondly claimed him as her guardian angel and cherished his picture on her bedroom wall.
This canine hero was blind but he had a place and purpose in the world.  He returned friendship to Steve and Annette, who later gave birth to baby Paul, and he saved Lisa’s life, who today is in her 30s and well into her career.
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In this
Animal Instincts Trilogy, we considered how natural, and sometimes preferable, it is to return to the leash of sin.  Freedom sometimes feels awkward and uncomfortable.  We also wondered why we carry heavy burdens and suffer unnecessary hardship.  We acknowledged that it’s not like us to hand our issues over to Jesus, even though He offers to carry them for us.  And now we discuss the confidence we can enjoy when we follow God’s lead, just like Norman did during his walks on the beach with his master.  We struggle to serve God on our own, but with Jesus as our Shepherd we can comfortably step outside of our comfort zones.


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Norman learned how to live with his blindness.
  He was able to run and play on the open beach because he listened to the voice of his master.  If he was going to hit something while he ran, Annette would command, “Easy!  Easy!,” and he would slow down.


How did Norman come to trust the voice of his master so well?  How can we trust the voice of our Master?

When we spend time with God, we develop a special trust for Him.

When Norman lost his visual perception, he needed help to navigate his environment.  I’m sure he stumbled and banged into things like my dog Izzy does today.  He may have even hurt himself at times.  After all, wouldn’t we stub a toe, scrape against a sharp corner, bump our heads…?
Our missteps should point us to God.  Norman had no choice but to depend on his owners.  But he didn’t wallow in pity and he didn’t ‘just get by.’  He learned, he listened, and he thrived.  As he got to know Steve and Annette, he probably learned things about them that they may not have known themselves.  He knew what their words meant, and he understood their inflections and changes in volume.  He probably also felt the joy that shaped their smiles and the sadness within their tears.
After losing his eye sight, I'm sure he got to know them even better because he depended on them more.  Every touch, every word, every whisper; whether urgent, whether calm, in any disposition – everything had meaning.
Is this how it is for us with our Master, our Good Shepherd?

“…the sheep listen to his voice.”
John 10:3

Sheep learn the voice and mannerisms of their shepherd.  They know their shepherd’s voice so well, that they will not follow anyone else.  An imitator can even use the same words and tones, and the sheep will not respond.
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees,
anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate,
but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. 
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them,
and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 
But they will never follow a stranger;
in fact, they will run away from him
because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
John 10:1-5 (read 6- 21 also for a richer context)

How familiar is God’s voice to us?  Have we grown accustomed to the way He speaks?  With God, there is no trickery and no ulterior motives.  He will never contradict His written Word, never act contrary to His character, and never climb over the fence (Hebrews 13:8).  The shepherd always enters through the gate – “gates” like God’s Word, prayer, godly people, godly ministers, various circumstances, and urgings from the Holy Spirit.

Let’s spend more time with our Shepherd – reading His Word, praying and meditating, acknowledging His presence, being grateful for His involvement in our lives.
But let’s not stop there.  When sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, they respond.  They follow, and they do so with confidence because they trust their shepherd’s voice.

As we grow more in tune with God’s voice, 
we become more comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zones.


After he became blind, Norman still walked the beach, and even ran and played off-leash.  He didn’t worry about running into people or branches or rocks.  He wasn’t scared to cut himself on broken glass when he scratched his back in the sand.  He wasn’t going to have a bad encounter with other animals.  Like any other dog, Norman could enjoy life outside of the comfort of his home because he knew his master was with him and watched over him.

Sheep need to leave the comfort of their pen because they can’t fully thrive within their fences. But they step outside only when their shepherd leads them out. They don’t roam about as they please. They listen to their shepherd.
“Come.”
“Eat.”
“Rest here.”
“Let’s go a little further today.”
“You’re doing well.”
“Stay close to each other while I fend off this wolf.”
“Come inside for the night.”

God knows us personally.  He understands our every hesitation and He walks with us.  He doesn’t ask us to proceed without Him.  Sometimes we stray or wander.  It’s natural. It’s our animal instinct to ignore the voice of our Master. But our Shepherd finds us.  With joy in His heart, He finds us.  He calls us to Him and calls us to follow.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
John 10:27-28

We have the promise of Heaven.  Life gets hard at times, but our stories will always have the perfect ending.  We are secure behind our Shepherd’s staff so we have confidence to follow.


