There are 17 million veterans in this country. Some of them (like me) made a career out of it and are among our retired ranks; others served for three or four years. Some served for decades in the reserves or National Guard. Many served well in combat. Each and every one of them should be proud of their service to this nation. For those veterans who are also Christ-followers, you need to know that your work while serving in the military matters to God.
As I reflect on my military experience over 33 years of active federal service, both as a soldier in the U.S. Army and as a civilian in the Department of the Army, I know that God has been and is present with me in this work. For those who have served, who are serving, or those pastors and others serving those who have served, let me share an encouraging word about some of the unique ways God is present in this unique line of work.
God Led You to Serve
I was in a tough spot in early 1986. After struggling for over three years at seminary, I had exhausted all options to continue pursuing my master’s degree due to a number of doors God had closed. I had to let go of my dream. But my pastor at the time gave me wise advice: “When your dream dies, find a new dream.” I had to humbly pray and seek God’s direction. Little did I know he was going to answer my prayer in a most unique way.
“Be all that you can be!” was the Army’s slogan at the time, and it caught my attention. The military, I thought, could be a way to get some financial stability for my young family, as well as continuing education funds that could help me get my seminary degree later on if I still felt led to do so. After much prayer, I decided to enlist for three years. I ended up serving on active duty for 20 years, 6 months, and 17 days, and for the last 12 years, I have continued working with soldiers as a Department of the Army civilian employee.
Your story is different from mine, but I can tell you that, whether you were drafted, enlisted, or were commissioned, God led you to serve. He needed you to be all that you could be and to represent him wherever you went.
God Brought You Through Every Challenge You Faced
Though our stories may be different, those of us who have served have endured many of the same challenges that I faced when I first joined the Army. In basic training, there were the physical challenges of long days, running for miles and miles, and doing hundreds of pushups. In my next phase of training, there were mental challenges to learn new technical skills.
At my first duty station, I had to learn how to submit to the authority of my squad leader, who was younger than me. I had to learn much about the way things were supposed to be done to meet established procedures. Quite often, my pride got in the way. During these humbling times, I had to trust God and depend daily on his grace, mercy, and wisdom. It took years before I knew what I was doing and developed confidence in my abilities as a soldier.
David, too, saw how God used military training to help him grow into the leader he was called to be: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Ps. 18:34).
God provided just what you needed to be an effective soldier. He may have used drill sergeants, instructors, squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and first sergeants to train you. But as Christians, we know the God of the universe also trains us directly by his Holy Spirit. His primary mission is to comfort, remind, and empower us in our daily walk of faith.
God Developed Your Character & Spiritual Maturity
Though I had many successes in my military career, I also had several failures that humbled me and made me more Christ-like. I failed miserably as a recruiter, even though I was assigned to my old college town. Years later, as a platoon sergeant in Germany, it became obvious after about eight months that I was also ill-prepared for that job.
During these difficult assignments, God caused me to depend on him as my source of confidence and identity. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25) supernaturally grew in me by leaps and bounds as I increased in compassion, patience, kindness, and peace that passes all understanding. I also came to appreciate those times when God truly had blessed my efforts way beyond what I could ask or expect.
God Used You to do “Justice Work”
In her book Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman shares a helpful concept of God’s work as our vocational model. She describes the different kinds of work God does in our midst now and how our human vocations can fit into this model. One of the six categories is “Justice Work,” defined as God’s maintenance of justice. There will come a day when our Messiah Jesus returns and wars will be no more (e.g., Isa. 2:4 and Micah 4:3). But until that time, a strong offensive capability is one of the ways in which God keeps peace in this world.
I firmly believe God is present in the work of our brave men and women in uniform. He needs them to be trained and ready, prepared to fight and defeat the enemy when called upon. He is present on the military installation where I work, through the drill sergeants, instructors, leaders, and civilian staff members who work to develop, coordinate, support, and execute the training that God provides to thousands of new soldiers annually.
Recognizing the Value of This Work Beyond a Single Day
Veteran’s Day is a time where many thank the veterans in their lives for their service; it is a time where the men and women who have and are serving are reminded of the value of the work they have done. But my hope is that these words will help Christian veterans come to understand a little better that God values their service also. He has worked in them and through them as part of his work to bring justice and peace to people everywhere.
These kinds of reminders are important especially to those combat veterans who have experienced great losses as a direct result of serving this country in places far from home. Many have lost friends and comrades in arms. They may have lost limbs or had traumatic brain injuries. They may have lost their families. They may even feel like they have lost their souls.
If you are one of these veterans, I want you to know that your work was not in vain. More importantly, there is comfort, healing, and rest to be found in God alone. He is your rock, your shelter, and your deliverer. And when you receive his comfort, you can in turn pass it on to others who need it. (2 Cor. 1:3-4.)