Finishing Strong, in Iraq and Life
Where were you in 2003? Most of us remember the United States' invasion of Iraq. The media covered our military's every move and with those reports came images none of us will forget.
Shortly before the invasion, I was in Vicenza, Italy, giving a concert for our Army personnel there. Upon returning home, I learned that some of the same men attending the concert had parachuted into the mountains near Kirkuk, Iraq, only days later.
That period in our history was punctuated with excitement, mystery, and danger. And now just over eight years later on 21 December, the war in Iraq officially ended.
Last summer while performing and ministering to our military personnel there, a question emerged in my mind: are we finishing strong?
Finishing strong in any endeavor depends on knowing where we started. The military mission in Iraq went through its own evolutionary process, and now the finish looks like this: the U.S. presence in Iraq created the opportunity for a divided nation to unite democratically under one flag and voice.
And If Iraq embraces this prospect through wise choices, they will pass on this freedom to their children.
Our troops articulated this mission well. From the motor pool mechanic to the communications expert under antennas on dusty hills, they clearly understood the support they provided. During some of my unannounced visits to the troops' work places, I heard them talk firsthand about how their individual roles were significant and how what they did contributed to the final mission of handing over the infrastructure to the Iraqi army.
Our soldiers are professional, dedicated, strong, and compassionate. Yes, they looked forward to getting home to their families and lives on American soil. But in Iraq last summer, morale was upbeat-considering they still had to take cover when sirens sounded "incoming rocket fire" from insurgents. My view is our soldiers knew they were finishing strong because they understand what was started and what the ending result should look like.
As New Testament Christians, we are aware that God desires His children to finish strong-in our daily endeavors and all the way to our last breath on this side of eternity. I believe this encouragement to finish strong is because of what He began in us. It is something so wonderful that He admonishes our cooperation with Him daily, so He can finish what He started. From what we see in Scripture, His "final product" is vastly superior to anything we could ever muster for ourselves.
At every stop on my Iraqi tour, I had the privilege of handing the soldiers a postcard with this Scripture passage:
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:3-6).
Whether a military mission or in life itself, who doesn't want to finish strong?
Like the Iraqis, we have choices to make to ensure we finish our race with strength and dignity. There are some practical concepts for us from this passage in Philippians that can lead us to God's finish line: remember each other; pray for one another; be joyous; be a partner; be confident; and do good work. We are all called to be the kind of soldiers who finish strong-on the battlefield and in life.
Danny Byram is a musician who has entertained and inspired U.S. military personnel at home and overseas, earning him the moniker "Combat Musician" from the troops and commanders. He has released nine CDs of his varied music. Danny and his wife, Angela, live in Colorado with their three children, the oldest of whom will graduate this spring from Colorado State University and will commission as an Army lieutenant.