Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. — Matthew 10:16
When I was growing up, we had a lot of snakes in the countryside where we lived, and many of my young friends thought it was fun to search for and collect snakes. Because I was a typical little boy, I joined the rest of my friends in their pursuit of snakes. This firsthand experience taught me quite a lot about the behavior of snakes and later enabled me to have a deeper appreciation for what Jesus meant when He said, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
In this verse, Jesus commanded His disciples (and us) to be “wise as serpents.” The word “wise” is the Greek word pronimos, which means prudent, careful, cunning, discerning, thoughtful, intelligent, or sensible. This word perfectly depicts the behavior and actions of snakes. They are very careful, discerning, intelligent, and prudent in how they act. The Greek word for “serpent” is the word ophis, which is the normal Greek word that refers to a snake.
It is a fact that Jesus told us that we need to be “wise as serpents”! The Greek literally means we need to be as prudent, discerning, intelligent, thoughtful, and careful as snakes! There is obviously something Jesus wanted us to learn from the behavior of snakes, so I took the time to ponder this subject. Finally, I understood exactly why Jesus used this example and how it applies to all of us regarding our families, businesses, ministries, or any opportunity God places before us in life.
If you are squeamish about serpents and snakes, stay with me for the next few moments so you can get the full impact of what Jesus was telling us. Remember, Jesus is the One who chose to use a serpent to make this point. So let’s consider the behavior of serpents for a moment and see how this relates to us being “wise” in the way we live our lives and conduct our ministry or business.
First, when serpents first move into a new territory, they don’t announce their presence. Instead, they lay low, stay quiet, and blend into the environment. In fact, you can walk right past a snake and not even realize it! Snakes have the ability to be nearly invisible. They are designed to be camouflaged.
This camouflage serves as a protective covering. The vilest aggressor can walk right past, but the serpent is not noticed because it has blended so well into the landscape. That camouflage gives the serpent latitude to move about freely as it finds its way around new territory.
As snakes evaluate a new situation, they see what kind of opportunities are in the area. They identify places of shelter. They find “hiding places” to protect themselves from attack. They observe to see where they can find the easiest prey. When all these facts are assimilated, the serpent is ready to act. But this “settling-in” period is a key time for a serpent. And Jesus said there is wisdom in a serpent’s behavior from which we need to learn!
When God calls you or me to do something new — to move to new territory or to seize a divine opportunity — it is wisdom for us to move carefully and slowly into that new phase of our lives. A common mistake is to act too fast. Acting hastily before all the facts are gathered and assimilated can lead us to make erroneous decisions. In fact, one serious mistake can cause us to lose an opportunity altogether. It is better to lay low, stay quiet, and blend into the environment for a while, learning from the sights and the facts we observe.
Let me give you an example. When Denise and I first moved to the former USSR, we took time to learn the customs and culture of the new territory. We knew it would take time to understand everything we would see and experience, so we moved very slowly and carefully. Although we immediately saw opportunities, we decided to first watch and gain as much knowledge as possible about the circumstances we found ourselves in at that moment. Acting too quickly would have certainly meant making some bad and regrettable decisions.
In the first few months we lived there, we made little noise and our presence was hardly noticed. This allowed us the ability to move about freely and without disruption. We visited churches unannounced. We wandered in and out of different parts of the city to observe and ascertain the spiritual condition of our new environment.
Also, before I made any grand announcement that we were going to go on television, I first wanted to know something about television, and I felt that the best way to learn was to do it covertly. I had observed too many American missionaries who announced great plans that unfortunately never developed. Their ideas were great, perhaps even from God; but because these missionaries had acted before they understood the full picture, they ruined their testimony and lost a glorious opportunity.
Many missionaries were hurt because they acted too fast and got in a hurry. They were trying to take ground for the Kingdom of God in a land they knew nothing about. In reality, it was utter foolishness to start such fantastic projects without first understanding the challenges, risks, and dangers.
My wife and I knew that moving slower might take more time, but in the end such a strategy would produce more stable and serious results. We therefore made the choice to move slowly and steadily, gathering all the facts we could, analyzing the information, and then listening to what the Lord might say to us about the facts we had learned. Then and only then would we make an announcement about our plans. To make such an announcement without first taking the previous steps would have been a mistake.
Most serious mistakes are avoidable when moving to a new situation or environment. I strongly advise you to take your time and be sure of the actions you take before you ever act. I would suggest that you first:
- Learn the landscape of your new environment.
- Locate places of spiritual shelter for you and your family.
- See what kind of attacks could potentially come against you.
- Take time to really understand the opportunities around you.
- Take advantage of your preparation time before you announce great and glorious plans, making sure that you are completely informed of all the facts.
Second, serpents are wise enough to know when to seize the moment and strike! Knowing when to act is as important as knowing when to lay low. When prey passes before a serpent, that serpent knows it’s time to strike! If the snake waits too long, the opportunity will pass by and the prey will reach an irretrievable position.
So when it’s time to act, put your fears and emotions aside and seize the moment!
I have seen so many ministers and businessmen pray and pray for divine opportunities to come to them. They fast, pray, and wait for that golden moment to come — and at last, it does! A great door of opportunity stands directly in front of them. It’s time to act. But rather than seize the moment and walk through that door, they pause to pray just a little bit longer. God brought them exactly what they had been praying for, but because they paused, they lost the opportunity. When they finally got around to saying yes, it was too late.
Let me give you another personal example. In 1993, I earnestly prayed and sought God to open a way for us to start a Christian television network in the former Soviet Union. One day I received a phone call from the top directors of a national television station. They asked me to fly to their city to meet with them and talk about broadcasting our television program every week on national television. My associate and I jumped on the next available plane and went to meet this powerful group of people who were making such an exciting offer to us.
