“I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I am here with you.” That type of commitment is a tall order—especially in hostile environments but this became my heart’s cry: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).
Many have the misconception that sheep are not smart. While they may not be the brightest animals, they are known for their strong following instinct. When a sheep goes into a hostile environment, they are actually quite intelligent. They understand they have no real protection, save their flock instinct. As soon as a wolf comes, the natural instinct for sheep is to come together. The thought is we are more protected together than alone.
Be wise, be innocent
Many of us look at Christianity as a pursuit for protection. But it is really a fight against isolation. Sin is the very thing that isolates us. To be wise is to understand, whenever I’m in trouble I need to look for the other sheep in order to find protection. Jesus is saying in Matthew 10:16 that the call to be sheep among wolves is ultimately a call with certainty of vulnerability in the midst of persecution. Jesus is saying that if you are really with Him, persecution is a guarantee.
Our flight from vulnerability has created a lack of real power or presence anywhere outside of our protected Christian environments. We have tamed the gospel and have reduced Christianity to concerts, conferences and church services—thus minimizing the way we experience God. But we have no clue what God looks like, feels like, or even how He would have us move among wolves because we are so comfortable.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus captures the attention of His disciples asks the disciples to stop and imagine their worst nightmare coming true. He is not trying to hide the cost of following Him. Becoming shepherds would come with significant cost.
Prepare for persecution
As Americans, we don’t often have to deal persecution. Researchers vary in conclusion, but the International Society for Human Rights estimates that at least seven thousand to eight thousand Christians are killed for their faith each year. In America, this is not the case. Our greatest fear is often embarrassment, and rejection. Jesus is sending us out among wolves, and whether it be losing friends or losing our lives, He is letting us know the cost up front.
Persevere in light of persecution
Charles Spurgeon’s said, “A sheep in the midst of wolves is safe compared to a Christian in the midst of ungodly men.” Jesus tells the believer that we need to prepare because the possibilities of persecution are certain. But when persecution happens, don’t worry because you are in the center of Jesus’ will.
We must pray that God would put us in a position where we have to share. That we would be deeply uncomfortable with anything less than whole-hearted obedience. But not only that, Jesus sends us for a particular purpose and reason. And we have to come to the recognition that every Christian has been sent to be both bold and blameless in the midst of persecution.
We have been commissioned to go. It is an imperative. It is a commandment. And Jesus is not blind to the realities of what will happen if you do that. Don’t allow the persecution to hinder you. Even in the midst of all the miracles, healing everyone and doing nothing but showing compassion, at the end of Matthew 9 there is a group accusing Him of doing work based on the power of Satan. Don’t take persecution so personally. They hate us because they hate Jesus. Yet, Jesus reminds us that He is orchestrating all of this so we may proclaim Him in the midst of it and then He challenges us to persevere to the end of it.
Do not be afraid
Don’t be afraid of failure. Many of us seem to always hold out a little because we are afraid to be all in. We want to reserve a little bit because we are afraid to fail. Even if we fail in this life, we can know that we won’t fail in the one to come. We know that God wins because He has revealed all things to us and He tells us to trust in His promises and power in all things. His presence is the fuel that empowers us to be all in, without hesitation, living fully as those sent to be sheep in the midst of wolves.
This blog was an adaptation from Dhati Lewis’ book Among Wolves. Check out the Among Wolves Masterclass on the City Syllabus to learn practitioner principles for recapturing the ministry of presence.