April 2003: Faced with the excruciating decision between life and death, mountaineer Aron Ralston does the unthinkable. He severs his own arm to free himself after being wedged between a narrow canyon wall and a boulder for 127 hours. His desire to survive leads him to make the seemingly incomprehensible decision to cut off his own limb.
July 1989: Airline passenger Jerry Schemmel travels on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Chicago. At 37,000 feet, the plane’s engine explodes, rendering the flight controls useless and making a crash landing imminent. In the 44 minutes before the plane is expected to hit the ground, Mr. Schemmel finds himself planning how to survive the seemingly impossible circumstances. When the plane crashes, he makes his way to safety.
December 2004: Ten-year-old Tilly Smith vacations with her family in Thailand. While walking on the beach, she notices something is not right with the water. She frantically tries to warn her family that she believes a tsunami is on the way. Her observations turn out to be correct. Minutes later, a devastating 30-foot wave, triggered by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Sumatra, Indonesia, crashes into the country’s southern coast, killing thousands. Yet Tilly and her family, along with others from her hotel, take shelter and survive.
April 2009: Maddie McRae, an 11-year-old from Oregon, faces a life-or-death scenario after flooding destroys the road her family’s SUV is driving on and plunges the vehicle into a river. The 95-pound sixth grader maneuvers barefoot in the dark through thornbushes and climbs an electric fence (after being thrown off of it four times by electric shock) to ultimately save her family, who are stranded on the hood of their sinking vehicle.
February 2003: In the small town of West Warwick, Rhode Island, pyrotechnic props from a music group spew sparks that start a fire at the rear of the stage of a popular nightclub. Mario Giamei, an employee, finds himself trapped with 460 others. More than 100 people die and 230 others are injured, but Mr. Giamei is one of the few who escapes unharmed.
Several of the stories described above were detailed in an ABC 20/20 special called “The Science of Survival.” While we know that God protects us in such situations and we rely on Him, many of the points made about how to essentially prepare for and survive physical disasters throughout the program are directly connected to what we as Christians must do to strengthen our resolve to overcome our own spiritual catastrophes, hold onto the truth, and rule in God’s kingdom.
Each of the men, women and children mentioned previously had a certain “survival mentality” that saved their lives, and in some cases, the lives of others. Throughout their physical ordeals, they had two things in common: an astute compulsion to escape and the will to live.
We must have a similar “survivor” mindset to overcome the spiritual tests and trials that are an integral part of the Christian walk.
In most severe natural disasters and accidents, those who escape death are often the exception rather than the rule. Many do not make it out of such catastrophes. Studies show that a small percentage of people in emergency situations are able to keep their composure and overcome their circumstances.
When unexpected “disasters”—sudden trials, whether small or large—occur in our lives, how do we react? Are we capable of figuring out how to escape and overcome them?
There is no doubt that a Christian’s life is a difficult path (Matt. 7:14), which can be tricky to navigate. Because the road to the kingdom is not easy, there are “few…that find it.”
Trials normally hit unexpectedly and can throw us into crisis mode, making us spiritually disoriented. Yet learning to instinctively act quickly and decisively can save your life.
There is potential danger around every corner. Our adversary, Satan the devil, makes sure of that. He finds no greater joy than ambushing us and watching in delight as we panic and frantically search for a way out of the traps he sets. He counts on us freezing, not being able to find an escape route, and fainting in the face of a fiery trial.
Before we even decide to choose the Christian walk, Jesus presents us with a reality to consider: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it” (Luke 14:28)?
Considering that there is a cost—a price to pay—is our first clue that this journey is not going to be easy. While God promises us the abundant life (John 10:10) and ultimately rulership in the kingdom of God (Rev. 2:26; Dan. 7:27) if we endure, we may have to maneuver through a spiritual minefield to get there. Our journey is so treacherous that the apostle Paul describes it as warfare (II Cor. 10:4; I Tim. 1:18). Think about all the calamitous events he experienced in II Corinthians 11:23-33—beatings, shipwrecks, perils in the city and in the wilderness, hunger, cold, nakedness, among others.
While we may never have to experience the intensity of Paul’s trials, we are told that we will suffer at some point in our lives (II Tim. 3:12). It is an understood part of the agreement we signed at baptism.
God allows this so we can qualify to enter His kingdom and rule with Jesus Christ. That is why Paul could write the Corinthians and say, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (II Cor. 7:4).
We are counted worthy of this coming kingdom by our sufferings: “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure…that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer” (II Thes. 1:4-5).
