Before anything else, let me state my love for dogs. I’ve enjoyed having dogs as pets and companions my entire life. The recent death of my latest dog has temporarily left me dog-less for the first time in nearly 25 years and there’s a noticeable hole in my daily life (Stella had me very well trained and regimented). I am especially fond of larger breeds and enjoy the challenges of an intelligent dog (even Bandit, the neurotic Border Collie who was part of our family before Stella). We’ve adopted two dogs as rescues and, when the day comes when we can give a dog the proper attention and care, we’ll probably rescue another.
I love dogs. Part of that love is that I don’t expect dogs to be more than dogs. Dogs have limitations (fewer limitations than cats, to be sure, but they still have limitations). One of those limitations is that dogs (even super smart Border Collies) can’t share the Gospel. That should be obvious to us, but I’m not sure that it is.
At the risk of committing great offense and stirring up tremendous outrage against me (even opening the door to accusations of being – gasp! – a cat person), I offer the current popularity of comfort dogs as an example of us expecting too much of dogs.
When properly used, comfort dogs can bring calm and offer comfort to people who are experiencing very difficult circumstances. But as great as dogs are, no dog is a Means of Grace. Petting a comfort dog may ease one’s tensions and bring a sense of relief (I know, I experienced it when petting the comfort dog Luther a few days after my dog Stella had died), but a comfort dog can’t bring peace to a person’s soul. That peace and comfort come only through the Word. And the Word comes to people through us, not through dogs.
We are wise to make use of the things in our culture that make connections to people who don’t know Christ. Mercy work provides many opportunities for such engagements. Comfort dogs are one of the ways that we can connect with people who may be very open to hearing God’s Word. Are we squandering those opportunities? Are we falling short of being effective witnesses of Christ by carrying out our acts of mercy without explicitly sharing His Word? Have we let our witness go to the dogs (or the flood buckets, quilts, gift cards, etc.)?
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing of the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). God has appointed you to speak His Word to the people whom He has placed into your life. Whether you encounter them in the routines of daily living or through a mercy ministry in the midst of a crisis, you are His witness called to make use of His gifts – including His marvelous gift of dogs – to open doors to sharing the Gospel.
Don’t miss out on the joy of sharing God’s Word with those who are desperately in need of hearing it. Don’t let your witness go to the dogs. Speak!
Questions to consider:
- Why isn’t displaying the love and compassion of Jesus through acts of mercy sufficient for bearing witness of Christ?
- When is it okay to simply do acts of mercy (including bringing comfort dogs to people in troubling circumstances) without speaking God’s Word to those whom we are serving?
- When have I failed to use an opening that mercy work provided to share the Gospel with people? What can I do in the future to make the best use of those opportunities?
- To what has our congregation let our witness go? How do we regain it for more effective witness and outreach?