As we recognize those who have served in our armed forces this Veterans Day, it seems appropriate to spend a few moments focusing on some biblical principles on vocation that may help veterans with some of their greatest challenges. These principles have shaped my own experience of serving on active duty for over 20 years, as well as in my civilian work since.
Trust God in the Face of the Unknown
One of the biggest challenges active duty members face is in trusting God in new assignments—especially when they come unexpectedly. In my own experience, I showed up one day about a year into my first duty station and was told I was on orders to report to the Republic of Korea for a one-year unaccompanied tour (without my family). As a Christian, there were a few things I had to keep in mind as I prepared for this transfer.
First, a Christian in the military needs to understand the sovereignty of God, that he is always in control. He is an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and faithful God. Even if your next assignment is in the hands of someone in Fort Knox, Kentucky, you must know that God has you in his bigger hands. He knows where you need to go, what you need to do, who you need to serve with, and when is the right time that he needs you and your family to be there to fulfill his purposes.
How can we know this? Just look at Scripture. Joseph found himself in places that he did not plan to go. However, God had it planned all along. In Genesis 45:7–8, Joseph concludes that despite what his brothers did to him, it is not man who causes things to happen, but God. Later, we read in Isaiah that “we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8). God sovereignly works in the circumstances and hearts of his people to prepare them to do his work and to mold them as he desires to fulfill his purposes.
Submitting to Leadership, Even When it’s Subpar
A second major challenge that our current military personnel have to deal with is learning how to submit to their unit leadership, especially when they are uncaring, incompetent, or less than trustworthy.
I asked two colleagues, both officers in the military, how their Christian faith helped them handle submitting to poor leaders. One of them said that by serving under a bad leader, he learned what not to do. He stated that his faith in Jesus reminded him that there was something greater down the road, and that God would work it out for his good (Rom. 8:28).
The other officer told me that she tried hard to focus on doing everything as unto the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23- 24), and that she was glad to be able to be light in a dark place.
Finding Meaning in Non-Ministry Work
The third major challenge that our U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines face is how to find meaning and purpose in their day-to-day job. That was something that I struggled with as well.
For my first two years as a nuclear, biological, chemical operations specialist, I felt a lot of guilt. I felt called to serve God in vocational ministry when I was in college. I had done all I could do to pursue ministry as a profession, but because my financial circumstances impeded my progress, that door was closed. I had to find a secular job. I truly felt that I was a second-class Christian.
Then in 1989, while serving my first of two unaccompanied tours in Korea, I read a life-changing book entitled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. They tore apart the myth of sacred versus secular, and they clearly explained to me the intrinsic and instrumental value of everyday work. I began to see how God could use me to glorify him wherever I worked.
Principles for Those Who have Served in the Past
Those who have served honorably and are beginning to transition to the civilian sector or have already done so have some unique challenges in finding employment in the outside world. I see two major struggles with those who have spent most of their adult life serving in the military.
First, it may be difficult for some veterans to see how God could use their military experience in their next career. Some military occupational specialties, especially those that fall under the category of combat arms (such as infantry, armor, or field artillery), do not necessarily have a similar civilian position that they can seamlessly transition into. However, I want to remind them that many of the skills, attitudes, values, and experiences that God graciously provided them throughout their military career are easily transferable and make them an asset to any employer. These include intangible things such as discipline, resilience, loyalty, respect, and selfless service.
A second challenge our veterans face is that when they do find a job, they may need to adapt to a radically different work type of work environment. Some aspects of serving in the military are not found in the civilian sector. As a result, veterans may stand out among their peers, which may or may not be appreciated. There may not be the same sense of purpose in their new work that comes with accomplishing a mission. In such instances, it may be that they are there to improve the organization. God may have placed them in for such a time as this. He can work through them to make a difference.
I trust that these words from a fellow veteran will encourage my brothers and sisters in arms to remember that God is with them. He will provide; he will lead; he has good plans for his own.