“We don’t care what they look like.” The trainer made this statement as she took our small group on a summer tour of the training facility for Alaskan sled dogs near Denali. “The pure white Siberian dogs may be featured in the movies, but we don’t care if these Alaskan dogs are black, white, gray, tan, or any combination of those colors. It doesn’t matter if they have blue eyes, black eyes, or one of each. Either ear might stand up, or lay down. We are not concerned about size- large dogs can be fast, and the smaller dogs can still be powerful.”
By now she really had my attention. What attributes were they looking for in the dogs? I knew that sled races were a very popular sport in Alaska, and in fact, the trainer kept referring to the dogs as elite athletes. She went on to say that Alaska has so few roads relative to the size of the state, that these dogs were still a major means of transportation for moving people and goods around in wilderness areas. They were very much a working dog, bred for speed and power. But even speed and power were not the sole criteria for a good Alaskan sled dog.
“In addition to speed and power, we look for large feet”, she said. This big foundation lends to a greater stability under harsh conditions, such as ice and snow. The dog is better able to stay on top of the adverse conditions, rather than sink into them.
“We look for a social factor in the dog”. She explained that the dog must get along well with other dogs on the team, and be willing to be a part of the team. Anything that was accomplished would be accomplished by the team, not by any one individual dog. The dog must be a loyal and trusted friend of the owner/driver, as the two would rely on each other for affection and companionship.
“The dog must have a huge appetite”, she said. This is not only an indication that the dog is healthy, but that the dog appreciates what it has been given to eat. Food must be devoured rapidly. Fresh meat will freeze on the ground if the dog is a picky eater. The dogs are well fed, but imagine the problems if every dog had to have something different to eat.
“Finally”, she said, “we look for a certain attitude from the dogs- are they eager to do what they were born to do?” By now, we were walking around the dog kennels, petting some of the dogs, and taking pictures. The dogs were friendly, taking advantage of all the attention being paid to them. Some were sitting as though to pose, others were lying down, and some were stretched out on the roofs of their kennels, being lazy and enjoying a bit of summer sun.
“Time for a demonstration”, she announced. On cue, her assistant walked into the kennel compound with a sled harness. It was time to run. The summer training sled had wheels, and the track was gravel. No snow, but the dogs went wild. Of the twenty or so dogs in the facility, only six would comprise the team. They all stood to attention, jumped down off the roofs, and began to leap back and forth, barking and howling at the top of their lungs the entire time. They strained against the tether chains. The whole group of dogs went from lazy to crazy in an instant, and did everything in their power to say “pick me, I can do it. I want to run.” What an attitude, I thought to myself. I could not remember getting that excited about being picked for an assignment.
“Maybe the factor that best characterizes the attitude of these dogs is heart”, she said. The dog was bred to run, but when the time came, how eager is the dog to run, and be a part of a team? How stable is the dog in adverse conditions? How is the appetite- how eager is the dog to eat? Does it appreciate what it has been given? How much affection does the dog have for the other dogs, and the owner? A dog that would rather fight the other dogs and the owner would not last long in these tough winter conditions.
By now I am really impressed with the spirit of these dogs. It was apparent that what was on the inside of the dog, the heart and character of the dog, was what was really important. There is more I learned about these dogs, and will later write about such things as leadership and team work. For now I am impressed with the importance of not being fooled by the appearance.
Samuel, the wise and adept prophet, was given the assignment from God to go to Jesse’s house, and find from among his sons the new king of Israel. In 1 Samuel 16, we learn that after Samuel traveled to Bethlehem, he consecrated Jesse and seven of his sons, sacrificed a heifer, and then began to look over the sons. He saw Eliab, Jesse’s oldest, and thought (v.6) “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands right here before the Lord.”
Continuing in v.7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Samuel was reminded not to go by appearance. He continued the process until he had looked at all seven of the sons. Finding no king, Samuel asked if these were all the sons. Jesse called for the youngest, David, who was in the field tending sheep. Though not initially considered for the position of king by man, the Lord said (v.12) “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
Consider also these Scriptures:
- 1 Kings 8:39- Solomon prayed “deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men)”.
- 1 Chronicles 28:9- David said “the Lord searches every heart, and understands every motive behind the thoughts.”
- Luke 16:15- Jesus said to the Pharisees “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”
- John 2:25- John wrote of Jesus “He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.”
These Scriptures, and the lessons from the Alaskan sled dogs, made me think about the old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” One can only judge a book by its content, and a person can only be rightly judged by their heart. God alone knows the heart, so we are not to judge anyone. He knows our heart, the good and the bad, and He loves us anyway. Before forming even an opinion of anyone, we must make every effort to know their heart, as much as is possible. All of the superficial qualifiers promoted by advertising fall way short of being helpful. Hollywood beauty, Wall Street money, the number and type of credit cards, the style of car, the neighborhood and size of house, the height, the weight, and the clothes they wear tell us nothing about the person’s content or heart. In fact, nothing of the physical appearance speaks to the content of the heart, nor does social status, title, occupation or position. Now that my wife and I are retired, we are around more retired people, and it is refreshing to see how relatively unimportant it is to know what someone once did. What is important is who you are.
It’s the difference between knowing something about someone, and actually knowing them so well we know their heart. Come to think of it, that is what God wants from us. Many have rejected Him when they don’t even know Him. He invites us to really know Him, not make a judgment based on a few things we may know about Him. What we know about Him from a book (the Bible) is good, but knowing His heart from a personal relationship is so much better. He longs for relationship with us. He is a solid, willing, and trustworthy foundation on which we can build, and He will keep us from sinking under adverse conditions. Get to know Him; in His heart is an undying love for all His children. Looks don’t matter.