Pause for thought
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I have long been intrigued by what makes people be attracted to hardship when easier, cushier options are readily available. For example. Olympic athletes will put in countless hours of effort and sacrifice innumerable opportunities for other pleasures just for an opportunity to compete that only comes around once in every four years. The reality of their situation is that they are unlikely to be crowned Olympic Champion, but the reward of having participated seems to be reward enough to inspire endurance and repeated self-sacrifice.

There are countless examples throughout history of heroes choosing the path of hardship and adversity when capitulation or surrender would be easier and safer. Great leaders often employ unvarnished honesty about the apparent futility of the circumstances facing them to rally forces to their cause. Witness Sir Winston Churchill’s famous offering in the darkest hour of World War Two, “…I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat…”. Far from depressing his forces, this proclamation became an inspiration to concentrate on eventual victory rather than short-term comfort and/or danger.

Down through the years many have been attracted to a monastic life of simplicity, poverty and hardship to free their minds and spirits of the distractions of comfort and pleasure.

I have often asked why it is that the religion of Islam continues to attract followers when most of its practices are inconvenient, at best, and almost suicidal at worst! And yet old and young alike are attracted to the intellectual honesty of the difficulties involved.

Despite the blatant dishonesty of those preaching a “prosperity” gospel, any reading of the teachings of Jesus will understand the he never sugar-coated the struggles and opposition facing his followers.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT

Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.” Matthew 24:9 NLT

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 NLT

His hearers certainly understood that the only reason for picking up a cross in their lives was to carry it to their place of execution by the Roman authorities! Of course, Jesus never asked his followers to do something he wasn’t prepared to do himself:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

So a Jesus-follower should have no illusions about the difficulty of being a disciple!

But Jesus did give us instruction for how to behave in addition to just imitating his behavior in similar circumstances:

I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16 NLT

Forewarned is forearmed!

Jesus’ simile is vivid, we are like lambs in the middle of a wolf-pack! Our defense in such a situation certainly cannot be to try and out-wolf the wolves! They will certainly be attracted to us a prey, Aggression won’t work! We will have to be smart! There is safety in numbers! Stay away from where the wolves are strongest!

The second simile Jesus uses is that of snakes and doves. Here Jesus is not alluding to the Garden-of-Eden serpent, but the common belief that snakes were wise and wily. They knew which environments were hostile and used that knowledge to protect themselves. They were never reckless and easy victims.

The apostle Paul gives us an example of modeling the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–23; 23:6–8).

In Matthew 10:16, I think Jesus is teaching us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the snake. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road.

In his letter to the Church the Apostle Peter instructs us:

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” 1 Peter 2:12 NLT.

If you find yourself living comfortably at peace with this world it might be time to re-examine your relationship with Jesus. Imagining world peace means something different to a Jesus follower than to someone who is not. Jesus certainly is the Prince of Peace, but as he himself pointed out —

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 NLT

Jesus’ peace is of a different kind and not anything the world can give.

So let’s go spread the message of his love for all, but let’s be careful out there! Be snake smart and dove gentle!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at