As I observe how my sweet little dog, Sophie, relates to me, she continues to be a model of what my relationship to Christ should be, though in a limited sense, of course. But the Lord created these animals and puts them before us for many different reasons. Jesus as the Good Shepherd over His sheep, has provided another picture of what we are like (stubborn sheep) in relation to Him (our faithful, protective overseer).
Sophie has an adverse allergy to fleas. Though we do all that is possible to keep fleas off of her, once in a while she gets one from being outside in the backyard. Now the flea doesn't even have to bite her to cause her a great deal of grief. Hers is a contact allergy. As soon as the flea is present, she begins to itch and scratch furiously.
Because of this, once in a while we must put a protective cone around Sophie's neck and head. This restricts her from biting and chewing on herself. In the past she has injured herself in an effort to relieve the itching. The funny thing about this is that though she looks so pitiful with the cone on her head, she really likes the thing. Whenever I need to put it on her, she willingly submits to me and even likes to wear it.
In fact, the other day Sophie did something that Robert and I thought was quite remarkable. She was wearing the cone and had gone outside to the backyard (she comes and goes through a doggie port in our bedroom door). While she was out, the cone popped open and fell off in the bushes somewhere. Robert or I usually retrieve the thing when this happens, but since it was raining out and since the cone is plastic and would not be damaged by the weather, we opted to get it once the rain had stopped. Sophie was doing alright without it by this time anyway.
Several days later, before the rain cleared up, we found the cone on our bedroom floor. Obviously it had not been there long since it was wet with rain. I had been in and out of the room all afternoon and had not tripped over it as it was right in front of the door. Robert spotted it and said, "Where did you find the cone?" I told him that I hadn't found or even looked for it. He then showed it to me - right there on the floor.
How did it get there? Sophie brought it in. That was the only explanation. She does that with her toys also, which isn't so surprising. But the cone? We were amazed and very amused.
By now I'm guessing that you are seeing the implications. The Lord puts certain restrictions on us to protect us. He is very personal about this with each one of His children. Perhaps I cannot do something that you have the freedom to do because it might be a temptation for me to sin.
We have a friend who cannot play the game of darts. He becomes very competitive and gets angry if he loses. Rather than continuing to be put in temptation's way, he decided just to give up the game of darts. That's the kind of restriction I'm thinking of. Of course, you can probably think of some other kind of restriction.
The apostle Paul had what he called "a thorn in the flesh". This was some kind of physical irritant that caused him a great deal of discomfort so that he asked the Lord three times to remove it. But God put it on him to keep him from the sin of pride. He had seen such glorious revelations from the Lord. He said, "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself!" (2 Corinthians 12:7). This is another type of restiction that the Lord uses to keep us from sin - an actual physical distress.
The point is, how do we respond to the restrictions that God puts upon us? Do we grumble and complain? Do we fight against that divine caveat? Or do we thank Him for protecting us against our own destructive sin nature? If God were to lift the restriction would we jump for joy, knowing that we are still actually in need of that limitation? Would we then take advantage of that freedom to do the very thing that God meant to prevent?
I have no doubt what I would do in such a case. My heart is wicked beyond my knowing and I dare not trust it by thinking that I have matured beyond that original sinful inclination. I must learn to do what Sophie has - to welcome the restriction and even ask that it not be removed, knowing what my heart is capable of.
That is what the apostle Paul did. The Lord denied his pleas that the restriction be removed and told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
And just look how Paul rejoiced over the Lord's denial of the removal of this restriction, "Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."