I found being passed over to be the most freeing thing that has happened to me in my walk with Christ. I saw the hand of God in the tough lessons I experienced and appreciated what He had done for me.
A young officer works long hours characterized by daily, rigid discipline ever-expecting that his branch of service will recognize his dedicated labors and reward them with promotion to the next rank. He lives and breathes his service culture, often putting the military before self and family. After all, isn’t that what is expected of a successful officer?
But what, if after all his self-sacrificing efforts, he’s not selected? This was the stunning realization I faced…
When the 1997 promotion list was due to be officially released, a friend called me to say, “Stu, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m sorry, but your name is not on the list.” I thanked him, hung up the phone, and quietly took stock of my situation.
Looking back, I can recall several factors that affected my decision to become an officer. My father was a lieutenant in the Army and several of the men whom I admired from my neighborhood and church had served as officers during World War II and the Korean War. I read every book about the military, and dreamed constantly about leading soldiers.
Fortunately, I grew up with parents who set an authentic Christian example. One day when I was in high school my mother confronted me. She said she observed my personal walk with Christ and felt it was lukewarm. That day I asked God to cleanse me of anything that was not of Him in my life. God is so faithful that He honored my prayer and began to systematically remove anything interfering in my relationship with Him–in such a way that it was undeniable that He was at work.
In the summer between my junior and senior years, a retired Air Force officer who was a teacher in my school took a few of us to Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy. We walked around the campus, visited with cadets, and observed training. I was hooked. I felt I was destined to fly fighters for the Air Force. I passed my flight physical with no problems…but the Air Force never received a copy of it and would not process my application for consideration.
Disappointed but not undaunted, I resolved to attend the local college, which had started an Army ROTC program that year, and apply to the Air Force Academy again the following year. The Professor of Military Science convinced me to apply for a three-year ROTC scholarship as a back-up plan. I did, and was selected. Accepting the Army ROTC scholarship would end my hopes of flying for the Air Force, but faced with the uncertainty of academy selection the following year, I decided that I would accept the scholarship and fly aircraft for the Army.
As a military student, I was very competitive among my peers and seemed a shoe-in for Aviation Branch selection. I looked forward to the announcement of branch assignments when I could revel in my selection to this highly competitive program. Of course, not having learned the lesson of humility yet, this was not to be, and I was told that I had instead been selected for a career in Military Intelligence. I couldn’t understand what God was doing in my life and I was angry.
For three years I continued to apply for flight school, all the time trying in my own strength to become content with my current situation. I knew this was futile, however, since I found myself feeling jealous and angry whenever I saw an aviator.
Then I began to recognize my problem with pride, and by a miraculous work of God in my spirit, I began to find fulfillment in my current job. In fact, I was finally able to tell my wife that I didn’t even want to fly anymore.
Not two weeks after I finally sacrificed my pride and self-will on the altar, I received a letter in the mail telling me I had been selected for flight school. Later, because of my intelligence background, I was selected to attend the Army’s fixed-wing training. God’s plan is never what we’d expect and is always better than what we could accomplish.
I had always told people that my priorities were God, followed by my family, and then followed by my career. I realized they had really been just the opposite. My whole identity was so wrapped up in the Army that it dictated how I felt about myself. If I did something well or was commended, I felt good about myself; if I was not commended, or worse, was reprimanded, I was devastated.
Because of this mentality, I was constantly trying to compete with my peers for the approval of my superiors. God revealed that this was an emotional roller-coaster ride and an unhealthy approach to a military career.
Far from being a hindrance to my career, I found being passed over to be the most freeing thing that has happened to me in my walk with Christ. I saw the hand of God in the tough lessons I experienced and appreciated what He had done for me.
I learned to place my daily identity in Him rather than my job, to seek His favor rather than that of people, and to rightly prioritize things in my life. I found that I enjoyed my career more fully as I put my career in its proper place behind God and my family.
I examine my motives by asking myself these questions:
- Am I willing to surrender all areas of my life to God?
- If not, what specific areas of my life have I not yet surrendered to Him?
- From where or whom do I derive my identity?
- Who am I trying to please?
- What is the order of my priorities with regard to God, family, and my career?
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” From the start of my career to now, God has steadily changed my desires to be more in line with His by eliminating unnecessary baggage. As we willingly submit to His authority, He is faithful to refine us and help us to find our complete fulfillment in Him.