It seems that Americans today are fascinated by the concept of angels, depicting them in everything from jewelry and Christmas decorations to movies and television programs.

A poll conducted by Time magazine in 1993 reported that 69 percent of American adults believed in the existence of angels, and 46 percent felt they had their own guardian angel. Also, 32 percent claimed to have felt an angelic presence at some time in their lives.

In addition, a 2000 poll conducted by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, found that 81 percent of adults polled said they believed that "angels exist and influence people's lives."

But is it correct to assume that angels are the nonthreatening, loving beings that many people believe them to be? That all depends.

We find instances in the Bible when angels were sent to deliver specific messages from God. They often began their messages with phrases like "Do not be afraid," or "Do not fear."

But we also find instances in which God used angels to execute His judgment, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah and elsewhere.

Generally, God's angels operate undercover. They don't draw attention to themselves, but instead carry out God's assignments.

One reason we may not recognize the presence of angels in our lives is because they are doing their jobs properly. Angels are actively involved in the lives of the people of God, and even in the affairs of people in general. They have a specific function and ministry in the lives of Christians.

The Bible says in Psalm 34:7, "The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them" (NKJV). Hebrews 1:14 says of angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (NKJV).

It is even possible that you have personally met an angel. Hebrews 13:2 teaches, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" (NKJV).

It is amazing to think that some of us may have communicated with an angel, but were unaware of it. Angels are nearer than we may realize.

If an angel of God were to appear before you right now, you would stand in awe because angels are very beautiful. When we read biblical accounts of people who encountered angels, they were often overwhelmed by the glory and beauty of them.

Still, angels remain invisible most of the time, except on very special occasions when God sends them on a unique mission or clothes them in human form.

Contrary to what some have been led to believe, angels are not deceased human beings who are trying to earn their wings. Also, when someone dies, their friends or loved ones may say that person is now an angel who watches over them. However, this is not true.

When people say that someone who has died now helps them or guides them or their presence is felt, it is not true. People who have gone from this life into eternity do not communicate with us. They do not comfort us. They do not guide us. Certainly, they do not turn into angels. Angels are an altogether unique group created by God.

Also contrary to what some people have attempted to do, it is incorrect to attempt communication with an angel, to try to pray to an angel, or to specifically develop a relationship with an angel. We find in Scripture that the focus is on praying to God, looking to God, and developing a relationship with God.

Yes, God does work through angels, but that is not the point. The point is that it is God who is doing it.

We don't know how many times angels have been working behind the scenes, how many times they have delivered us, helped us out of tight situations, or intervened on our behalf. Angels are all around us, taking care of us and ministering to us, even when we are not aware of their presence. This certainly gives hope in these troubled, dangerous times in which we are living.

When we think of all of the violence and chaos and danger in the world today, it is comforting to know that God's angels are watching out for us. They may not help you find a parking space or make your casseroles more flavorful, but you can be certain that angels are God's secret agents, powerfully and effectively doing the work He has called them to do.