The reality of the difficulties that lie before us is enough to discourage many from even starting the journey.
But as with the case of the 11-year-old girl who braved raging floodwaters, became entangled in thornbushes, and scaled an electric fence in the dark to save her family—we must realize that our reward far outweighs the severity of our trials.
This is the first aspect of being a survivor. You must have the will to live and the determination to reach the goal of God’s kingdom (I Cor. 9:24).
The pain is well worth the effort: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
Preparation Is Key
Being prepared is essential to developing a survivor mentality. Yet how does one prepare for the challenging—and unknown—road ahead?
According to Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivors Club, only 10 percent of people in crisis situations do the right thing. They see the problem clearly, think intelligently about the situation, and take decisive action. Another 10 percent, however, do the wrong thing. They act rashly and/or dangerously. The remaining 80 percent wait for instruction, bewildered and unable to process a solution in their minds. These usually suffer the worst consequences because of their indecision and inability to act.
Carl Akeley, a famous adventurer, demonstrated the importance of being prepared for anything. After tracking a group of elephants in East Africa, a bull elephant turned on him, leaving no way of escape. Grabbing onto the charging elephant’s tusks—one in each hand—and swinging between them, Akeley escaped death.
This was not a “lucky” break. Akeley had prepared himself for such a situation. “I had often wondered, when on the trail,” Akeley told Popular Science in 1925, “what I would do if an elephant ever caught me.” His solution: “I thought it out beforehand and now had only to act.”
But unlike what authors and scientists may believe, God has not left us to “go it alone,” having to try to figure out everything on our own. He has provided us with the greatest Instruction Manual that explains how to survive—the ultimate survival guide. God’s Word gives us the ability to be prepared. We are commanded to study these words (II Tim. 2:15) so we can learn how to get out and stay out of dangerous situations.
God expects us to act and react to a host of circumstances. Diligently studying and meditating on what He teaches us through the Bible prepares us ahead of time to survive difficult moments we know will come.
The Creator has carefully recorded stories and examples of His servants who have gone before us (I Cor. 10:11), to assist us in confronting any number of perilous situations. Many have suffered difficult trials and escaped them in a variety of ways, and these are to encourage us—Joseph and the injustices he endured, David and the vindictive attempts by Saul to destroy him, and so on. These men were trapped in seemingly impossible circumstances, but escaped.
Satan is not original. He sets the same traps over and over again (I Cor. 10:13). Those who are unprepared fall prey to his devices.
We can also glean lessons from the life of Christ. He was tempted in all the ways we are (Heb. 4:15), and proved by His example that we can escape anything! (Read Philippians 4:13.)
Even though the trials we face are often brought on by our own doings, by rehearsing how to escape the pitfalls we encounter, we can avert even these disasters.
Plan Escape Routes
When the DC-10 airplane began to lose altitude, Jerry Schemmel stopped thinking about dying and began to plan what he was going to do once the plane hit the ground. His focus in the midst of tragedy was to survive.
“Just think it through,” he coached himself. He noticed the escape door was only a few rows in front of him. Even in all the chaos, when the plane finally hit the ground and flipped over, leaving him upside down with flames shooting around him, he was able to loosen his seat belt and calmly head toward the escape door. He not only saved himself, but also several others who had become disoriented and confused.
Every trial we enter, regardless of how it comes about, has an escape route. “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [allow] you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
Even though we should expect adversity and prepare for it, we should be comforted that God will not allow us to endure more than we can handle.
We have this assurance from God. The goal is to know what that escape route is and then act on it when the time comes.
We are told to flee fornication (6:18). Have you ever thought about an escape route when that moment strikes? If you know there is a movie or television show that has questionable content in this regard, and understand your susceptibility to allow your mind to lust, why flirt with disaster? Why allow yourself to watch it?
Notice: “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes…” (Psa. 101:3). Rehearse your escape route. Determine ahead of time if you are watching a television program and the content is offensive and filled with inappropriate scenes, to turn it off immediately. Or, if others are watching who do not share your moral values, politely excuse yourself. If you know how to escape, when you find yourself trapped, you will automatically know what to do.
We are told to flee idolatry (I Cor. 10:14). Have we ever planned how to do this? We certainly do not bow before physical idols today, but we are warned of “idols in [the] heart” (Ezek. 14:4, 7). We can chase after and worship physical things and pursuits, which can become idols—and take our focus off of pursuing God’s kingdom. Do you know your escape route when confronted with such idols in your life?
