HMVI am taking audit classes in Dusty’s School of Theology. In case you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of this particular seminary, it’s because Dusty is our beloved mutt. And while, theoretically, he should be sitting at our feet, I have found myself, figuratively, sitting at his feet.

Have you ever seen the focused attention of a dog who is anticipating a tasty treat or a meal? One morning at breakfast, I watched Dusty taking up position by the side of hubby’s chair. You want a picture of undivided devotion? This was it. Dusty has been blessed with a pair of head-turning, heart-gripping eyes that I imagine are what the classical authors used to call “limpid pools” when describing fair maidens. Those eyes have the power to mesmerise many an unsuspecting visitor into feeding him tasty morsels. Anyway, I digress. So there was Dusty, training his every sinew, muscle and mental faculty on the one thing he so desired…being fed a scrap by his master.

This was just before my beloved and I were about to do our morning devotional reading. And it suddenly struck me that, for shame, I do not come to the Lord’s table or presence with even a smidgen of Dusty’s wholehearted attentiveness. He comes to our dining table with complete confidence that he will be fed, and that it will be good. He knows we will only feed him food that will nourish.

It’s a new year and I’m attempting to read the Bible in one year again. I know when I come to God through His Word, I can have full confidence that I will be fed, and that it will be good. What God feeds me will definitely not harm me. I will be nourished. Yet I do not approach Him with the eagerness that I see in Dusty. I do not gaze longingly at Him, waiting on His every word and gesture, listening for His voice. Methinks the heart doth groweth cold.

The start of the year is a good time to recalibrate our spiritual GPSes. Where are we heading in our spiritual walk and how are we getting there. Most year-ends in the recent past have gone by in a blur of tasks and activities. And each new year has whizzed by. But God, the ever-faithful, has been there with us through it all. Unwavering in His mercy and love. Ever-ready to come in and sup with us.

I was so glad that Kurby, our worship leader yesterday, guided us to reflect on all that the Lord had seen us through in 2012…the highs and the lows, and everything in between. I needed to be reminded that God was in all that I had gone through in the past year. As Francis Thompson wrote in The Hound of Heaven (accessed 7 January 2013),

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,

Save Me, save only Me?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.

And in remembering, I might turn to God again with a deepened gratitude and renewed focus.

My beloved, who started out this year by returning to the pastorate (albeit in a half-time capacity as Teaching Pastor), gave a rousing rallying call to our church family, for everyone to seek maturity in Christ this year.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28 HCSB)

What would this maturity look like? There would be three facets of growth in our key relationships. In relating to God we grow in our capacity to trust in His unfailing love and obey all that He calls us to do. In building a caring community of believers, we grow in our capacity to love and serve. Ultimately, we need to share with a needy world the source of our joy and strength; we show them through the way we live our lives and tell the Good News.

I know this growth would be beyond me if not for the signposts that God places along the way. Sometimes, it’ll be the spiritual friends who share this journey with me, many times it’ll be God’s Word that will cut me to the core. Daily, though, it’ll be Dusty, reminding me of the quality of my devotion. Every single day, for the past 11 years of his life, he has shown me what it is to be singlemindedly focused on his relationship with his master(s) and his food. One of my favourite writers, Anna Quindlen, noted something similar of her dog Beau:

Love unconditional, attention unwavering, companionship without question or criticism.… In a world that seems so uncertain, in lives that seem sometimes to ricochet from challenge to upheaval and back again, a dog can be counted on in a way that’s true of little else. (Life with Beau: A Tale of a Dog and His Family. London, UK: Hutchinson, 2008, 19.)

Unlike Anna, though, I would say that the way a dog can be counted on (and more) is very much true of our heavenly Father. His love has been unconditional…I have stumbled and fallen so often, I have permanent scars on my hands and knees. Yet God has shown me time and again that He’ll pick me up, brush the dust off me and nudge me along my way, sorer but wiser.

So, this year, with Dusty’s help, I hope to be able to sit at my Master’s feet, expectantly, and learn to grow deeper in loving Him, my neighbour, and the world.