Being a dog owner now for fifteen years, and having owned four during that time, I pride myself on not necessarily being a dog expert, but at least knowing more than the casual dog owner. For example, I can discern the different woofs that my dogs make at the window during the day, understanding the subtle differences between barks for a stranger, barks for a friend, and barks for a squirrel. Additionally, I noticed that, for the most part, dogs (and most likely just about all other animals) lack an ability to make an informed decision regarding any issue in their lives. For example, it’s early morning when the entire house is still asleep, and one of my dogs decides to not only start scratching his ear, but also to do so in a fashion where his foot violently and loudly hits the floor right in front of my son’s open bedroom door. I pop my head up from my pillow and shout his name, and the look he gives me reveals that he has no idea what the ramifications of his actions are, and wonders what my problem is. Another example is when one of my other dogs decides to lay down on the hardwood floor, she doesn’t gently ease herself down. Instead, she throws herself head first, making an enormous “thunk” as head and wood meet, an action that most likely causes immense pain and headaches. She probably wonders why her head hurts every time she decides to lay down. Many might argue that what separates us from the animals is opposable thumbs, the ability to use utensils, or the desire to use the bathroom privately. I suggest that what separates us is discernment and the ability to consider consequences. Often times, when faced with decisions, we tend to weigh what factors should be considered, what might happen as a result, what past practice has shown, etc. We develop an informed decision, a skill that I can only assume is God-given as the Bible is rife with examples of everyday individuals faced with difficult decisions (Abraham and Isaac, Solomon, Moses), who very carefully come up with a solution that is both wise and adhering to God’s plan. Since we are imbued with this ability, God must have a plan for us to use it properly. Philippians 1.9-10 reveals that plan: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” As suggested by this verse, our decision-making process should be rooted in love, knowledge, and insight (what we feel, what we know, and what we believe) so that we may choose that which brings us closer to Him. So if the process is so clear, what ends up clouding our judgement? Perhaps it’s found in a lack of balance between these three factors, love, insight, and belief. Our emotions might get in the way of seeing the truth. Or maybe something we believe drives us more than what we know for sure. Or perhaps what we know makes us doubt our beliefs. What causes the imbalance in these three is our sinful nature, the idea that our human flesh influences one more than the other two. The only way to escape this imbalance during a time of decision-making is to withdraw from this world, seek Him in prayer and meditation, and allow God to speak to you regarding what the answer is. This way, you have decreased and possibly eliminated the pull that the flesh has over these three areas, thus giving you sound judgement. If we seek Him during this time, we can then raise ourselves above this world, putting to rest our animal instincts. Amen.