By David Cannistraci
If you became aware that a wolf was stalking you or someone you love, what would you do?
Imagine this nightmare scenario: You are washing clothes beside a rushing river in the unforgiving frontier of the untamed West. Your only son is playing close by, but when you glance over, you can’t find him. You call his name, but there is no reply. You rush to your cabin, anxious to find him, but he’s not there. Desperate, you sprint outside and search frantically, calling his name. What you see next brings your whole world crashing down: Your son has been merciless mauled by a wild wolf. Devastated, you pick up his lifeless body, and carry it home.
It’s difficult to think about, isn’t it? Yet this nightmare was a reality for one frontier woman that lived more than a century ago. The 19th century American abolitionist and preacher Henry Ward Beecher related this tragic news to a transfixed audience, remarking, “Oh, how that mother hated wolves!”
THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL WOLVES
As believers, we face an equally ominous danger every day. On Paul’s last day in Ephesus, he warned the leaders there to watch for the wolf: ”Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Paul knew that after his departure, “savage wolves” would come stalking that would seek to prey upon the flock (v. 29).
The same kinds of spiritual predators abound in our day, and the tragic reality is that our friends and family are being targeted. There are too many lifeless victims lying around for us to be even a little distracted by our busy lives. The Lord Jesus makes it clear that we will face the wolf, so we must watch: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Watching for the wolf requires us to keep a few things in mind as we probe the wild frontiers in our spiritual journey:
PEOPLE ARE SHEEP!
We must face the truth that people are like sheep. The prophet declared, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Peter explained, “You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Why are we compared to sheep? A friend of mine who grew up around sheep explained that our gentleness and inexperience leave us vulnerable to predators just like sheep. Like sheep, we move in groups, become anxious in uncertain situations, and are prone to wandering if we think the grass is greener somewhere else. Though it may be hard to admit, facing these tendencies in our own nature is the beginning of reducing our vulnerability to spiritual wolves.
THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEPFOLD
To reduce our risks against spiritual wolves, we need to come into proper alignment with dedicated shepherds in the context of local churches. While it’s true that the Lord is our Shepherd, God has given us pastors to equip us so that we will not be vulnerable to spiritual the dangers of our times (Ephesians 4:11 and 14).
Pastors have the awesome responsibility to protect and feed the people who Jesus has added to the church. They care for the sheep and guide them when they are tempted to go astray. They are a part of the healing process for the injured, and they establish others to help with the shepherding as the fold grows. This involves laying down their lives for the safety of the sheep. Pure motives are required here, as they are commanded to “Shepherd the flock of God…serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly...” (1 Peter 5:1-3). For their efforts, shepherds are promised an eternal reward (v.4).
Spiritual predators target those who stray from the flock. They sniff out the wounded and the weak. When this happens, a true shepherd grabs his club or slingshot and springs into action, just as the shepherd-king David did (1 Samuel 17:36). Jesus viewed this protective response as the difference between a true shepherd and a mere hireling (John 10:12).
STAY CONNECTED, BE PROTECTED
We should not forget the importance of our connection with the local church as a place of divine protection. No church is perfect, but God uses a healthy church as a spiritual sheepfold. In Bible days, a sheepfold was a kind of corral surrounded by a good strong wall. Sheepfolds were usually near a water source, and almost always had a watchtower for those who were watching for the wolf.
Are you a part of a local church? Do you have a shepherd? Be aware that disappointments with the inevitable imperfections of a church can lead us to a cynicism and isolation that attracys the attentions of the wolf. Don’t stray from your place of protection. Instead, choose gratitude for God’s awesome provision of safety within a healthy local church, seek to strengthen it for the sake of others, and pursue reconciliation if offenses arise.
THREE KINDS OF WOLVES
How do you spot a spiritual wolf? I have noticed several kinds of wolf prowling around the church. Like the frontier mother in Beecher’s story, I have come to hate their menacing presence in whatever form they take.
The Financial Wolf wants to get his paws into your provision.
Jesus warned us of false prophets who camouflage themselves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). He referred to them as “ravenous” – a word that is linked with financial extortion. Recently, some high profile “Christian” businesspeople—some preachers among them—have been exposed for bilking believers of millions of dollars in an elaborate ponzi scheme disguised with prayers and promises.
