According to pastor and author John Ortberg, a fictitious manual for Peace Corp volunteers headed for South America offers advice on how to handle a chance encounter with an anaconda. This is the list of instructions under the heading "What to Do If Attacked by an Anaconda":
1. If you're attacked by an anaconda, do not run; the snake is faster than you are.
2. Lie flat on the ground.
3. Put your arms tight at your sides and your legs tight against one another.
4. The snake will begin to climb over your body.
5. Do not panic.
6. The snake will begin to swallow you from the feet end.
7. Step 6 will take a long time.
8. After a while, slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife, and
very gently slide it into the snake's mouth. Then suddenly sever the snake's head.
9. Be sure your knife is sharp.
10. Be sure you have your knife.
The message of this humorous parable is, of course, “Always be prepared.”
We’ve talked on Sunday mornings about “being prepared” for a number of opportunities and actions: being prepared to talk about Jesus, because we never know when God will plant someone in our path who needs to hear the good news; being prepared to use the spiritual gifts God has given us, because the body is healthy only when every part serves its role; being prepared for the presence and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit often doesn’t give us what we need until the moment we need it; being prepared for sacrificial giving of our time, money, and gifts, because all we have is God’s, and He expects us to be generous with it; being prepared for the Second Coming of Christ, because we have no idea when that might be; and, of course, being prepared for the next pastor God has in store for you.
How can we be ready? “Be sure you have your knife.” Rehearse what you could say to someone about Jesus. Determine what your spiritual gifts are, develop them, and look for, or create, opportunities to use them. Take chances you normally wouldn’t in faith that the Spirit will provide what you need. Budget for sacrificial giving. Follow Christ, if you haven’t already, and if you have, give that chance to your friends and family. Pray for the search committee, for the search process, and for your own willingness to follow the leader God places before you.
One of Christianity’s core beliefs is that both the immediate and distant future are in God’s control. He knows what’s coming; He’s mapped it out. How encouraging! But it doesn’t excuse us from looking ahead and being ready for whatever God throws our way.
“Be sure you have your knife.”