Knowing how or when to flee this type of temptation has much to do with being aware they are idols. Time usually determines idols of the heart. If we are spending an inordinate amount of time pursuing pleasure, while “seeking first the kingdom” begins to suffer, it is probable that we are worshiping idols. That still small voice within us (the Holy Spirit) can be the alarm that signals us to get out!
What about the command to “flee also youthful lusts” (II Tim. 2:22)? Again, have you rehearsed a plan in your mind to flee those things you used to desire in your past as you re-encounter them? What was it that you had to overcome to get to God’s Church? Smoking, drunkenness, fornication, drugs, lust, greed? Old habits die hard as the saying goes, and if you are not careful, they can reappear! We must have escape routes when Satan leads us down any old, dangerous paths.
In January 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rock 450 feet from shore causing the ship to sink, killing 32. Instead of becoming caught up in the ensuing chaos, Benji Smith and his wife Emily immediately began to act. “We had to improvise,” he explained in Time magazine. “No one was telling us what to do.” By tying sheets and a rope together into knots, they lowered themselves to the water and escaped.
Practice meditating on instructions from God’s Word and use resourcefulness to create personal escape routes. This will assure that you are able to survive a dicey situation every time. These escape routes must become instinctive—automatic.
Remember: as long we stay close to Him, God will lead us out of spiritual disasters. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:6).
Recognize Danger Signs
As Tilly was walking on the beach that December day in Thailand, she noticed the water was frothy and not heading back into the sea as it lapped the beach. Weeks before, she had learned in school this warning sign meant that an underground earthquake could have occurred and caused a tsunami. Because of her awareness, she was responsible for alerting a security guard who cleared the beach before the giant wave hit, saving the lives of hundreds of people that day.
Danger signs are all around us. If we are spiritually awake and alert, we will see them. “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, “take heed” means “to discern mentally, observe, perceive, discover, understand.” We must be in a constant state of alertness and have spiritual eyes to see conditions around us.
Christ’s warning to the seventh era of the Church addresses blindness—the inability to see: “...anoint your eyes with eyesalve, that you may see” (Rev. 3:18).
If we are aware of what our weaknesses are and the warning signs that surround us, we can avoid these spiritual disasters! Many times we can avert a trial if we simply are tuned in and awake. Know your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Look for danger signs constantly.
If you have a problem with addictions, recognize the danger signs. If you used to be an alcoholic and have trouble controlling yourself, stay away from liquor stores. If you have a weight problem and struggle with eating healthfully, avoid the junk food aisle at the grocery store. If you have a problem with sexual lusting, steer clear of risque websites.
“A prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 22:3). Recognize the danger signs in your environment and remove yourself from them.
If we perceive lust has entered our minds, this is when we need to find an escape route. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (Jms. 1:14-15).
Once we conceive lust, it is too late. It will bring forth sin.
The time to escape is when lust begins, just like the fire in the Rhode Island nightclub. As the example from the 20/20 special showed, once the fire began to spread, it was too late to escape. There was even a band member watching the flames grow and climb the walls, but did nothing about it. His ability to react was stifled by his inability to process what was happening. When the fire was small, there was no immediate threat. When it grew and spread, then it became deadly.
By then, it was too late.
Understand What Is Coming
We are in a unique position. We know what is coming—in the world and in the Church. Of course, none of us have ever been through the time of the end, but we have been given a blueprint so we can expect certain things—and prepare for them. Most will mill around bewildered at the forming disaster. Let that not be you! Understand now what is ahead and prepare yourself to cope with it.
God’s people can know with absolute certainty dangerous scenarios will unfold. There will be false ministers who rise up and teach false doctrines in the Church. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (II Pet. 2:1; I Cor. 11:19). False prophets will also come: “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:11).
Some of this deception will involve miracles. “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (II Thes. 2:8-9).
True Christians will have many adversaries (I Cor. 16:9) because of the great Work they are involved in. Many in God’s Church will be betrayed by our own friends and family (Mark 13:12) because of the teachings and way of life we now cherish.
Are you ready to face these things? What would you do if your spouse left the Church? How would you react if a member of your congregation stood up and claimed to be a “prophet”? Are you ready to be “hated of all nations” (Matt. 24:9)?
Because of the complete breakdown of character in the world around us (II Tim. 3:2-4)—the pressure to conform to those wicked ways we have fought so hard to come out of—“the love of many [in the Church!] will wax cold” (Matt. 24:12).
The four horsemen of Revelation 6 (intensifying false religion, war, famine, disease) (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) will flood every nation as an unstoppable tsunami.
