If you say, “Turn back to God? But I never left.”
Are you sure?
Let me tell you a story.
There was once a man and a puppy. The man loved his puppy with his whole heart, and she loved him in return. He took care of all her needs: a comfortable bed, the best food, plenty of water, and lots of fun toys. He was quick to take care of any physical ailments, and spent many hours playing with, grooming, and cuddling her.
The only thing he asked for in return was her undivided love, and for her to stay in the yard he prepared for her, which would protect her from danger, and would also keep her from becoming separated from him. She happily agreed because the yard was beautiful and contained everything she needed.
Every time she heard her master coming to spend time with her, she would run from wherever she was and jump into his arms, kissing him with her puppy tongue, and wagging her tail so hard her whole body wagged right along with it. He would laugh and hug her tight, and then put her down to start their favorite game of chase. It was a great relationship which they both treasured.
One day while he was away, she noticed some loose boards in the fence. Curious, she pushed on them and found that she was able to peek into the next yard. She couldn’t see much, but she could hear excited barks. She pushed on one of the boards a little harder, and was able to make out a group of puppies chasing each other. That looked like fun, and she wanted to join in, but she remembered that her master wanted her to stay in the yard he made for her. So she resisted the temptation to call out to them and just watched them instead. Day after day, when the man was away, she would sit with her face framed between the loose boards, and watch. Eventually the other puppies noticed her.
“Hey, would you like to play with us?”
“I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m not supposed to leave my yard.”
“Why not?” asked a tan puppy with black spots.
“My master says it’s not safe.”
“That’s just dumb,” said a scruffy brown puppy. “We’re here every day and nothing has happened to us.”
“Yeah, your master sounds too strict,” chimed in another scruffy puppy, this one white.
“But he loves me and wants what’s best for me.”
The tan puppy ran closer to her. “Really? Then there’s no problem. He wants you to be happy, right?”
“Would you be happy playing with us?”
“Yes, I think so. It looks fun.”
“Then what’s wrong with having a little fun with us? Your master will be glad that you’re happy. Besides, he’s not home. He won’t even know.”
She frowned. Something didn’t sound right about this, but the tan puppy made sense. “Okay, but just for a little while.”
The other puppies barked excitedly, welcoming her as she pushed past the loose boards.
Looking around, she immediately noticed this yard wasn’t as beautiful as her yard. It was dirtier, and crowded with all kinds of things. Some looked nice enough, like the wading pool, colorful balls, and yummy smelling chew toys. But others, like the thick chains, dirty muzzles, and rusty cages, were kind of threatening. “Don’t worry about those,” they assured her. “Just play with what you want.” So she did, and found being there as much fun as it had looked. Chasing the other puppies, fighting over toys, splashing in the muddy puddles, and barking at nothing were all amazingly entertaining. When she got tired, she rested under the tall, spreading trees. When she was thirsty, she drank from the community water bowl, gradually getting used to the taste of the discolored water. And when she got hungry, she shared the synthetic food the others ate. Eventually she began to worry about the time.
“I think I need to go now.”
“Sure, thanks for joining us. Will you come back tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” she said as she slipped back into her yard.
When the man arrived, she wasn’t quite as eager to greet him. A sense of guilt interfered with the joy she normally felt. Would he know that she had not stayed where he told her? But he didn’t say anything so she put the feeling behind her as they began their daily game of chase. Usually he chased her first. As soon as he touched her, he would run off, laughing and calling to her as she chased after him. It usually didn’t take long for her to catch him, and then they would roll around on the ground with lots of delighted laughter and happy barks. But this day was different. For some reason she could never get quite close enough to catch him.
The next day she couldn’t resist the urge to join her new friends again. The fun was just as intoxicating, and again the man didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he wouldn’t have to know. Or maybe the other puppies were right. Maybe he didn’t care where she went as long as she was happy. So as the weeks went by, she not only joined them each day but arrived earlier and stayed later until she was spending most of her time over there.
Without being aware of it, her joy in her own yard slowly faded. She still loved her master, but found her new friends and their yard much more enticing. The more she played with them, the more she wanted to be with them. Chasing and digging and barking filled her days, and she returned to her yard guilty and exhausted each evening. Her run-and-jump into the man’s arms was replaced with a crawl, sometimes even reluctantly when she was especially tired. She still enjoyed her time with him, but sometimes had trouble staying focused on him as the thoughts of the other yard filled her mind. She still ate her good food, but it became more of snack because the cheap food kept her stomach full. And the more of the dirty water she drank, the less thirsty she was for her own clean water.
The man saw the difference – in her attitude, in her lack of cleanliness, and in her health as slowly the unhealthy food and water took its toll. He knew she had been leaving the yard, but he had been waiting for her to realize the consequences weren’t worth the disobedience. And he was hoping her love for him, and his love for her, would be stronger than the pull of the other yard. But one day he couldn’t wait any longer.
“Where have you been going?”
“Nowhere,” she lied, looking away from him.
He shook his head sadly. “Don’t you know that the filth of that other yard, the filth that now covers you, separates us?”
Convicted, she whispered, “I’m sorry. I won’t go back. I don’t want to be separated from you. Please clean me up.”
He did, and their relationship was restored. But the pull of the other yard was strong, as were the voices of the puppies calling to her. So again and again, she continued to leave her yard to join them in theirs. And again and again her master cleaned her when she asked. Eventually though, she came to think like the other puppies. “My master will always be there. He loves me and will always forgive me. So what’s wrong with having a little fun?”
Now for the big question… did that puppy turn away from her master?”
And for an even bigger question… have you turned away from your Master? I know I have. We all have. It’s just a degree of how far into that other yard we’ve gone.
God’s calling us to come back. Can you hear Him?
Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (emphasis mine)
James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1 Peter 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.