Spiteful glares and shunning stares which do not acknowledge another’s presence, which peer through the one they encounter as though they were not there, look so very much like barren branches spiked with thorns in woodlands hosting cunning wolves alert to their prey but pretending to the world around that all is well. Just blending in. Calculated inaction being the only thing which stands between assault and hateful attitudes barely concealed.
Steely eyes of personal threat sizing us up for strength of character and conviction?
Friend or foe … it sometimes hard to know.
The pretense becomes increasingly tense and the outer show comes off. Wolves. We take a deep breath as we pass by, and at our best, try to squelch the rising fear response within to offer up a prayer on their behalf that they might come to know his peace as well.
Such piercing non-response has the power to leave us feeling either invisible or exposed in an isolated conflict lurking just beyond the clearing of that which does not befit the church or servants of Christ if we allow the wolves of wounding and warring provocations to wear us down. As leaders, we pray that we may not freeze in fear, watching over our shoulders to detect movements of unjust oppression from the shifting, shifty shadows closing distance in the fields where we are called to serve, but knowing we are in his hands, in his care. While we may momentarily want to repeal the covenant vows to tend the sheep among the creeping awareness that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing on our watch, this really isn’t what we want to do. This gentle Saviour is worth dying for. We love his people. We’re just weary or afraid.
‘Lord, lead us to a restful place when we are faint. Increase our love for you and for your people … and for our enemies. Give us grace to know your love for us so we might stand in fearful, uncertain, night-time events, knowing that ‘perfect love casts out fear.’
We aren’t taken by surprise. We know there will be dangers, but such encounters may still leave us breathless from the standoff, standing in grace to wait and see how God will sort things out.
Precious child of God, remember that as we wait in hate filled places, we are not alone.
Robert Bateman, Toronto born artist and naturalist, is meticulous in creating images which bring wildlife to life. Some are gentle scenes of harmless creatures immersed in the joy of living, while others depict untamed majesty which could pick us to the bone if the right circumstances presented themselves. His precise detail and careful shading leaves the viewer with the sense that he or she has been fortunate enough to step into an intimate moment of proximity with the wild, to witness savage power and survive.
A painting entitled ‘Clear Night Wolves’, oil, 1981, depicts a pack of wolves peering out from the edge of a winter woods. Five sets of eyes in silver grey heads with attentive ears immediately catch our gaze. A sixth quickly emerges, slightly more recessed with shadowed tones. A seventh and eighth appear with more thorough search … and is that a ninth, deep in the darkness, just barely coming into view? More? A single spindly sapling devoid of leaves is the sole screen between us and this uncertain gathering.
For the moment, these wolves seem content to simply assess our presence before retreating into the dull light where blue grey coats blend with snowy brush as if they no longer exist. As if they are not a threat. As if.
We are not fooled. We wonder in passing what may cause them to attack. There may even be a sense of gratitude that we cannot actually feel the crisp cool air hanging in this canvas wash, or see the fur of shaggy coats part and twist in gusts of northern winds.
I know. It’s just a painting. And the artist’s intention is not to evoke fear. We are safe.
But if we were sheep, and justice slept, and evil crept upon us like a pack of wolves, the time could be rife for persecution in varying forms and degrees.
If you have seen wolves on your watch, you will understand the unnerving journey of coming to believe what your eyes are seeing on either a small or large scale.
Camouflaged in feigned faithfulness to the Author and Source of Love, this carnivorous spirit moves from one backdrop to another, snapping and snarling at opportune moments. Betrayal bares its teeth from the obscurity of the underbrush so no one else sees until its strength is sufficient to mount an outright attack; until its savagery witnesses to that which is in the heart of man apart from being made new and fully set free in Christ to love the world with an enduring, suffering love divine in origin.
Will the single Branch hold in defence of his church?
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!
Glares and stares from within are nothing compared to what we witness in the world today with regard to external threats and realized attacks of atrocities against the church … but when lupus-like behaviours of self destruction infiltrate the church within by those with whom we’ve broken bread, there is still deep hurt.
‘Lord, heal your broken body. Help us choose to walk in fearless love and kindness wherever wolves wait to tear the flesh of your people either figuratively or literally; wherever anti-bodies misfire in or against the sheep of your pasture. Strengthen us in the knowledge that we are loved by you with a fierce eternal love that will not let us go.’
‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20: 28-35)