I remember one morning when Abby, the black and white “cow” cat, walked up to him. They had already established a friendly, if cautious, relationship, even rubbing noses upon occasion, but Bart knew to stand still with his muscles bunched until he discovered what mood Abby was in. Sure enough, Abby nuzzled sweetly, stroking Bart’s huge leg with a tiny white paw. As soon as Bart relaxed, Abby walked around behind him, lifted a paw, and whapped his rear end hard enough to send him running.
Abby had been fooling us since we first got him at the age of six weeks. We named him Abigail, and by the time we discovered there was more hiding beneath his fur than we had first thought, he knew his name, and we were stuck trying to find a male version of Abby. Abigail became Abner, at least on the vet’s records. He learned early how to get what he wanted. If we were walking outside and he decided he needed to be held, he would throw himself bodily in front of us on the ground. If we stepped around him, he would follow along and do it again and again until he finally wore us down and we picked him up.
Those two pets always reminded me of Jesus’ admonition to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The Lord expects us to have no malice toward anyone, always willing to help those who need it, whether they deserve it or not. On the other hand he also expects us to be on guard. It is hard to strike an even balance. Some lean toward naiveté and others toward cynicism, each one rationalizing himself and criticizing the other, when possibly what they both need is moderation—it isn’t that you choose only one side of this coin; it’s that you flip it as the occasion requires.. Jesus never let himself be caught in the traps of the scribes and Pharisees, but he was willingly led to the cross “as a lamb to the slaughter.”
Sometimes I hear prudence castigated as a lack of faith. Jacob prayed that God deliver him from the hand of Esau, then the next morning, sent gifts to appease his brother, Gen 32:11ff. Many impugn his faith because of that. But tell me, as my son Nathan likes to point out, if you saw a known murderer in your front yard, wouldn’t you go inside and lock the door before you prayed? In fact, might you not call 911 as well? How easily we judge when it is someone else’s neck on the chopping block. Was Paul faithless when he escaped his enemies in Damascus over the wall in a basket? Why didn’t he stay if he had faith that God would care for him? In fact, he went on to Jerusalem after Agabus told him he would be imprisoned there. What was the difference? It may be difficult to know, but as long as we take the time to consider all of our decisions, putting our service to God at the top of the list instead of such things as financial success, as long as we live our lives by a faith that trusts no matter what, He will be pleased.
Jehovah is on my side; I will not fear: What can man do unto me? It is better to take refuge in Jehovah than to put confidence in man, Psalm 118:6,8.