Heel, Fido! God’s Obedience Training

By Donna Lee Schillinger

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from her.
Proverbs 22:15

Last summer money was tight around the Schillinger household – we were building a deck and converting our basement into an entertainment room, and therefore, we had no money to take a vacation. So we decided instead to take a long weekend in Tulsa, only a few hours away from our home. But we didn’t even have enough money to do that. We needed to have a garage sale or something.

One day, I overheard a conversation about the nation’s longest/largest garage sale “Bargains Galore on 64.” For three days in August, on an approximately 150-mile stretch of Highway 64, there is one huge garage sale. People from all over the south come to Arkansas for this event. In years past, we’d always been on vacation during that week in August and had not personally experienced Bargains Galore. From what I overheard, a person could make a lot of money in those three days.

The light went on for me and I really felt as though my proximity to that conversation had been divine appointment and that God was saying to me, “You need money for vacation, here it is. Just work this three-day garage sale and you can pay for your vacation.”

The more I got into planning our participation in this huge sale, the bigger the plans became. I invited my family and friends to give me some of their things to sell, with the understanding that we would peddle their wares and take 10 percent for our efforts. That’s actually quite generous, but it seemed to me the right thing to do. Not only were we going to raise enough money to pay for our vacation, we’d help some others earn some cash too! Additionally, I wanted to sell lemonade and ice cream. Arkansas in August – who wouldn’t want a lemonade or ice cream! Especially when the temperatures were in the hundreds!

In theory, a lot of people garage-saling in hundred-degree weather would welcome an ice cream or lemonade. The flaw in my projections was that not a lot of people go garage-saling in hundred-degree weather. Add to that a sudden surge in the price of gas, putting it at record highs for this country and, well, a lot of people who might have looked for bargains galore on 64 decided they’d rather stay in their comfortable, air-conditioned homes and save the gas money. They decided they could live without someone else’s junk – how prudent of them!

I didn’t see it coming! I had no idea as I was heavily investing in supplies to serve ice cream and lemonade to hundreds of people; I had no idea as we spent days preparing our junk for sale; I had no idea as my husband decided he would have to spend three nights in the bed of our pick-up truck to keep watch over our things at night. Even after the first extremely discouraging day in which I felt nauseous from the heat, I had no idea that at the end of the three-day torture, we would have made just enough profit to order a pizza – which was good because our house was a disaster zone with no food and I had no energies left to cook a meal. So we had pizza! We still have Styrofoam cups left over from lemonade sales (or lack thereof) – even after donating a bunch to our church. And we still have chopped pecans, which I now know very few people like to sprinkle on ice cream.

My bright idea was a blessing for those people who had to do nothing more than give us their stuff to sell, like my mom and sister. We sold a fair amount of other people’s things and passed on 90 percent, as promised. But besides that little good it did for others, there was no obvious benefit to that exercise in obedience. I was bewildered: “God, I heard you tell me to do this. I asked you several times to make sure I was on the right track. You told me to sell stuff for others. It was supposed to be an answer to our need for vacation funds!”

I didn’t understand. For a long time, I didn’t get it. It seemed like nothing more than a humiliating miscalculation on my part and finally, something for my husband to hold over my head!

The Bible speaks a lot about discipline and I believe we often too narrowly interpret that to apply to correction for wrong deeds or training of children. Discipline doesn’t stop at age 18. In fact, it becomes more important.

Physical discipline takes the form of getting up early even when I don’t want to, eating right when I’d rather eat wrong, taking vitamins, the benefits of which I may not realize for decades, and exercising when I would rather be reading or laying in the hammock.

Spiritual discipline is sometimes harder to recognize. I know that carving out time each day to read God’s handbook on life and discuss it with Him is an exercise in discipline. Resisting temptation takes discipline as well. I have to discipline my mind not to spend time in anxiety, worry, negative fantasy or even positive fantasy to the neglect of work. Yet there’s another huge aspect of spiritual discipline that is not so clear cut: discipline through obedience to God.

I want to do my Heavenly Father’s will. I try really hard to look for the signs (which He instructs us so often in His word to do) and listen for the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I think I hear God telling me to do something that is a little questionable, risky, seems off target with my goals or like a waste of time. I can hardly believe it’s God telling me to do it, but it doesn’t go away. Things keep coming along to reinforce God’s bidding that I should do this thing. And so I do it and then, as if I were right to be suspicious about it all along, nothing happens. I see no positive result from my follow-through and sometimes the results are a big negative – like Bargains Galore on 64.

Though the memory still burns in my mind, I did learn a lot from the experience. I learned that you can’t keep ice cream cold in summer with regular ice; it takes dry ice. I learned that selling stuff second hand is not profitable – a conclusion I drew from extensive interviews with other vendors as well as a compilation of other sour experiences with consignment and garage sales. I learned that people will simply not even look at heavy wool sweaters when the temperature is above 90 degrees. Highly useful lessons? Hardly.

To this day, I still am not sure what all that was about. Why did it happen the way it did? Why would God lead me to do something that turned out to be such a flop? I recalled a time or two before, coincidentally in August, when I had what I thought were good ideas that turned out to be real pains. Maybe the point of all of this is that I should not follow through on any unusual ideas that occur to me in the month of August. I just don’t know.

Then one day God revealed to me that perhaps I was just learning to obey. That was a huge concept. I imagined myself a puppy in obedience school. If dogs have any such thoughts, I’m sure more than one puppy has asked herself, “What is the point of all this sitting and heeling and going to the bathroom in one particular place?” The puppy doesn’t get it and might never understand why it’s important to us, as puppy’s master, that she walk right beside us on the path. We know that we don’t want her to dart off and chase a squirrel and get hit by a car. But she will never understand that. She just sees a squirrel that she wants to chase but can’t because she hears, “Heel!” She must think “But why? Every time I see a squirrel, I have to heel. Why? Why!”

I know that obedience for my dogs and my children is important for reasons they don’t understand. Therefore, I can logically conclude that my own obedience training is also for my good in ways I don’t understand.

The whole goal of obedience training is to respond quickly and appropriately in crucial moments. Yet it takes a lot of practice responding in noncrucial moments to be ready to respond correctly in a crucial moment. This is the theory behind military training, martial arts and fire drills! And it’s an important part of my overall discipline – even though I may not know what I’m training for.

There may have been some profit from that garage-sale debacle after all – a worthwhile lesson on obedience.

Hold this thought: I trust there is a point to my obedience training!

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