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The Leash

…Each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

While I was walking our dog Isaiah this morning, I  leashsuddenly had a flash of insight about the value of a leash.

I see other dogs walking without leashes. I see them trotting happily beside their owners, matching them stride for stride. I see them lope back to their master's side at the sound of his voice when they get too far ahead or behind. I've passed these dogs, my 6-month old beagle jumping and straining at the leash to make a new friend, while the dog and his master look at us with ever so superior expressions, as if to say “How undignified!” I admire these dogs and their masters. I imagine one day that maybe Isaiah will be one of those dogs who walks obediently at his master's side and responds immediately to his every command.

I imagine it, and then I laugh.

Because Isaiah needs the leash. I have one of those nifty little retractable ones. It gives the pup ten feet to run before it hits the end of the spool and goes taut. (If he's running fast, he can almost jerk himself off his little feet when the leash runs out.) The leash housing also has a brake on it, a thumb button that will immediately stop the leash from playing out any farther. At the rate I'm going, that brake will wear out by the middle of next week sometime.

That's the value of the leash. When I need to give the dog a little yank to get him away from something dangerous, or to get back on track, or to prevent him from running too far ahead or lagging too far behind, the leash gives me the control to do that. He starts to chase a squirrel. Yank. He goes to pick up a bird's head in his mouth. (He did…) Yank. He tries to jump on a neighbor, or run into the street. Yank. Yank. I may not be a nuclear physicist, but I know enough to never, ever let Isaiah out of the house or the fenced-in part of the yard without a leash. To do so would be to let him wreak havoc and risk his life.

And yet, though the consequences can be the same, God chose not to leash us.

God has chosen to give all of us the freedom to roam free. Oh, he wants us walking at his side. He wants us to know and obey his voice. And he could leash our wills to his if he chose. He could jerk us back if we wandered too far away, given us the yank if we were putting ourselves in danger or hurting someone else. But there's no yank, is there? He calls to us, pleads with us, orders us, even implores us. But the yank that would bring us back to his side with no choice in the matter never comes.

We're tempted because God gives us the freedom to roam and sniff around and taste everything we can get to. At times we might wish for the yank, wish that God would have pulled the leash taut and stopped us before we ran after that thing or tried this one, before we went the way that led us farther away from God than anyone ever should be. There's something comforting about a leash, something nice about not having to take responsibility for yourself, something pleasant about not being a free moral agent. But God didn't want us unable to make our own choices. So he leaves off the leash.

He has something better in mind. He has in mind a relationship with you that isn't defined by him yanking you in the direction he wants you to go, constantly fighting with you and eventually having to break your will to get you to walk with him. He has in mind a relationship with you in which you walk with him because you want to go where he wants to take you. He knows the risk involved. He recognizes that the best of us forget far too often that we're supposed to be at his side and run off to chase whatever squirrels fascinate us most. He knows what might happen because of that. And still the Creator of the universe chooses not to use the power that could keep us leashed tightly to him.

Instead, he chose the hard way. He chooses to implore rather than order, to love rather than control, to invite rather than demand. He sighs when he sees us run away and then goes after us to bring us back. He gives us freedom to sin, then offers us forgiveness. In fact, he takes all that sin and piles it on the shoulders of an innocent man hanging on a cross.

And all the while, through his Spirit he works in our hearts. Gently, slowly, inexorably he works in our hearts to replace our limited perspectives with his limitless one. And over time, gently, slowly, inexorably, the line separating our will from his starts to blur and fade. Until finally, when all is said and done, our will is lost in his and we walk happily at his side, just glad to be wherever he is.

It's a long, difficult process for God. The yank, the tactic of Satan, is much more immediately gratifying. But God is patient and loves you enough to take the time to remake you - not just make you. Cooperate with him, would you? Thank him for the absence of the leash around your neck, and remember the next time you want to run off on your own that life is much better at the side of the One who loves you enough to take off the leash and set you free.

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