All too often, financial wolves are found in the clothing of a minister. Nothing should anger us more than those whose “ministry” is to skillfully separate us from our money through pressurized offerings and manipulative schemes. These financial flim-flam men are among today’s wildest predators. Their only concern is fleecing the sheep and lining their pockets by twisting Scripture. We need to drive them away from the sheepfold where they will have no one to devour but themselves.
Financial wolves count on our greed and gullibility. Don’t take their bait. If someone comes calling with an opportunity that promises quick gains, run. Be patient and believe that God will provide for you as you obey biblical truth, get good advice, and steer clear of the wolf. Remember the old saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
The Sexual Wolf is determined to sink his teeth into the emotionally vulnerable.Emboldened by the prospect of the lonely, insecure and naïve, the sexual wolf stalks his victim when he senses they will be easy pickings. At first, he may limit his methods to flattery, attention, and suggestive words. Over time, he may attain the necessary approvals to be in a position of leadership or even employment in the church, but eventually his lust drives him toward the kill. If his seduction is successful, the results are devastating. Sexual wolves come in to our churches and ministries burning with lust and intent on robbing the purity of men, women and even children. We need to watch as never before. Oh, how we should hate that wolf.
Sexual wolves fear being discovered more than anything. Every so often, a man will come through our church with a special burden to counsel and spend time with our young ladies. Each time our pastors will confront him and explain that our church is not a place where they can operate that way. Invariably, they find the nearest exit and never return. A spiritual wolf desperately seeks a place where no one is watching.
The Division Wolf comes to cut the sheep off from the safety of the fold.
They smell the unhealed wounds of a believer’s past, counting on a vulnerability to the bait of resentment and bitterness. Their ploy offers struggling believers a misguided way to justify themselves through separation, or to heal by finding fault in others. This is when we need to watch for the wolf.
These wolves are determined to deceive. In Acts 20, Paul warned some would arise from within the church and “speak perverse things.” He called them “savage,” which means oppositional and determined to lead astray. We must guard ourselves against those whose seductions lure us into bucking the system and moving toward elitist philosophies and spiritual smugness. It is a fatal mistake for anyone to allow a wolf to deceive them. Just ask Little Red Riding Hood.
The best way to deal with a division wolf is to send him packing. A man once attended our church and began making agitating statements to those around him while I preached. Despite my warning, he continued in that pattern, so I invited him to find another church where he’d feel more satisfied. My people appreciated it. Watching for the wolf means we must repel without apology those who endanger the flock. As he left, I hoped the next church would also be watching.
YOU CAN BE SAFE IN A WILD WORLD
If a spiritual wolf threatens you, what should you do to protect yourself? Again, Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders reveals the incredible protection the Lord has given us. The best defense believers have when confronted with a spiritual wolf involves the Word, watching and warning.
The Word of God will keep you alert.
Paul was moved to remind the Ephesians that his confidence was in God and “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32). Knowing God and His Word will plant an automatic wolf-detection system deep in your Spirit. Like a spiritual Geiger counter, it will go off in the presence of predators. The Word will build you up and give you an inheritance among God’s people (v. 32), so be careful when some suggest that shepherds and sheepfolds are unimportant. The Word of His grace will guard you against the errors that distract you from your inheritance.
Watching in prayer will keep you safe.
Jesus encouraged the disciples that watching was the key to avoiding the enemy’s traps (Mark 13:33 and 14:38). Understanding this as a matter of spiritual life and death, Paul pled with the Ephesian elders to "Take heed" (v.28)and “be alert” (v. 31). For three years he“never stopped warning everyone night and day with tears.”Whether we are leaders or followers, if our sheepfolds are going to remain secure, we must stay in our watchtowers. The renewed emphasis on watching among many prayer leaders in our nation needs to be heeded as we move forward into the wild frontiers of our future. Remember, the poor mother in Beecher’s story only took her eyes off of her son for a moment.
Warning others will keep everyone informed.
It takes more than simply discerning a wolf’s presence to keep us all safe. We must be willing to lift up our voice and become a clear signal to those who are in peril and don’t know it. Watchmen need to cry out when there is a wolf, and leaders need to listen when the sheep sound unsettled. Paul was even willing to name those he saw as a danger. We must keep everyone aware when peril is present.
In times of both danger and opportunity, we can be grateful that God has placed His protection around us. Though the wolves are roaming, God has provided places of safety and victory for those He calls His own. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and He is passionately committed to His sheep. He calls us to be alert, watch over one another and confidently align ourselves in the places He has assigned us to in the kingdom. Nothing can defeat us on the frontiers of faith if we are wise enough to watch for the wolf.