My heart was filled with anticipation. I wondered, Is this the opportunity I’ve been praying would happen? Is it really occurring? Is God answering my prayer? I had a sense that something great and awesome was about to transpire, and I could hardly wait to arrive at the meeting to hear this group’s proposal.
I had already done my homework. I had studied the statistics regarding the full reach of the television channel about to be offered. I had spoken with pastors and churches all over that nation to see what they thought of that channel. My time of “laying low and blending into the environment” had given me the knowledge I needed for the moment I stepped into that meeting with those television directors. I was equipped for this long-awaited conversation, armed with information and supported by the prayers of our partners.
As the meeting began, the directors asked me, “Would you like to broadcast your television program on the national channel and penetrate every single home in this nation?” This is exactly what I had long been praying and waiting for! The opportunity of a lifetime was sitting on the table in front of me in the form of a television contract. But I held my composure, not wanting them to know how excited I was at this chance to reach every home in the nation. I wanted to hear how much this divine door of opportunity was going to cost our ministry each month.
The cost was much more than we had imagined. But I knew it was worth the money, considering the fact that our program would be broadcast into every single home in the entire nation. When I heard the price of the broadcast time, I felt a hesitation at first, a fear that we wouldn’t be able to come up with the cash each month. Yet I knew a door had been opened before me that had never been offered to anyone else before. Only God could open such an incredible door for the Gospel. There was no doubt that He was orchestrating the entire event.
I asked for a few minutes to be alone. When the television directors stepped out of the room, I told my associate, “I don’t know where the money is going to come from to pay for this, but only God could have opened this door of opportunity. It’s going to be a miracle payment each month, but I am going to sign this contract right now before we lose this opportunity for the Gospel.”
My head and logic said, Don’t do it, but my spirit said, DO IT NOW! In my heart, I knew it was the moment to strike and seize this incredible opportunity. So a few minutes later, I picked up an ink pen and signed my name on the dotted line. National television had fallen into my hands! Our programs would now be broadcast into the homes of more than fifty million people each week!
Within days of signing that contract, politics radically changed in the nation. If I hadn’t seized the opportunity at that exact moment, I would have lost it. If I had even hesitated one week, the door would have been closed. Because we seized it at the right time, our television program was locked into a contract that the government had to honor. As a result of acting at the right time, our ministry and television program became one of the most powerful spiritual forces in that nation. Since 1993 when we first walked through that door, we have been impacting that nation with the apostolic and teaching ministry God has given us, and countless lives have been changed forever.
I thank God that I had the spiritual guts and gumption to act at the right moment. I had already prayed and prayed. But as I sat with those directors that day, I sensed that I had to seize the moment and act. It was time to strike! Through experiences like this one, the Lord has taught me that there are moments to “lay low” and there are moments “to strike fast!” Surely this is one of the points Jesus was making to us when He told us to “…be ye therefore wise as serpents…” (Matthew 10:16).
You may be asking, “But how do I know when it’s time to lay low or time to take action and seize the moment?” The Holy Spirit will lead you in these areas if you will be sensitive enough in your spirit to follow His leading. If you will take the time to get quiet and listen for His voice, He will guide you past every obstacle, camouflage you from every attack, and show you exactly when to take action in your family, your business, your church, and the ministry God has given you.
Many people are afraid to obey what the Spirit puts in their hearts to do. Fearful that they will be led astray or that they will make a mistake, they sit on the sidelines and watch other people achieve success, while they remain right where they’ve always been. Let me tell you something, friend — you can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit! If you will let the Holy Spirit become your eyes and ears, you will never fail to recognize key moments and divine opportunities for your life, family, business, or ministry.
You and I are not brilliant enough to figure out the right timing for everything by our own logic. The timing for our actions must be directed by the Holy Spirit, not by us. If we learn to depend on the Spirit’s leading, we will walk through many strategic doors at key moments. But it is imperative that we understand this: When He says “NOW!” it really means “NOW!”
I pray that you have fresh insight into what Jesus meant when He commanded us to “…be ye therefore wise as serpents….” He was giving us a powerful message, wasn’t He? So be very careful not to move too fast, and be careful also not to delay when the time is right to act. Open your heart to the Spirit of God today, and let Him begin to teach you when to lay low and when to strike!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I ask You to help me be wise, prudent, intelligent, discerning, and sensible in the way I think and act. You see everything and know exactly what is really happening, so I am leaning on You to lead me in every situation. Teach me when to sit still and when to act. You are my Leader, so I look to You to lead me and to help me do exactly what is right in each situation.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ! His mind makes me sensible, intelligent, prudent, discerning, and accurate in the way I think and behave. Because the Holy Spirit is producing the mind of Christ in my life, I make very few mistakes. In fact, I am getting better and better all the time at seeing things accurately and knowing what to do in different situations. I am careful to lay low when the Spirit says to wait, and I am bold to obey when the Spirit says to act!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you had a moment in the past when you knew an opportunity was passing before you — and you had to strike right at that moment or you’d lose the opportunity God was giving you?
2. In that instance, what did you do? Did you hesitate and lose the golden moment God was trying to drop into your hands, or did you seize the opportunity and strike? If you hesitated and lost the opportunity, have you asked the Lord to forgive you for letting fear defeat you? Have you asked Him to give you another chance?
3. Do you recognize the opportunities the Holy Spirit brings before you? What opportunity is passing in front of you right now? How are you going to respond differently now than you did before to assure that you don’t lose another God-given chance to do or to achieve something great?