Airports and railway stations are jammed with holiday travelers, and consequently security measures are heightened, too. We are advised, even on commuter trains, to be alert for unattended packages, and this morning the bomb-sniffing dogs boarded the train to do a routine search during my wife's commute into Washington, D.C.
Such measures are proper for a time of security alert, and are good reminders to be vigilant. But we can't be 100 percent alert all the time. We get distracted, read the newspaper, have to prepare for that important meeting, and so forth. And no one wants to be paranoid, seeing a terrorist in the grandmother knitting across the aisle, or in the bearded young man reading a book in an unfamiliar language.
Since 9/11, I have thought often of one of Jesus' remarks to his listeners about his cousin John the Baptist. "What went ye out into the wilderness to see?" he asked rhetorically, and continued, "A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee" (Matt. 11:7-10).
Characteristically, Jesus raised his listeners' thinking from the mundane - just looking at another wilderness prophet - to the awareness of John as God's messenger.
God's messages never grow stale and aren't confined to a specific time, I have realized, and I have begun to pray more and more to be aware of God's messengers that are always preparing the way before me. These thoughts bring alertness, vigilance, and security. As I keep uppermost in thought that God is governing events, and that His plan is always for good, I have become more alert, and my prayers, more focused.
I had occasion to put these thoughts into daily practice when our son, an officer in the US Marine Corps, was serving in Iraq. As a military policeman, his job is one of constant vigilance and protection. At his request, my wife, our younger children, and I prayed daily for his safety and protection. I also prayed that God, the all-seeing divine Mind that knows all, would keep him alert, and that he would see what he needed to see in order to protect human life.
"What is he going out to see?" I asked myself, paraphrasing Jesus' question. I prayed that he would be so aware of God's presence that he would immediately be aware of anything that wasn't from God, that was potentially harmful.
One morning it came to me to declare particularly this prayer of affirmation, to see our son's oneness with God and our son's consequent awareness of what would harm him and his command.
Later we learned that on a patrol through a town in western Iraq, where there has been - and continues to be - much fighting, he sensed something wrong and directed his vehicle to be stopped. Looking down, he saw a wire protruding from the dust directly underneath. Chuckling about it later, he said he and his men "scattered like roaches," but they knew how to render the explosive device harmless. They found 17 daisy-chained bombs that would have ultimately destroyed part of a nearby elementary school. Not only were they saved, but also many innocent Iraqi children were protected from harm.
This proof of God's message of awareness and protection has stayed with me. I pray for all those involved in security and protection measures worldwide. Detection of evil is surer when we are conscious of God's perfect ever-presence, and we will be seeing divine messages that keep us from harm.