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Be wise as a serpent

By Rick Renner

…be ye therefore wise as serpents. — Matthew 10:16

Over the years in our ministry, I have discovered timing to be extremely important. I have certainly found it to be true that we need to act when favor is obviously on our side. But let me also say that wonderful opportunities can also come packaged with difficult challenges.

Knowing exactly which opportunities to take — and which ones to let pass us by — has been one of my personal challenges in the former Soviet Union. One day I was seeking the Lord about several opportunities that were presenting themselves. The Lord said to me, “If you’re going to survive and do what I’ve called you to do in this part of the world, you have to learn to think like a snake.”

At first, these words caught me off guard. But immediately Matthew 10:16 came to my mind: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” In this verse, Jesus commanded His disciples — as He is commanding us today: “be as wise as serpents.”

The word “serpent” is the Greek word ophis and it simply describes a snake of any type, but it is used here as a sign of cunningness or cleverness. Matthew 10:16 had always perplexed me because I had previously thought of a serpent as being only evil. But as I meditated on this verse more deeply, I began to gain new insight about what Jesus was saying. He was saying serpents are “wise,” and we need to take a lesson from them!

If you’re a little squeamish about the subject of serpents or snakes, just stay with me for the next few moments so you don’t miss the full impact of what Jesus was telling us. He is the One who chose to use a serpent to make His point!

Let’s consider the behavior of serpents to see how Jesus’ statement about these creatures in Matthew 10:16 relates to timing. First, serpents blend into the environment when they move into a new territory. Rather than announce their presence, they lay low, stay quiet, and blend into their surroundings. In fact, you could walk right past a snake and not know you’re close to it!

Most snakes have the ability to be nearly invisible because they were designed to be camouflaged. This camouflage serves as a protective “covering.” Even the fiercest aggressor could pass by, but the serpent would not likely be noticed because it blends so well into the landscape.

The camouflage gives the serpent latitude to find its way around new territory — to move about freely while “evaluating” a new situation. Serpents will assess a situation to identify places of shelter so they can settle into a new environment. They find hiding places to protect themselves from attack. They also observe where to find the easiest prey. When all of these assessments are made and the facts are assimilated, the serpent is ready to act. But this “settling in” is a key time for a serpent.

Can you see the parallel between the behavior of a serpent and Jesus’ strategic plan for us when we are entering new territory for Him? Jesus said there’s wisdom to glean from such a study!

As I carefully pondered the behavior of serpents, I understood exactly why Jesus used this example. This analogy applies to all of us in regard to our families, businesses, ministries, or any other opportunity God places before us in which we must implement His strategies in order to establish His victory on the earth.

When God calls us to do something new — to move into a new territory or seize a new opportunity — it is wise for us to move slowly and carefully 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, often leads to erroneous decision-making. In fact, one serious mistake can cause us to lose out on an opportunity altogether. Better to lay low, stay quiet, blend into the environment for a while, and learn from the facts we observe.

Let me give you a perfect personal example of how the “wisdom of a serpent” served Denise and me so well when we launched out to begin our ministry in the former USSR.

When Denise and I and our family moved halfway around the world, we took time to learn the customs and the culture of that new territory. We knew it would take time to understand everything we would see and experience, so we moved slowly and very carefully. Although we immediately saw opportunities for ministry, we decided to first watch and gain as much knowledge as possible of the new environment and the circumstances we found ourselves in at that moment. In retrospect, I can assure you that for us, acting too fast would have certainly meant making some poor decisions that we would have greatly regretted down the road.

In the first few months we lived in the USSR, we made little noise and were 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, where we began to observe and ascertain the spiritual condition of this new territory. Before I made any grand announcement that we were going on television, I first wanted to know something about television in that part of the world. The best way to learn — especially at that volatile time in those nations — was to do it covertly.

During this time of acclimating ourselves to our new home, we also observed that many American missionaries were announcing great plans that never developed or got off the ground. Many of those ideas were wonderful — and perhaps they were even from God. But because these missionaries acted before they understood the full picture, they ruined their testimony and lost glorious opportunities to bring the Gospel to places where it was needed so badly. These sincere men and women were trying to take ground for the Kingdom of God that they really knew nothing about. They hadn’t taken the time to learn.

It is very unwise and a waste of Kingdom resources of money and time to start fantastic projects without first understanding the challenges, risks, and dangers. Many people have been hurt because of someone getting in a hurry and acting too quickly.

Denise and I knew that moving slower may take more time initially — but in the end, it would produce more stable, serious, and lasting results. We made the choice to move “slow and steady”: to gather all the facts we could, analyze the accumulated information, and then seek the Lord in prayer, listening for what He might have to say to us through those facts. Only then would we make announcements concerning our plans. I can’t emphasize it enough: To move ahead more quickly than we did in those early days would have proven a harmful mistake!

Most mistakes in forging new territory for the Gospel are avoidable. God is a strategic Planner who delights in giving you the wisdom you need in whatever venture you’re undertaking for Him. Your part is to move forward by His grace and according to His guidance. As you do, you will be well able to secure the victory He has planned for you in that new territory and season.

So I strongly advise you to take your time in any new venture for Jesus — and be sure of the actions you take. Before you act on that opportunity publicly, I suggest that you first do the following:

  • Learn the “landscape” of your new environment.
  • Determine what kind of attacks could potentially come against you.
  • Take time to really understand the opportunities around you.
  • Make sure you are completely informed of all the pertinent facts about your new environment — facts that will help you adjust smoothly and move forward in fulfilling your new assignment without unnecessary delays or detours.
  • Pray diligently about the information you gather, and seek the Lord’s wisdom on how that information applies to your assignment.

That is how you emulate the strategy of the serpent, taking advantage of your “settling in” time. Then when the right moment comes and opportunity strikes, you can seize your divine moment with the grace and favor of God!


Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek. In 1991, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kiev Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Both the Riga and Kiev churches continue to thrive and grow.

Today, Rick is the senior pastor of the Moscow Good News Church, as well as the founder and director of the Good News Association of Pastors and Churches with nearly 800 member churches. In addition, Rick is the founder of Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR that today broadcasts the Gospel to a potential audience of 110 million people. Rick resides in Moscow with his wife Denise and their three sons and families. Visit: RENNER Ministries and watch on YouTube

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