Regular readers of the humble ramblings know how much I love dog friend Hannah. She is such a calming influence that I often call her “furry Prozac”. A fun article in Parade Magazine by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan got me to thinking about how much I could learn about sanctification from my canine companion. Sanctification is not a word that Hannah would understand. Sadly, it is not a word that a lot of Christians understand either. It simply means the process of becoming more like Jesus. And just like everything else in this journey we can not do that apart from Christ. I will give you Cesar’s thoughts on life lessons that we can learn from dogs in italics. I will add my little spiritual postscript to each of his comments. 

Live in the moment.

Cesar – People often wonder how I get such quick results with the dogs I rehabilitate. The answer is simple: Dogs live in the moment. They don’t regret the past or worry about the future.

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That is so key. When we live in regret of the past or fear of the future we forfeit the potential joy of today. The Psalmist encouraged that very idea.

This is the day the LORD has made;
       let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118, NIV)

Nurture a balanced life.

Cesar – I tell my clients to follow this simple rule with their dogs: Offer exercise, discipline, and affection every day. Do the same for yourself. We humans are happier if our routines include physical activity, a sense of structure, and the opportunity to give and receive love on a daily basis.

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Hmmm. I tell my clients (my tens of readers) almost everyday to live a balanced life as well. Love God everyday and allow Him to love you back. Am I the “Bad Christian Whisperer”? Can I do a TV Show where I rehabilitate anxious and poorly behaving Christians? Can I take a muzzle if I do?

Trust your instincts.

Cesar – Animals don’t care about words. They recognize that what’s really going on in any interaction is beneath the surface. Many of us have lost touch with this all-important instinctual part of our natures. By paying attention to nonverbal cues such as body language and energy, we can learn more about our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves.

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Unbelievers don’t care about words either. For followers of Jesus the old saying that “actions speak louder than words” is often tragically true. On this point I would suggest we can only trust the Spirit of God to live in a way that communicates with both word and deed. When you trust the Holy Spirit you are free to trust your instincts.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5, NIV)

Be direct and consistent in your communication.

Cesar – Many of my clients only intermittently enforce rules, leaving their pets confused about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Great relationships, no matter the species, begin with clear and consistent communication.

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God has been teaching me a lot in this area. I am trying to always communicate with both grace and truth. I love that Jesus is described by the Apostle John as being full of grace and truth. I suspect grace comes first because we have a far harder time communicating with grace. I am usually willing to be “honest” and tell you where you are wrong. Doing that with grace and truth requires me to love you and be vulnerable. It is much easier just to whack you with the rolled up newspaper of judgment.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4, NIV)

Learn to listen.

Cesar – Make the time to lend an ear to those you love or those who want to transform their lives. But don’t try to fix their problems, and don’t take their problems personally, either. A great leader is also a great follower and knows that everybody counts.

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Right on Cesar. Learn to listen. Be willing to walk alongside those in need. Don’t interrupt to give out prescription verses. Living the real Christian life with others is messy. But incredibly rewarding.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… (James 1, NIV)

Don’t hold grudges.

Cesar – There’s a remarkable lack of conflict in dog packs.  That’s because members resolve the situation when disagreements arise, then move on. Imagine what our world would be like if we dealt with our conflicts before they escalated out of control. Holding onto negative feelings tends to make them multiply and prevent us from moving forward.

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This may be the biggest difference between dog packs and congregation packs. There is too often a remarkable amount of conflict in our body of believers. And the reason is that members too often don’t resolve the situation. We get angry and hurt and move on without resolving the conflict. Unresolved sin is buried alive and it come back at surprising moments. A follower of Jesus who does not forgive has forgotten how much he or she has been forgiven. So “shake off” your differences and resolve them.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12, NIV)

Live with purpose.

Cesar – When dogs are bored, they develop issues ranging from anxiety to aggression. But when given a job and a way to contribute to the pack’s well-being, they turn around almost immediately.

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Followers of Jesus are no different. We are called to a purpose. Anything that does not contribute the pack’s well being (I rather like that description of the church) should be prayerfully reevaluated.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  (Philippians 2, NIV)

Celebrate every day.

Cesar – For a dog, every morning is Christmas morning. Every walk is the best walk, every meal is the best meal, every game is the best game. We can learn so much by observing the way our pets rejoice in life’s simplest moments. Take time every day to celebrate the many gifts that are hidden in the ordinary events of your own life.

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I am so convicted by Hannah. As I write this she is rolling on her back with a chew toy and loving life. If I can take a moment to count how blessed I am today I can celebrate as well. There is joy in the mundane events of life. Ask the Spirit of God to reveal that to you today. There is sacred in the routine. Ask the Spirit of God to show you that each day.

As for me, I am going to take my spiritual mentor for a walk.

Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.