The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Military Christians: The Spiritual Benefits of Being a Soldier

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

God created you for the purpose of having a close, personal relationship with Him. Since God is not a human, learning to relate to Him will require a whole lot of learning and adjusting on your part. God doesn’t think like you think, and He doesn’t act like you act. But He is so keenly interested in relating to you, that He simply won’t leave you alone. He’s always in your business—micromanaging your life, and setting up countless experiences which are all designed with one goal in mind: to draw you closer to Himself. When you joined the military, you entered a world that is fraught with fabulous opportunities to grow closer to God. The key now is for you to recognize what those opportunities are and decide that you are going to make the most of them.

LEARNING SUBMISSION

A military cannot function without submission. You’re not going to get anywhere with God without submission, either. Submission is at the core of your relationship with God: it is the foundation upon which everything else is built. You can’t get saved without submission. You can’t mature without submission. You can’t please God without submission. Submission is vital, and yet it is an attitude which humans find universally repulsive. Rather than have to yield to someone else’s agenda, we want to do things our own way. We don’t like being disagreed with. We resent being criticized and bossed around. By immersing you in a system that revolves around the concept of submission to superior rank, God is helping you develop a soul attitude that is critical to thriving in your relationship with Him.

So what exactly is submission? It is the yielding to someone else’s will. Submission only comes up when there is a disagreement of wills. As long as you want to do what your CO is telling you to do, you’re not submitting to him. You’re just doing what you want to do. Submission is about doing what you don’t want to do out of respect for someone else. In the military, you are taught that submission is not an option, it’s a requirement. You’re also taught that you have to submit to anyone who outranks you, whether you know them or not. To enable you to immediately identify who your superiors are, militaries come up with special uniform markings that are unique to each rank. You see a certain badge or a certain style of hat, and you instantly know whether you are outranked or not. It’s a very efficient system—one which eliminates the need for any personal knowledge to be exchanged before you understand your place. You’re in a very similar set up with God: how well you know Him personally has nothing to do with His submission requirements. God demands that you submit to His Authority at all times. When He gives you a direct order, He expects you to obey it. Personal knowledge has nothing to do with it. God might be a virtual Stranger to you or you might feel that you know Him quite well. Either way, you are permanently outranked by Him, so His orders to you must always be viewed as non-negotiable.

Here’s a very important point about submission that many Christians fail to understand: submission is a matter of acceptance, not agreement. When your human CO assigns you some dislikable task, you can’t control your emotional reaction. You can’t suddenly decide to love scrubbing down the deck or standing watch in the freezing cold or running an extra mile. God has hardwired certain preferences into you and changing those things is beyond your capabilities. But while you don’t have to like what your CO is making you do, you can choose to obey without a bunch of snark.

By now you’ve probably come across some military procedures which you disagree with. Fine. The military doesn’t care if you approve of its system or not, it just demands that you fall in line and accept the way things are. It’s the same with God. When He says souls who refuse to submit to Him on this earth deserve to be eternally tormented in Hell, you’re not going to agree that His judgment seems fair. From the human perspective, Hell is an insane overreaction. In the same way, when God says that some creep who messed you up in life will be accepted by Him and get to end up in the same Heaven as you if he sincerely submits to God’s Authority before he dies, you’re not going to like God’s decision to be merciful to your hated enemy. As humans, we want to see God stick it to the people who hurt us in life. We’re vengeful little things—it’s wired in. We only want mercy for ourselves and the people we love. But for our enemies, we want harsh punishments. It’s ugly hypocrisy, but there it is. Well, when the military demands that you accept the policies which you personally disapprove of, God can teach you how to apply that same kind of submission to your walk with Him. There will be many times in life when God makes a call that you totally disagree with. Maybe He injures or kills one of your buddies. Maybe He has you transferred to some miserable outpost. Maybe He has you unfairly passed over for a promotion. When such moments arise, what does God want your response to be? Well, first you need to ask Him for instruction. There will be times when your human CO makes a call that God doesn’t want you to just go along with. But when God does tell you to submit to annoying human authorities, or when He creates difficulties in your life and then calls on you to trust Him through the trial, that’s when He wants you to accept His will and yield to His Authority even though you don’t like what He’s doing.

