I think that the dog and I have the wrong method of discipleship.
I've just started a little bit of fat boy jogging (I know that this is a description that is both gender specific and sizeist... but it sums up the visual feast seen on the by ways of Chessington rather well!). The dog comes along with me. He is uncontrollably enthusiastic before we leave. The sight of me in a bright shiny T-shirt brings him huge joy. And so we waddle off.
The problem comes about half-way round. I know the dog hates walking, let alone trotting, on pavements. He especially detests the pavements of Claygate. This could be a case of inverted snobbery on his part, being a working class lad from Lancashire. So at just the point when I am feeling that I've made a huge mistake trying this physical fitness thing again, the dog slows to a crawl. For his sake I join him.
I mean who am I to tell the dog what to do.
There is a type of Christian encouragement that is like this. It's when two people come together to affirm each other in their sin. Over a coffee one confesses their recent failure to honour God in an area of their life, to which their friend replies, "Oh everyone is a sinner. Just last week I drowned some kittens because I couldn't stand the sound of their miaowing, I shot my husband and I robbed a bank. Don't worry God's grace means we're forgiven!"
The result is that both parties go away feeling loads better about themselves. They've succeeded in dragging each other down to a level that they can both achieve, rather than encouraging one another to look to Christ and live wholeheartedly for him.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says:
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
"...spur one another on toward love and good deeds..." is not the language of "There, there. It doesn't matter, I've done far worse." It's the language of encouraging one another, sometimes with a hearty prod from a sharp instrument, to love other people and live for Jesus. Even when we don't want to.
So should I attach a lead to the dog and drag him through Claygate, forcing him and me to do what neither of us want to? I don't think so. Because the dog has arthritis. The reason that he slows to a plod is that his legs are giving him grief. It's hard to spot, unless you've seen him try to lower himself to the floor at home. He really needs to have a moderate walk each day, without it he seizes up. Not the run every other day I want to take him on.
There is another type pf Christian encouragement that fails to care about people enough to know their struggles and pain. It's quick to judge people for not being at the right meetings and doing the right activities, and slow to draw alongside people and find out how they really are. It applies Bible verses like they will cure all issues in an instant. Whereas the very reason that we need God's promises day by day is that they are all we have to keep us going through the mess of life as broken people in a broken world. Paul says in Galatians 6:2:
"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
In the context this is largely about helping one another with the burden of the battle against sin. But it can also be applied to the burden of disability, age, depression or other mental illness or any of the multiple other ways that people struggle.
So I've decided to stop taking the dog with me when I jog. And though it's inconvenient. Though I feel like I don't have the time. Though I'd rather he just bucked up his ideas and got on with it. I'll take him for a walk too. At his pace. Side by side. Because that's what he needs.