What if you had the ability to predict accidents or violent encounters before they occurred? According to social scientists and military strategists, you can learn a skill that will help you do just that.
Successful athletes have it. Many pilots live by it. Intelligence agents spend years learning it. Even mothers who seem to intuit what their children are up to have mastered it.
“It” is situational awareness, the ability to scan one’s surroundings, comprehend their meaning, and make quick judgments about what will likely happen next and what decisions have to be made as a result. Many experts in military and combat theory believe this skill of split-second assessment is the fundamental ingredient for success in sticky situations.
Basically, situational awareness is nothing more than paying attention to your surroundings and avoiding “being surprised.” When we’re surprised by an event, our ability to respond successfully is greatly reduced. Situational awareness increases our ability to anticipate and develop an effective response, because when we’re aware, we respond sooner and more intelligently, and we can more likely influence the outcome of an event and our corresponding actions.
Airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger demonstrated heroic situational awareness. He was able to assess his surroundings quickly, and then skillfully make an emergency landing of a commercial airplane in the Hudson River. On the other hand, a young Utah woman demonstrated poor situational awareness when she was struck by a car while attempting to cross a busy street with her eyes glued to her BlackBerry.
In Luke 21 Jesus’ disciples were dazzled with the beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem. Historian Josephus wrote that the Temple was indeed impressive—made of massive stones and decorated with precious ornaments from around the world. But Jesus interrupted the disciples’ adulation by definitively stating that in time the magnificent Temple would be utterly destroyed. “As for what you see here,” He said, “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6).
It was comparable to someone standing in front of the U.S. Capitol or St. Peter’s Basilica and saying that one day that monumental structure would be leveled to the ground. Jesus went on to speak about a time of judgment not far into the future (Luke 21:9ff.). He said the earth would convulse with earthquakes, famines, pandemics. There would be unending conflicts between nations, pervasive political unrest, and widespread persecution.
He admonished His followers then, and now, to watch, be aware; in other words, to use situational awareness to be ready for coming events. “If you’re My disciple,” Jesus said, “you have to survey the situation; you have to assess what’s happening and stay aware.”
Secular and biblical history bear out that in Luke 21 Jesus outlined a dual prophecy: He predicted more than one event. The Roman army, in fact, destroyed that very Temple in the terrible siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Along with Jerusalem’s fall came intense persecution of Christians, exactly as Jesus said. But His words stretched beyond A.D. 70 into a future that lies ahead of us today.
Jesus’ words of warning pointed also to a time of struggle and judgment to come upon all the earth—a time that is still ahead of us. In a time in which there is ominous speculation about 2012 and Planet X, Jesus, though He said nothing about the day or hour, was unequivocal about the final days before His triumphant return. It will be a time of unparalleled trouble and tribulation. But then the era of sin, sickness, and death will forever end. Christ will usher in a new heaven and earth for His redeemed followers to enjoy throughout eternity (see Rev. 21).
Until it all comes to pass, Jesus challenges us to watchfulness and readiness. To be able to make it through this period will require vigilance and faithful situational awareness.
Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference. Prior to this assignment he served as president of Oakwood University. This article was published January 27, 2011.