YEARS OF CHANGE
Our years of military service leave most of us greatly changed. The challenges, trials, training, communication skills, leadership, separation from civilian culture, imposed discipline, ethical challenges, physical fitness standards, pressure under fire, and much more provide a culture within which men and women are matured in physical skill, mental agility, self-control, and spiritual insight.
Don’t waste these years through ambition, careerism, vain distractions, self-pity, etc.; rather, live as those who are growing in knowledge of God. Pray for wisdom to live personal lives of discipline in which you faithfully represent the God who redeemed you, adopted you, is changing you, and who placed you in the military for His glory. Grow in knowing His will and obeying it (Matthew 7:21). We who believe in Jesus Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that we can mature into a lifetime of obedience (John 16:7-15).
This concept of obedience does not set a law or standard for OCF’ers to achieve. It is meant to spur you on to know God, to grow in love for Him, to be built up toward effective service in the kingdom, and to help refine your thinking toward things that will keep you in the spiritual race. Every single one of us knows what it is to be weary and overwhelmed, or to wrestle with indwelling sin. May one or more of these godly habits move you toward a more faithful walk with the Lord who has called and drawn you to Himself.
BEAR GOD’S NAME WORTHILY
If we claim to be Christians, we need to know God. Growing in knowledge of God allows us to represent Christ better within the military community. God says through Moses, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). This command is about how we live and make God known. To state this command positively: Believers in the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, are commanded to bear the name of God worthily in all we do. It is good to structure our habits to spend time with Him. We fix our eyes, with unveiled faces, on the God who invites us to behold (stare at) His glory so we are transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-2).
To know someone necessitates having spent time with them. To be Christ’s ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) implies we progressively get to know Him better. We cannot know Him if we do not spend intentional time in prayer and in studying what He has given us in the Bible. This means more than quality time, but quantity of time (we get to know dear friends through quantity of time, not just short bursts of “quality time”).
We work up to larger amounts of Bible study time by starting with manageable portions. Like becoming committed to a good workout, there comes a point where the believer cannot imagine failing to stay connected to the daily nourishment of Christ’s vine. We bear good fruit because we abide in Christ (John 15:1-11). You are on a life-long pursuit of daily habits that may seem small at first, but these accumulate into a life of Bible study, of prayer, and of service within your culture.
DAILY SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Make room for daily time with God (prayer and Bible reading) so that the relentless pace of military life will not cause you to miss being with your Creator. Real military life means that there will always be competition for your use of time. The need for more physical fitness, another task, another test, another meeting, night classes, or subordinates who require your attention seem to always be present. Determine that you will grow a little every day, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14).
As an example of a daily discipline, think about basic military training. Trainees are required to wake up at a specific time (usually with much external motivation), jump into a particular uniform, and then start the day with a physical fitness routine. Christian leaders can continue a similar routine of waking to spiritual fitness.
As another example, if your commander requires a 0600 check-in, you will probably be ready to report in before 0600 hours. We ought to be much more willing to start our day reporting in to our heavenly Commander and Lord! Begin your day in prayer, worshiping His holy name, petitioning Him according to the examples we find in Scripture (e.g., Matthew 6:9-13), and asking God for the wisdom to proceed through the day. We have the privilege of “reporting in” to our heavenly Lord (who created all earthly commanders) and receiving His Commander’s intent and orders for the day, meditating on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable … anything worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). It is amazing how prayer and the Scriptures instruct our hearts as the Holy Spirit opens our understanding and helps us apply the Bible (Hebrews 4:12).
Bible study and prayer are not laws leading to righteousness. Resisting the pressure of worries and work will help us focus on what is important. Paul said it this way to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
The writer of Hebrews says, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. … But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:36-39). It helps to remember we are running a race of endurance!
PURSUING PERSONAL WORSHIP
Just as intimacy of relationship is developed by time with another person, so prayer can be a way to know both ourselves and our Lord better. Pray that God will guide you through the morning “routine.” Christ exampled this as He walked through His ministry (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 17:1-26). Shorter periods of time are occasionally necessary, but try to make short devotions the exception rather than your regular practice.
Personal morning worship is a great starting point for anyone whose job involves crisis management from the moment the duty day begins. God sent manna to Israel in the wilderness as physical bread, so we can ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” as spiritual food (Matthew 6:11). Weekly rhythms lead to a weekly Sabbath rest in which you plan to join with the visible church in worship. On your Sabbath day, cease from the normal tyranny and pace of life and be renewed spiritually in God’s call to enter His Sabbath rest … 52 days of renewal every year (Hebrews 4:9)! There are times during deployments, underway operations, or other duty cycles when you will have to be working on Sunday, so you can set aside a different day or moment of sabbath rest. In those situations, be flexible and establish a rhythm that you can keep.
What might a daily study look like? You could select a book of the Bible for focused study, or you could use a devotional or Bible reading plan to get going. There is no single answer as to how to progress through a study of Scripture. However, experience will prove that once we discipline ourselves in the habit, we eventually move from a “have to do” attitude into a “I don’t have enough time” to dig deep into the Scriptures.
We have web-based resources on our website (ocfusa.org/studymaterials), and OCF publishes a booklet called “100 Days Bible Study” (developed between 1921-24) by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Smith when he was Captain Arthur Smith, Coldstream Guards, Adjutant of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It is a daily Bible study written for military personnel. Despite many combat tours in WWII and Korea, plus the demanding life of a senior officer, LTG William K. Harrison (OCF president for 18 years) disciplined himself to read through the entire Bible every year. He inspired many officers after him to do the same.
SETTING YOUR ALARM
A daily Bible study and prayer habit begins with planning ahead. You may find it helpful to set out your Bible, pen/pencil, and notebook before bedtime, and then clear your desk so that conditions are set for spending time with God first thing. Even prepping the hot water or coffee pot can help you use the first moments of your waking time well. Shift work and night hours may mean that you spend time in the Scriptures later in the afternoon or evening, but personal disciplines and intentional preparations help.
You can do a little math to figure out when to set your morning alarm and wake up for action. Calculate alarm time by thinking through what must be done before duty time (show time). Things like devotions, shower/prep, commute, and personal PT are examples of what may have to fit between the alarm going off and showing up for military duty. Starting with your first mandatory event, work backwards in time: (Duty Time) – (Commute Time) – (whatever else) – (time for personal worship) = Wake Time.
Everyone develops habits over their lifetimes, so think about your personality and do what will work for you.
Next, consider your learning style to find ways to retain some of what you are reading, seeing, hearing, and thinking. Digital documentation is handy for many, but digital notes may eventually not be retrievable. Consider writing your thoughts and observations in a journal or notebook that can be reviewed many years from now.
Nearly all of us are surprised to see how we have grown spiritually when we look back over the course of our lives. In fact, we are surprised to read notes of things we once “knew,” things written by our own hand, but forgotten over time. If you are easily distracted, use your mobile device, journal, or notebook to jot down thoughts that pop into your mind during devotions. Jotting them down will help you stay on task in the moment while saving the “random” thoughts for when you have time to deal with them. Stop morning worship when you hit your time limit for devotions so that you do not have to rush to meet other obligations.
Finally, share what you learned, observed, or have questions about, with another person. Talking with someone else about the things we have learned often helps us learn them better and retain them longer. Sending a message or video to a friend will do the same thing. Hopefully, you can process your study of Scriptures with a Christian mentor, but if you don’t have one yet, ask God to steer your steps to connect with one!