The dog and I have an ongoing battle. He's decided that he doesn't like pavements or the lead. The two things usually go together in his life. As soon as we approach the pavement section of the walk his usual happy amble slows to a crawl. This means that, when it comes to putting the lead on, I turn round to find him standing 10 feet behind me with a look somewhere between defiance and despondence on his face. If he could sing "We will, we will not be moved!", he would.
All my best efforts to get him to come to me fail. He might just shuffle forwards, but at a rate that seems to emphasise the fact that he understands me, but it refusing to cooperate. So, rather irritated, I go back and put the lead on. I then proceed to drag him along beside the road. The lead taught stretched out behind me. The dog looking like a man being led to the gallows.
I used to think this was physical issue. The lead section comes late in the walk, perhaps he's tired? Maybe the hard pavement is bad for his arthritis? But when we get to the next wooded section, and I take the lead off, he skips off in front of me like a happy puppy! The issue is psychological.
Those who know me, will confirm that I am a man who likes to be in control. Therefore, the dog's behaviour was beginning to do my head in. I had even changed our walking route so that he couldn't pain and humiliate me with his grumpy shuffle!
But then I had a revelation. Why not try encouraging him?
So I took the lead off (he walks to heel - almost) and started to say "Good boy!" Repeatedly. Constantly. It felt a bit awkward, I mean he was just walking, what's so hard about that? But it worked! He restored his normal gait: happy amble with occasional trot. He might even have been smiling. I took this to be the joy and love he felt towards me, his now reasonably master. Rather than the sweet taste of victory!
We've been preaching Hebrews at church. As Bible books go it is pretty serious about both the dangers of stopping walking with Jesus and the results if you do so. Throughout the book we've seen that one of the keys to keeping going is to encourage each other. Hebrews 3:13 says:
"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness."
It may well feel a bit awkward encouraging each other daily. We live in a cynical British culture, where we're quicker to run people down than build them up. A culture where you certainly don't interfere in anyone else's life! But we need encouragement. Lots of encouragement. According to the Bible, daily encouragement. Encouragement to look to Jesus and rejoice in Jesus.
So I'm going to try and be more encouraging. To tell people what I'm rejoicing in about the way Christ is at work in them, rather than what I feel they're not doing or could do better. I'm going to start with my wife and then my children, because they get the least encouragement from me. But the aim is to do it with the church as well! I might even try my mother.
It worked with the dog. So maybe it will work with people too!