“Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” Ecclesiastes 9:4 (NIV)
This evocative image struck me a couple of weeks ago when I heard a sermon preached on this text. The illustration of a living dog standing next to a deceased lion is at once poignant and surprising. Say the word “Lion” and it conjures up pictures of Africa, of terror, of carnage and power, of Narnia and lordship. There are few things in this world that compare to the awesome majesty and brute strength of a lion.
Then we have the dog. While some dog species grow to be fearsome creatures, most are of the fluffy, adorable, small-to-medium-sized variety. I hear “Dog” and I first think of pets and companions. I think of loyalty, devotion and constancy. I think of cute puppies and bundles of energy. These are not terrifying creatures to me; they are memories of my childhood pets, of dog-walking, of baths and cuddles. It is not exactly a picture of fierce domination.
There is another major distinction between these two animals. One of them is living and one is dead.
These animals can be likened to our churches, ministries and programs. Some churches have great programs and a solid reputation – but they are devoid of life. They do the same thing over and over, week after week, year after year.
These churches are often run more like a business than a family. Projects are prioritised over people, resulting in burnout and high turnover. The services are slick but people leave unchanged by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such churches are dead lions – impressive only in appearance.
Then we have other churches who may be smaller in size and stature, but they are alive. They have a sense of freshness and expectation about the place. There is evidence that God is working deeply in His people. There is growth happening in people’s hearts, maybe not with respect to in church numbers, but that is ok because even a puppy can grow bigger with time and care.
There are churches that lie all along the spectrum of live-dog/dead-lion. Perhaps your church is more like a puppy – just starting out – but undoubtably alive. Perhaps your church used to be a roaring lion, but now is growing old and beginning to die. Perhaps your church is on life support.
When we find ourselves in such a church, we can take action. We can pray for God to pour fresh life into our congregation. We can pray for a new work of the Holy Spirit to begin in us. We can be willing to carry that freshness into our churches, to be a human flame for God. Who knows – God may use our faithfulness to do something new in our church.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be in a church that is living and breathing. It might be a powerful lion or a fragile newborn puppy, but it must be alive with the presence of God. That is what the church needs. That is what our dying and tumultuous world sorely needs.
After all, even a puppy that breathes is better than a lion that does not.
Is your church more like a live dog or a dead lion? Where does your church need a fresh touch of God?