Life, Hope & Truth

From the July/August 2020 issue of Discern Magazine

Debriefing: Preparing for a Spiritual Crisis

The coronavirus crisis has transformed our world. What will we learn about how to prepare for future crises—especially the most dangerous, spiritual ones?

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In 2001 my wife and I had the opportunity to participate in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program in our area.

This program has the goal of training citizen volunteers to effectively assist first responders in a community-wide emergency.

Volunteers are trained in advanced first aid skills, light search and rescue techniques, fire suppression, setting up first aid stations, how to triage victims so those needing immediate care are identified and transported, logistics and a host of other skills most would never consider.

Training volunteers to handle some of these basic responsibilities frees first responders to use their more advanced skills where they are most needed.

Disaster simulation

As our training program, which lasted several weeks, neared its end, those of us participating were required to take part in a carefully constructed disaster simulation, followed by a debriefing with the first responders.

Sitting through the classes, many of which involved hands-on training, we felt we were being well prepared for whatever emergencies may arise. But nothing teaches as effectively as the disaster simulation, when we had to analyze the situation and make decisions in real time without anyone telling us what to do.

The debriefing with the professionals was one of the most helpful and sobering parts of the entire program. While they did their best to be encouraging, it was clear that many of us had made serious mistakes that could have cost lives—our own or others’.

The humbling realization of our failure to see and properly assess the hidden dangers taught us in ways the classroom presentations never could.

The benefits of debriefing

While it is easy to be critical of the mistakes people make in times of crisis, taking the time to examine errors and formulate a plan for improvement is much more helpful, and that’s where debriefing can help.

Debriefing presents an opportunity for people who have shared an experience or project to self-correct, share lessons learned, discuss what went well, and consider opportunities for improvement. Even when everything has gone well, there are often ways to improve and be more effective in the future.

While it may not always be as effective as a group debriefing, it’s often helpful for us to ask ourselves many of the same questions so we can recognize and avoid the unexpected dangers life brings our way.

The response to the coronavirus crisis

The sudden explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic created situations many would have considered unthinkable only weeks before. While there had been warnings concerning this kind of crisis, few in positions of power were adequately aware of the implications.

Sadly, many who should have been leaders did little more than hurl accusations against their political enemies as if their party would have had all the right answers. Others tried to find someone to blame, as if that would somehow help resolve the situation.

But ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy do little to address problems or formulate effective strategies for the future.

Are we better prepared for the next crisis?

It remains to be seen whether the world will be better prepared for the next unexpected crisis in whatever form it comes. And we all know it is not a matter of if it will come, but just a matter of how soon.

So, what lessons have you and I learned that will enable us to respond more effectively when hidden, unexpected dangers suddenly confront us? Instead of criticizing what others have done or failed to do, have we conducted an honest self-evaluation—a debriefing—to learn what we might have done better?

And what will we do if the next hidden danger confronting us is not physical at all? Will we emerge from this experience having learned lessons we can use in other areas of our lives, or will we simply be better at washing our hands?

Preparing for spiritual crises

Knowing what to do before the danger arises is always the best approach, and CERT and similar programs do a commendable job of preparing individuals and communities to address physical dangers.

But regular readers of Discern will know that the focus of this publication is not upon such preparations, helpful though they may be. We seek to more clearly discern the spiritual issues of life—the issues that ultimately lead us to live either a life that allows God to bless us or a life that can bring unexpected curses upon us and our loved ones.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that failure to speedily and clearly recognize the dangers can lead to catastrophic results. Just as a tiny, virtually unseen virus suddenly transformed our normal lives in unexpected ways, there are powerful spiritual challenges that can ultimately produce catastrophic results as well.

How to avoid danger

The importance of recognizing danger before it arrives is at the core of this 3,000-year-old advice: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).

The Contemporary English Version puts it more bluntly: “When you see trouble coming, don’t be stupid and walk right into it—be smart and hide.”

Invisible enemies

Spiritual problems are not visible to human eyes. How are we supposed to “see trouble coming” when the trouble is invisible?But by their nature, spiritual problems are not visible to human eyes. How are we supposed to “see trouble coming” when the trouble is invisible?

We can’t—if all we have to rely upon are our own human abilities. But that which is hidden to you and me is not hidden from God, and He has provided guidance for those who are willing to seek His help. In fact, the most important instructions about hidden dangers have been in the Bible for 2,000 years, but most people have not recognized them. Why not?

Errors and barriers

We can answer that question by considering two fundamental errors in thinking common to humankind: we think we know more than we do, and we think God knows less than He does. On the basis of those two errors, people stumble from one personal disaster to another, continually being blindsided by unforeseen dangers that did not need to be unforeseen.

While a short article like this can provide only limited insight on what hidden crises lie ahead, considering these two attitudes today can give us a valuable key to preparing for tomorrow.

In the field of education there is a maxim: “The greatest barrier to learning is the belief that we already know all we need to know.”

One of the most important lessons learned in our disaster simulation debriefing was that those who are willing to humbly acknowledge their own mistakes will learn much more than those who make excuses or assign blame. The fact that someone else made a mistake does not diminish my responsibility for the mistakes I make, and the sooner I recognize and admit my own failures, the sooner I can find a successful way to address them.

The danger of pride

Scripture likewise warns us about the danger of thinking too highly of our own abilities. Many passages use some form of the word pride to describe the attitude that hampers a person’s ability to recognize dangers and “hide himself.”

One of history’s wisest men, King Solomon, put it this way: “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Until a person is willing to in humility recognize the need to gain the knowledge he lacks, he cuts himself off from the most important knowledge he can acquire.

But the Bible is not a negative book. It offers help and hope to those willing to learn.

Ignoring God

In researching this article, I searched the Internet for useful quotes about the importance of education. There were many helpful websites; one in particular had over 800 quotes about education. But not one of those 800 was from the Bible. The Bible contains over 400 passages about teaching and learning, but not one of those was considered valuable enough to include in the listing of helpful quotes.

Why are so many willing to look to man’s ideas but totally unwilling to learn from the Great Educator?

Writing to those at the educational center of the mighty Roman Empire, the apostle Paul described that society, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28).

The New Living Translation says, “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.”

Could there be a better description of our modern society?

Ignoring God is a choice many in our world make, and the consequences of that choice are abundantly evident in the empty, purposeless lives and shattered relationships that litter man’s history. But that does not need to be our choice.

Debriefing your life

If you were to humbly turn to God’s inspired Word to “debrief” your life right now, what would you learn? What’s working well and producing the right results? What’s causing problems and making life more difficult? What’s eating up your time and not really producing anything of lasting value?

And most important, what are you doing about it?

Before the next unexpected crisis careens over the horizon, take the time to pick up the Creator’s instruction book and use it—not anyone’s opinion, including your own—to debrief your life and become prepared for the days ahead.

About the Author

David Johnson

David Johnson is a minister for Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and instructor at Foundation Institute.

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