Miriam's dog tutorial has the "Come" command at the top of the list. So she calls. Bailey has learned the sound of Miriam's voice and now recognizes her own name. But that doesn't always work. Puppies distract easily and often. Miriam has pulled out her secret weapon. She has a pocket full of dog treats. When Bailey hears Miriam's call and responds, she gets a tasty nibble. I tell you, she comes now full speed ahead and often tail over head. Bailey has learned her first lesson. She is struggling with the second one. Now, Miriam calls Bailey and doesn't always offer a treat. The dog needs to learn response and obedience regardless of reward. Bailey hears the call, runs, sniffs her hand and droops her ears with disappointment. She now debates whether or not she should respond. After all, "Why come when there is no reward?”
I was watching this drama play out and smiled, but only for a while. It stopped being funny when I saw my own reflection. God calls my name. He does it with consistent grace. Jesus teaches that He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. The sheep recognize His voice and follow. In my puppy faith, God would call and instantly reward my response. There were tangible answers to prayer, a sense of joy that vibrated throughout my soul and an awareness that the Shepherd is near. I was treated with obvious and instant rewards. Then they stopped. I would obey God's command and things didn't turn out so well. I would come to God in prayer and His Voice seemed muffled and far. I began to question whether it was God's voice I was hearing, whether it was my name He called or if it was worth running to the Voice when there was nothing in it for me. It's a lesson I have experienced, but need to re-visit too often. I tend to weigh obedience with my self interest as the scale. It unbalances me to realize that my happiness is not the center of the universe.
I know we aren't dogs and our relationship with God is far more complex. But that's the point. We are not animals but are created in God's image and are being restored to look like Jesus. The complexity of that grace teaches that spiritual formation demands more than my hunger for treats. Two things I have discovered. First - out of perfect love God continues to call my name even when I hesitate or resist. Second - God Himself is my reward. His presence is the Divine treat that never disappoints.