Alan Wheeler was featured in a Christian Record Services for the Blind video shown in churches around North America on April 14, 2012, as part of their annual offering appeal. A few months previous, Alan gave the following presentation with his guide dog, Bixby.
Yesterday was one of the first big work days for Bixby and me here in Lincoln, Nebraska. As Bixby and I continued to learn about each other, and the layout of Lincoln and the places I go, I experienced a somewhat physically painful lesson.
For those of you who have never seen a guide dog team at work, one thing you need to know is that dog and handler can move at a pretty good clip. Sometimes, even a person who is walking fast without any mobility aid can get left in their dust.
So what happened next was my fault…well, my fault and the fault of forward momentum and gravity combined. (I need to pause here and point out that when I fall down, I go down like a wet sack of cement falling off the back of a fast-moving flatbed truck!)
Bixby was doing his job well, despite the lack of uniformity in the curb cuts in the sidewalk. So, when we reached one curb, he stopped exactly as he should, but forward momentum propelled me forward, and I fell, landing first on my knees then rolling onto my side.
I apparently bruised myself fairly badly. This was only compounding a bruise obtained earlier in the day when I got too close to a cement structure in our apartment complex and rammed it with my knee.
But, with little more than my pride seriously wounded, I got up and trudged on, reassuring poor Bixby that, first of all, it wasn’t his fault, and secondly, I wasn’t mad at him.
In all honesty, if I had trusted Bixby and stopped myself a little sooner, I wouldn’t have fallen because I wouldn’t have been trapped by the combination of forward momentum and gravity.
As a result of this experience, I had an epiphany of sorts. My physical accident illustrates, however painfully, two important principles—a practical one about guide dog work, and a deeper spiritual one that runs parallel to it.
Guide dog instructors put a good deal of emphasis on the concept of following your dog. They are constantly repeating the phrase “Follow your dog!” After all, you aren’t leading the dog; the dog is leading and guiding you. You need to trust the dog to guide you around obstacles and show you curb edges, etc. Trust too much in your own judgment and you’ll get trapped by forward momentum and, as a result, inevitably fall.
This same principle applies to trusting God. If we, as believers, try to supersede what God tells us to do, or not do, the “forward momentum” of sin and rebellion can trap us, causing a spiritual fall that will result in something far worse than bruises and sore muscles.
Consider these lessons from Moses and the Israelites in Exodus and Numbers:
36 ¶Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it.
37 But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted.
38 The cloud of the LORD hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.
The Cloud and the Fire
15 Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. 16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents.
If God says to us “Stop!” and we keep going, we may find an obstacle in our life path, or an unexpected curb or other barrier, that will cause us to lose our spiritual footing and go into a fall we cannot stop, let alone prevent.
On the other hand, if we trust God as completely as we can, allowing Him to guide us, we will be taken around obstacles, curbs and every other imaginable pitfall without ever even knowing they were there.
My trust in either Bixby or God isn’t perfect but lately, to my shame, I think I’ve been putting more trust in Bixby than in God. With Bixby, seeing the results of my trust is a lot easier and seemingly more tangible. With Bixby, when I take his harness handle in my hand, I can feel his movements, I can tell when he is looking at our environment and preparing for turns, and I know when we’re maneuvering around obstacles.
On the other hand, trusting God requires vigilance, ceaseless prayer (which I need to improve at immensely), patience and even a broader vision of the big picture. If I don’t sense forward motion, I need to ask God to reveal it to me—if it is indeed there. Unlike Bixby I can’t give God a guide command that equates to “Let’s get back to work!” Our spiritual lives simply don’t work that way. At the same time, staying in God’s word is a lot like hanging on to a harness handle on a guide dog. If I keep myself firmly grasping God’s word, I can feel God moving, and begin to sense the ways in which He is trying to guide me.
Yet, when it comes to trust, in both cases, the same principle applies with equal importance.
Trust equals peaceful, safe traveling, and mistrust equals a walk fraught with hazards, both potential and inevitable.
As I reflected on taking Bixby’s harness handle, this verse came to mind:
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
My prayer is: God, let my trusting You become like trusting my faithful, intelligent guide dog which You blessed me with. Help me to see the twist, turns and other maneuvers You make to guide me safely and peacefully through life. Amen.