This is the fabulous thing about God: He doesn’t require that you like Him in order to be pleasing in His sight. If you’re maturing spiritually, there are going to be times when you seriously dislike God. There might even be times where you intensely hate Him (see Angry at God). When God hurts you, you’re going to seriously question His goodness. When He messes up your life, you’re going to seriously question His wisdom (see Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God). But even when you dislike God, you can still choose to submit to His Authority, and when you do, you’re going to be setting yourself up for some major rewards. You see, God is a very kind and generous CO. He understands how aggravating, scary, and painful His will can be. If He asks one guy to walk a mile lap, and He asks you to crawl the same mile with your face an inch from the ground and live ammo whizzing over your head, He understands that you’re being asked to do a much harder thing. When you obey Him, your obedience counts for more with Him, and it will be rewarded more, because God cares very much about what it costs you to obey Him.

God’s greatest rewards come in the form of invitations for us to know Him better. Forget about gold crowns and mansions in Heaven—such things are meaningless (see Better than Heaven: Pursuing What Really Matters). It’s communing with God that’s the real prize. While God is intimately involved in every life, He doesn’t pass out the same invitations. God is like the CO over your unit who everyone has heard fascinating stories about. But while the man is always walking around the base, making sure things are in order and answering questions about procedures, he doesn’t socialize. He’s tight-lipped about his personal feelings. When you talk to him, he’s all business. But then one day, he comes up to you and invites you to have lunch with him. Even though there are hundreds of guys on the base—many of whom have been there a lot longer than you have—you’re the one the CO singles out to have lunch with. You’re feeling pretty honored, and when you sit down to have lunch with this high ranking officer who you really admire, he starts actually getting personal with you. He starts sharing his views on different things and you start learning some really fascinating stuff about him—stuff that makes you admire him even more than you did before. This is what it’s like when God invites you to come closer to Him—He starts giving you insights about Him that other souls don’t have. He starts helping you understand things you’ve never understood before and everything He shares just makes you admire Him even more. This is how God responds to souls who are dedicated in their submission to Him. They are the ones who He invites closer in than everyone else. And once He invites you closer, if you keep on submitting to Him, He’ll give you another invitation, and another, and another. God is an incredibly fascinating Being who becomes more and more enticing the more you know Him. By immersing you in a military system, God is helping you learn attitudes which can radically change your personal dynamic with Him. So you see, being a soldier isn’t just about defending some political nation on earth. That might be a purpose you believe in, but there is a much higher goal that you need to bear in mind: developing a closer relationship with your Creator.

AUTHORITIES TRUMPING AUTHORITIES

Colonel Hammond tells you to do one thing. But then General Tragg comes along and tells you to do just the opposite. What do you do? You obey Tragg, because he outranks Hammond. When Hammond finds out, he’s pretty ticked at you. Well, you were being a good soldier, and Hammond’s real beef is one of pride: he resents the fact that he isn’t the top authority in your life. It’s no fun dealing with Hammond’s attitude, but you still did the right thing.

This is a classic military dilemma: your COs get into a tiff with each other and you end up caught in the middle. Yet learning how to deal with such awkwardness sets you up for another critical spiritual lesson. You see, God is the Supreme Authority in your life. He totally outranks human military officers, national leaders, and everyone else. This means that if the military is telling you to do one thing, and God is telling you to do another, who are you supposed to obey? God, of course.

God always outranks the other authorities in your life. But because God’s orders to you don’t come in written form, it takes some serious moxie to obey Him over the human officers who are screaming in your face. Maybe you’ve already been in this kind of situation and you tanked miserably. Guess what? God is a lot more forgiving than human commanders. Even if you did something really bad, like kill someone, guess what? God is a whole lot more forgiving than human commanders (see Will God forgive soldiers for killing?).

It’s vital to remember that God is not a human—He’s a totally different kind of Being and one who is far easier to succeed with (see Understanding How Easy it is to Succeed with God). No matter what you’ve done wrong, there is a way to move forward. There is redemption available. There is a way to get out from under the brick load of shame (see Overcoming Shame). While the military might slap you with a dishonorable discharge, God gives you perpetual chances to be honorable in His sight, no matter how badly you’ve messed up. Once you understand this about Him, you realize what a great relief it is that God is the One who is really in charge. Compared to Him, the highest earthly authorities are just a bunch of lowly grunts. God is the Supreme Commander, and the judgments that get passed in His court are the only ones that will stand in the end. Unlike human generals that don’t even know your name, God is with you at all times and He wants you to succeed with Him (see Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy). God is enthusiastically for you—He’s not just waiting to trip you up so He can make an example out of you. If you are a Christian in God’s eyes, then you have the assurance of knowing He will never disown you. You’re accepted by Him forever, and if you feel like you’re not in a good place with Him right now, all you need to do is ask and He will help you get back to where you need to be (see What it Means to be Aligned with God).