Our next steps may be uncomfortable, but our Shepherd provides perfect care and protection.

God doesn’t lead where He doesn’t also accompany.  He stays with us so we can enjoy the beach, navigate dangerous waters, and offer our shoulders while He uses us to rescue others in need.

Let’s step out for God.
We can be comfortable
outside of our comfort zones.



Read more blog posts here.

If you want to know more about what it means to be a sheep with Jesus as our Shepherd, please email me at authordlv@attnet.com.

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this beautiful message. What a wonderful way to start my day! Blessings.

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    1. Hi Melissa. Thank you for starting your day with this! So glad it is meaningful for you.

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  2. Stephen, this is an incredibly encouraging and comforting post. I love how you took these canine examples and wove them into lessons about God's faithfulness. I love these reminders: "God knows us personally. He understands our every hesitation and He walks with us. He doesn’t ask us to proceed without Him. Sometimes we stray or wander. It’s natural." Great post with practical applications! - Melinda Viergever Inman

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. I love that God knows exactly how to encourage and direct us, and how He always has open arms for us when we stray.

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  3. I love this series, Stephen. Not only am a dog lover, but the analogy is so good to us and our relationship with the Lord. This is powerful,

    "As we grow more in tune with God’s voice, we become more comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zones." So true!

    And just like in your article, Jesus also recuses us when we're hungry, thirsty, lonely, or lost. :-)

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    1. I'm so glad it is meaningful for you, Karen. God speaks in so many ways and it's exciting to discover them as we go through life. We are so dependent on Him and our God is wonderful to carry us through our dark days with His loving arms.

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  4. I loved this blog and how you used the story of animals to emphasize your point. I loved the thought of running free on the beach even if we are blind because we can trust in our master. Such a deep but meaningful idea. Thanks

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    1. There are some pretty amazing animals out there, all doing what comes instinctively as God designed them. Norman must have had a deep trust for his master and I would imagine he developed this trust over time because his master proved herself to be trustworthy (and probably a really good dog trainer!). Praise God for being a trustworthy God!

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  5. That was such a touching story you shared at the opening of this blog post, Stephen. And I loved how you used it to remind us that we must listen for God's voice. It really can bring us comfort and help us step out into bold places without fear. Just like Norman.

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    1. Boldness is not my strong point, so listening for and finding comfort in God's voice is so necessary. I'm so glad God reassures us in this way. He is perfect at it.

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  6. Hi Stephen!

    When I was young, I used to play with our dog back home in the Philippines :-)

    You said: "When we spend time with God, we develop a special trust for Him."

    That is true. Sometimes I don't trust Him, but I know that He trusts me.

    I liked what you said towards the end of this blog post: God is always with us.

    Blessings!
    Edna Davidsen

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    1. LOL. Sometimes our dogs have a mind of their own! But a master's consistency gives them something to depend on and trust. It's so good that our Master never changes and that He is always with us.

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  7. This is a great encouraging message of Hope that if we trust God and follow His voice we will have comfort to step out of our comfort zone. I loved all the stories so encouraging. That’s what God wants a intimate relationship with us to grow in His word and Step our for Him! Amen Great message my friend.

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    1. Thank you, Sydell. While we tend to favor the leash of sin and run from our Shepherd instead of laying our burdens at His feet, we also have the need to hear and follow our trustworthy Lord. Our God is so trustworthy, that we can step out with confidence, knowing He will be with us.

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  8. I love this, Stephen! I’m a dog lover and this story truly touched my heart. Dogs are so faithful to their owners. They are likewise trusting. We can learn a lot from them as it relates to our relationship with God. John 10 is one of my favorite passages. Thank you for sharing this! ��

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    1. Hi Marcie. Thanks for reading. I'm so glad it was meaningful for you. Dogs are great, and John 10 has a lot to offer. I'm thankful that Jesus' pen includes 'other sheep' (non-Jews) as well. What a wonderful Shepherd we have.

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