All these spiritual disasters are headed our way. Will we prepare for them so we can instinctively react appropriately? Or will we “freeze”—as do the majority of people in crisis situations?
Act When It Is Time
Author Ben Sherwood told 20/20, “In most of these type of situations, we have never experienced them before. Once in them, our memory searches for what to do in a particular situation. Finding nothing to compare it with, the mind searches again and again and goes into an endless loop of searching for the right response which ultimately is never found. This is what causes people to freeze.”
Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable, explained how the brain operates under extreme duress in the same special. “[The brain] loses functions like processing new information. There has to be something in there at some level. If you need to think, it’s too late.”
Writer Laurence Gonzales concurred with such thinking in his book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why: “There are things you can’t control, so you’d better know how you’re going to react to them.”
How do we prevent ourselves from freezing in trials and difficult situations—unexpected catastrophes and conditions we have never experienced before? Look to God.
“I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from where comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:1-2). He will never leave us alone because He is never far away.
Psalms further states, “The Lord is near unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth” (145:18).
God promises to deliver us out of the most horrendous circumstances—it is a promise! “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (40:1-2).
We are the focus of God’s attention. He loves “the righteous” (146:8) and is ready to rescue us from disasters in which we find ourselves: “Now know I that the Lord saves [helps, delivers, rescues, preserves] His anointed; He will hear him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand” (20:6).
The Creator desires that we survive—now and forever. He will do His part and He expects us to do ours. All we need to do is ask: “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6).
At times, when we have done all we can, but still things look bleak, He will send supernatural help: “The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them” (Psa. 34:7).
What Is at Stake
The difficulties we go through now are preparing us to save all of humanity later. When Joseph went through terrible trials and unjust treatment by his family and others in Egypt, God’s short-term purpose was for him to save others—and then later millions of others (Gen. 50:20). God is doing the same with us today.
We have the privilege of going through difficult survival training exercises now in this present evil world so others will be taught a way of life by qualified survivalists—us—later in the Millennium and beyond. These human beings will then have a chance to be born into the Family of God! We cannot “freeze” and fail to escape our spiritual catastrophes.
Having a survivor mentality is paramount to entering God’s kingdom. Without this mindset, and all the preparation to create and maintain it, we will not have the fortitude to stand against the wiles of the devil—the being who seeks to put an end to the hope of our—and mankind’s—glorious future.
Christians are survivors who are mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually tough. They have weathered the storms of character growth. They have been through many disasters and have survived. They have the attitude of Paul: “So fight I” (I Cor. 9:26). Sometimes there are scars and the proverbial missing limb, but they do not quit. They never give up.
Aron Ralston explained why he came to the horrifying decision to cut off his arm: “The sacrifice of losing my hand was nearly inconsequential because it amounted to getting out and back to my life and to the people that I love” (Daily Record).
How much more does this apply to us!
Sometimes drastic measures in our lives are required. Mr. Ralston was going to die unless he lost his hand. We must have the same mindset to live as he demonstrated on that pivotal day in 2003. His life is completely different now—for the better. He has a wife and child, and an exciting career because he would not allow circumstances to defeat him.
Notice: “Wherefore if your hand or your foot offend you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8).
God does not expect us to literally cut off limbs to avoid the lake of fire. He, however, does expect us to be relentless in overcoming obstacles and escaping the trials we so often bring upon ourselves, and if necessary, pay a hefty price to escape.
Aron Ralston decided he wanted to live! He chose the only option that offered him life. It cost him dearly, but the price he paid does not compare to what he now has. And he would never have realized how awesome his life could become had he not been willing to sacrifice a piece of his body.
Our future as rulers over all things—heirs of God—is so incomprehensible that the price we should be willing to pay should be commensurate to the reward.
As human beings, we are capable of much more than we imagine. Since we have God’s Spirit (the very power and essence of the God of the universe), we must endeavor to the highest aspirations one can have—God’s kingdom. We must demonstrate strength, courage and faith. Tenacity and an iron will must define our existence. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
A survival mentality will carry us through all the “impossible situations” that lie before us on this challenging road to the kingdom.
The whole Creation groans for the saints to finish their training (vs. 19, 22). We must develop into spiritual survivalists. God’s Plan to save mankind is contingent upon our ability to escape and survive now!
Thrive on impossible circumstances by calling on God for help and then have faith to believe He will guide you to an escape route every time! Resolve to build and maintain a survivor mentality. All of mankind—past, present and future—is counting on you!