by Doug Pierce
Published on February 16, 2023
Categories: Spiritual Growth


By Doug Pierce

“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of  sticks, and laid them on the fire, there  came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand… And he SHOOK OFF the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.” Acts 28:3 & 5 


I read a story about a farmer who owned an old mule. One day, while leaning in to get a drink, the mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule braying loudly and followed the sound and found the mule standing at the bottom of the well. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with his old mule, but the well was deep, and there was no way to lift him out of it. Neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. The only thing he could think to do was to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery. It was a shame, but there was nothing else that could be done. As the farmer began shoveling dirt into the well, the old mule became hysterical! He began braying louder than ever when the dirt hit his back, but the farmer kept shoveling. Then the farmer noticed what the mule was doing. Every time a shovel load of dirt landed on the mule’s back, he brayed loudly, but then he would shake it off and step up! As the dirt was shoveled down on top of him, the mule continued. The farmer and the old mule got into a rhythm. The farmer would drop a shovel load of dirt down the well, and the mule would shake it off and step up. No matter how heavy the dirt, or how distressing the situation seemed, that old mule fought panic and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up!

Finally, battered and exhausted, the old mule stepped up over the wall of the well! What seemed like it would bury him actually helped him… all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity. Instead of letting it bury him, the dirt became his road to freedom.


Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to not let it bury you, but to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles can be like a stepping stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!


That is what Paul did when he was bitten by a poisonous snake. He shook it off… and suffered no harm. In Acts, Paul was being sent to Rome for a trial before Caesar. It was a LONG trip across the Mediterranean Sea. On the way, the ship Paul was on went through a severe storm for weeks on end. It was a fearful experience for Paul and all on board that ship! The sea sickness was probably at an all time high as the ship was battered for two weeks by the wind and waves. Everything was lost in the storm, from all the cargo to the ship itself. But by God’s great mercy, not one person aboard lost his life.

As soon as they hit land, the island of Malta, they began to gather sticks to warm themselves with a roaring fire. It was at the fire that Paul was bitten by a viper, hiding in the sticks. Can you believe it? He had just endured the worst storm of his life, had beaten certain death by God’s grace, and then this happens! WOW!

Upon seeing this snake bite occur, notice what the natives on the isle of Malta concluded, “And when the barbarians  saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to  live” (In other words, “He’s getting what he deserves!”) (Acts 28:4). But Paul didn’t freak out. He just shook the snake off into the fire. The natives waited for him to die but he didn’t die. In fact, he didn’t even get sick or have a tinge of swelling. Upon seeing this unexpected outcome, the natives’ opinion of Paul took a drastic change. No longer did they consider him a murderer, they now considered him a god! (The fickleness of people can be amazing!)


  1. Just shake it off. When the devil’s poisonous snakes fasten their fangs on you—people who malign your character or go out of their way to hurt you—just shake it off. Turn that “snake” over to God and shake it off. Don’t let the venom of bitterness poison your life.
  1. Trust God’s Word. Paul had a promise from God that he wasn’t going to die but live and testify before Caesar in Rome. He knew dying on the sea or at Malta was not God’s plan for him. Regardless of the power of the serpent’s venom, God’s promise was more powerful!
  1. Remember that people are watching. Those natives watched Paul for a long time to see if he would get sick and die. They were amazed when that didn’t happen.  People are watching to see how you and I respond to unexpected attacks. Does the poison injected make us poisonous?  Do we get sick, filled with bitterness and revenge? When Jesus was dying upon the cross, He prayed for those who hurled insults at Him.  He took all the poisonous scorn and responded in love and forgiveness. He shook it off and chose to trust His Father. And the hardened centurion Roman soldier who oversaw His crucifixion exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

You and I can have tremendous influence for Christ if we will seek to “shake it off and trust the Lord.” I know it is not easy, but it is always right. Paul went through many trying circumstances and this was his reasoning about all of them, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the  gospel…” (Philippians 1:12). He recognized that others were watching as he faced hardships but as he remained faithful to the Lord, others were convinced of his faith and turned to the Lord themselves! The bites hurt, just like they hurt Paul, but God will give you the strength as you rely upon Him. What do you say? Let’s be as stubborn as a mule, keep shaking it off and stepping up! Will you join me in shaking it off today?

Think it over . . . 

Doug Pierce is a Church planter and a pastor. In 2003 he started, and continues to pastor First Independent Methodist Church in Madison, Mississippi. His #1 priority is to glorify God in all aspects of ministry. He does this through teaching his congregation to Love God, Love One Another, and Love Others to God. Prayer, outreach, and church growth through evangelism are vital parts of his ministry. He and his wife Suzanne live in Madison, Mississippi where they also enjoy their children and grandchildren. To find out more about Doug‘s ministry visit the FIMC Website

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  1. Tom

    This is something that I need to remember and do–to shake off when the enemy attacks and hurts me. God uses everything for our good and can use the shaking off to build us and others up. Thank you for sharing this great truth.


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