Keeping Secure in a World of Terrorism
How to Be Wise and Pray Confidently
By John Robb
It was August 1995, in war-torn Bosnia. A Bosnian pastor asked me, “Are you and your ministry team willing to share our reality?”
I asked what he meant by “our reality.”
He replied, “Are you willing to drive through the snipers with us?”
Immediately I had visions of the Harrison Ford movie, Clear and Present Danger, when cars were firebombed and few people escaped. However, because my colleagues and I knew we were in the Lord’s hands and on His mission to facilitate a peacemaking prayer initiative, and because thousands were in prayer for the nation, we drove north with our Bosnian friends. As we passed an area with Sarajevan snipers, we sang hymns and prayed, feeling confidence, assurance, and peace while keeping focused on the Prince of Peace.
Peace in Chaos
Since that time, in my past work with World Vision (an international humanitarian organization) and now with the International Prayer Council, I have found myself in harm’s way on numerous occasions. Colleagues and I have passed through the territory of Rwanda’s murderous “genocidaires” in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have been chased and targeted for death by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have experienced other unstable and dangerous situations of civil war and scary travel conditions. Inexplicably, from a human point of view, we have again and again felt Christ’s peace and confidence in such situations.
Today we live in an increasingly chaotic and insecure world. A lone wolf gunman in Orlando, FL, with ideological commitments to ISIS, shoots more than 100 nightclub-goers. That got our attention. There have been similar attacks in Boston, MA, and San Bernardino, CA. And we have seen international incidents in Paris, Brussels, and Istanbul. Many additional radical Muslim-motivated attacks in the Middle East and other parts of the world often go unreported here in the West unless they are epic in scale.
Our new reality is that our public gathering places such as shopping malls, athletic events, and church services are likely to be targeted in the near future. How are we as believers in the Lord to respond with both faith and wisdom, not allowing such a possibility to paralyze us?
My son-in-law, a professor of history, said, “I am pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t want us to take guns to church . . . I don’t want to live in fear.”
That reaction probably captures what many think about the issue of security. But what is a reasonable precaution to take in protecting ourselves? And what does Scripture have to say about living securely? The Psalms, of course, encourage us to live confidently because “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We are reminded in Deuteronomy 33:27 that God will drive out our enemies and that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” And God “will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on [Him]” (Isa. 26:3, KJV).
Stay Alert to Evil
Still, bad things can and do happen to good people. In Charleston, SC, a white racial supremacist walked into a Bible study and assassinated—at point-blank range—an African American pastor and eight of his parishioners. No one in this world is immune from violence, not even devoted Christians.
A couple decades ago, while my family and I were living in the Los Angeles area, we heard the traumatic account of how a disgruntled man walked up to a local pastor, who was preaching, and shot him dead. By God’s mercy, as the gunman turned to begin shooting others, an off-duty police officer, who had her handgun with her, took the killer down with one shot fired across the room over the heads of the congregation.
Such experiences are still fairly rare and probably will not happen to the great majority of us, but they can cripple us with a sense of foreboding. Should we go to that concert or mass prayer gathering? Could an attack happen there? Such thinking may keep us from living joyously and freely.
But the other side of the Lord’s affirmation of His watch-care over His people is Scripture’s urging that we be watchful and alert because of the reality of rampant evil in our world. Peter portrays the devil as a prowling lion ready to devour those who are unaware and fail to resist him (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus did not entrust Himself to anyone because he knew what was in the human heart (John 2:24). Instead, He told us to watch and pray to avoid temptation and the destructive snares that come through it (Matt. 26:41).
Faith requires us to put our lives and future in the hands of the Lord. Wisdom requires that we make practical provision for good security.
A Balanced Approach
For individual believers, what wise and faith-filled approach can we implement in our daily family life, work environment, and general activities?
- Pray at the beginning of your day, asking for God’s guidance and protection as you go about your daily routine.
- Keep alert, listening to His voice. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27, KJV). Be sensitive to inner red flags about your plans and activities. God may be redirecting you to protect you from an unknown threat.
- Pray God’s protection over your home, family, church, community, and nation. Pray for the authorities to be vigilant and careful in carrying out their duties at the federal, state, and local levels, especially to guard against terrorist schemes.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be alert for any suspicious activity that could threaten you or others.
- Report such activities to law enforcement. We are our brother’s keepers!
For pastors and elders, what should your approach be? Since you have authority over God’s flock, you also have a responsibility before Him to implement good security precautions and procedures for your congregation. Don’t assume that everything will be OK while we are in church.
Recently while I was preaching in my own home church, a strange man who was visiting stood up in the middle of the message. Disturbed by something I said, he began to speak loudly from the back pew where he was sitting. From the pulpit I urged him to hold his peace until we could hear him out after the service. But he continued to rail away at me until one of the ushers escorted him out. We’re thankful that the incident ended peacefully. But what if the guy had pulled out a gun to express his animosity and began shooting?
Fortunately, our church has a layman who is armed, with concealed-carry authorization. He was alert and prepared to intervene had the visitor gotten out of hand. What about your congregation? Are you prepared if a Muslim jihadist or someone with psychotic tendencies decides to harm you or your people? As caretakers for His flock, leaders need to be prepared for such an event. We hope it never comes about, but it could happen in today’s new reality of unpredictable violence.
Leaders, here are some additional ways to watch over your congregation:
1. Take reasonable physical precautions when arranging public events and during usual church activities. Make sure that someone is keeping alert and tasked with maintaining safety and security. It could be a security guard, off-duty police officer, or church member who has been well trained and is authorized to carry a firearm.
2. Ask the prayer group and congregation as a whole to pray not only for the security of your church, but also for your city, its law enforcement officials, and police officers. Our church recently hosted the top brass of our police department for “Coffee with a Cop” so we could get to know them and pray for them with greater understanding and empathy.
3. Set an example for your congregation in prayer. Lead them during worship services and other public occasions to pray for your community’s protection. Lead them in prayer for government and intelligence officials. And lead them in praying about the security threats we face as a country. Here are some of the current concerns that we as Christ’s people should be praying about:
- Our own growing wickedness as a society
- Ineptness and corruption of our government
- ISIS, Al Qaeda, and radical Islam
- Russia and China expanding their influence and upgrading their nuclear forces
- North Korea under the erratic and dangerous Kim Jong-un
- Cyberattacks and an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, which have the potential to disable national defense and infrastructure.
Let us all heed the same urgent call that God gave Ezekiel, to “stand in the gap” for our country in her time of increasing need and intensifying danger (Ezek. 22:30, kjv). Truly, intercessors uniting in prayer are the first and last line of defense for a nation.
As theologian Walter Wink famously asserted, “History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being.” May we all be used of God to reshape the future history of the USA through our heartfelt and faith-filled praying, trusting the Lord to be faithful to answer our cries.
Finally, all of us need to be ready for that time when we will exchange our lives here for ones of eternal glory and splendor in the presence of Jesus Christ. Until that time, we should not give way to fear.
Instead, through prayerfully living and abiding in the peace, joy, and comfort of His presence, we will experience the only real security possible for “our reality” in today’s world.
JOHN ROBB is chairman of the International Prayer Council
and a member of America’s National Prayer Committee.