FUNCTIONING ON A NEED TO KNOW BASIS

Militaries are famous for being aggravatingly secretive. Your CO gives you an order, but he won’t tell you why. You ask a question and you’re told that “you don’t need to know that” or “that’s above your pay grade” or “that’s classified.” Human pride naturally chafes when we can tell people are intentionally withholding secrets from us—especially when we feel like they’re flaunting their inside knowledge in our faces. In the military, there are things you can’t know, places you can’t go, and people you never see all because you don’t have sufficient security clearance. It’s an annoying set up, and yet by learning to accept it, you develop an attitude which is very useful in your relationship with God.

As your Supreme Commander, God is intentionally keeping you in the dark about many things. And just as human militaries commonly use deceptive cover stories to diffuse curiosity about what the real purpose of an operation is, God intentionally deceives you all the time in order to steer you away from fears, concerns, and questions that will only bog you down (see Communicating with God: Why He Lies). As a general rule, Christians resent the notion that God would ever deceive them intentionally. And yet the reality is that we need God to deceive us if we’re going to avoid getting completely overwhelmed with fear. Maybe God knows that tomorrow He’s going to set off a series of events that will greatly impact your life in some very negative ways. Is He going to tell you this ahead of time just so you can melt into a puddle of fear? No. He’s going to keep you in the dark, and if you try to ask Him about your future, He’ll probably assuage you with pleasant platitudes like “Everything is going to be alright” or “Just trust Me.”

The reality is that humans don’t react well to too much information. While militaries do get involved in shady things, not every secret has an evil agenda behind it. It’s simply not possible to keep all military personnel abreast of everything that’s going on, and for many procedures to make sense, you need to understand the bigger picture. Also, it’s a fact of human nature that knowledge changes behavior patterns and that future knowledge easily knocks our priorities out of order. If Corporal Parker knew that he’d end up with his legs blown off by a landmine when he was first considering joining the army, would he have signed up? Of course not. And yet God knows that Parker will be much better off in the long run going through all of the experiences a military career will give him, including being crippled. So when Parker asks God ahead of time “Is it wise for me to sign up? Is this going to work out well?”, God is going to say, “Yes.” Sitting in a hospital bed later on, Parker’s going to look back on those prayers and resent God for lying to him. Because he and God both know that when Parker asked if things would work out well, he was using the human definition of well—one which means positive earthly circumstances. What’s positive about losing the ability to walk? Did God intentionally mislead Parker with a false sense of security? Absolutely, but He did it out of concern for the well-being of Parker’s soul.

Here’s a critical fact about God: His priorities are not the same as yours. He is arranging your life out of concern for what’s best for your soul, while you’re trying to go for the things that please your earthsuit (see Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities). God knows that if He gives you too much information at once, you’ll lose your grip on the right priorities and end up making decisions that you’ll later regret. So He tells you things on a need to know basis, and there will be times when it’s very clear that He’s withholding information from you. In such moments, the focus needs to be on the fact that God is for you in life. His wants your soul to thrive, not languish. When God forces you into unpleasant circumstances, it is His love for you that gives you hope.

CONCLUSION

So far we’ve discussed three general ways in which a military career can positively impact your relationship with God. Because militaries depend on submission to function, you get forced to practice an attitude that is critical to succeeding with God. Because human authorities constantly bicker with each other, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with your immediate supervisor getting trumped by a higher ranking authority. You can then transfer that skill into your relationship with God and gain a better understanding of why He demands that you obey Him over and above all other human authorities in your life. And finally, the secrecy that surrounds military intelligence helps you learn how to get comfortable with the reality that God withholds a lot of information from you out a desire to help you thrive. Are these the only useful lessons you can glean from being a soldier in the military? Not even close. Like every career, working within the machinery of a human military is fraught with spiritual insights which can greatly benefit you. The key is to decide that you’re going to be teachable.

“God, I know I’m here by Your design. Help me to learn everything You want to teach me through the experiences You bring into my life. Help me to keep a grip on the right priorities and remember that pleasing You is far more important than serving my country or pleasing any human authorities. I acknowledge that You are the Supreme Authority over all and I am giving You total submission. Have Your way in my life. Make me all that You want me to be.”

If you can sincerely pray a prayer like this, then God is going to take you to some awesome places. As a soldier, you’re in the perfect position to thrive. God wants your military career to function as a catalyst that will greatly strengthen your personal bond with Him. Decide to embrace His priorities for you, and you’ll come out with something far better than manmade medals and honors. Intimacy with God is the ultimate prize. Refuse to settle for anything less.

FURTHER READING:
Should Christians join the military?
Managing Fear: Help for Christian Soldiers & Cops
Preparing for the End Times: The Law vs. God’s Prophet

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