His Master’s Voice


The RCA logo of “His Master’s Voice” has long been one of my favorite images. In 1899, the then named Gramaphone Company acquired the image, originally from a painting done by the English artist, Francis Barraud.

According to publicity information, the dog, Nipper, once belonged to Barraud’s brother Mark. When Mark died, Francis inherited the dog; he also acquires a cylinder phonograph, with numerous recordings of Mark’s voice. Nipper, apparently, was quite interested in these recordings, responding to his master’s voice. Hence, the image of the adorable fox terrier cocking his ear to the phonograph’s speaker was captured on canvas and then later adapted in RCA logo form.

“Master.” It’s a hot button word. What do we think of when we hear it? Is it an oppressive association? According to its definition, it means…

“somebody or something controlling or influencing events or other things.”

Yeah, that definition doesn’t seem to make us jump up and down with enthusiasm.

Let’s face it, we still want to run the show- our way. We may say we follow a spiritual path of recovery in theory, but, with regard to our feelings, we want to be our own masters.

Yet, for those of us struggling with addictions, disorders and compulsions, this desire is often a far cry from reality. If anything, the master involved is our chosen vice, be it substance, behavior or relationship. Madonna’s song lyrics for “Voices” hammers home that dysfunctional master principle…

“Are you walking the dog? ‘Cause that dog isn’t new. Are you out of control? Is that dog walking you? Who is the master? Who is the slave?”

Yes, the master/slave relationship we have to our drug of choice usually gets us into trouble. We get confused and distracted. At first, we believe we have a handle on the situation. At first, yes, perhaps we’re calling the shots.

However, somewhere down the line, we experience a radically different reality. The recreational drug, the occasional binge or the guilty pleasure starts encroaching on our lives. It disrupts relationships, goals and our health. We start depending on and exalting it. We get enticed by it. And yes, that enticement eventually brings destruction.

“But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

It may not seem obvious at first. In fact, we may even think our way is working. We believe we have found our coping strategy, our identity, our solution and our answer in whatever we’ve chosen to focus on.

Something is calling our name and our loyalty. Something is our master. What is it?

It’s no wonder we are confronted with the master/slave reality in the first few steps …

We admitted we were powerless over a substance or behavior – our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Thankfully, God remembers “we are but dust” (Psalms 103:14). He knows that, left to ourselves, we will only head toward calamity. And He has different thoughts and plans for us…

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right hand, and whenever turn to the left.’” Isaiah 30:21

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a challenging call sent out on Divine gramophone, should we choose to accept it.

And yes, living out the commitment to trust and follow God is a challenge. There are so many distractions competing for our attention, all masquerading themselves to be much more attractive delights. They are often alluring and have loud voices.

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34

And, because of that situation, along with our defensive attitudes towards surrendering our distorted master concept, we often say no, where we should say yes.

“…Have ye your heart yet hardened?” Mark 8:17

They don’t call ‘em heart issues for nothing.

Nevertheless, God is not some egomaniacal Debbie Downer; rather, He is our first love. He’s programmed every heart. The pull which exists within us to give ourselves and our strength to something, with ferocious dedication stems from that intrinsic need of relationship with God, not enslavement to our faulty and harmful God substitutes.

So, let’s take our cue from Nipper.

Underneath every layer of every addiction, choice and folly, there still is God’s voice calling to us. It’s up to us to respond to it.