Integrity speaks to the wholeness of our lives (think of an integer in math: it cannot have a fractional component). Integrity in our personal lives is based on a standard of right and wrong (i.e., there is a right way to ensure the integrity of a ship, making it watertight). Just as it is impossible for you to stop being a military member when you take off your uniform for the day, so it is impossible to stop being a Christian in every area of life.
As Christians, God gives us His Spirit that we might both understand and be empowered to obey the Word of God. Every day we make decisions that either conform to His standard or deviate from it. God commends Job’s integrity in life by describing him as, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil … ” (Job 2:3). Every person’s conscience provides an initial sense of right and wrong, and that conscience is helped by both the laws and cultural norms of our communities. For the Christian, however, the final standard for life is God’s Word. We live before the face of Him who is holy. We call good what God calls good, and we abhor what God shows us is sin.
The Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to grow in righteousness, teaching us to please Him. Trying to control our thoughts, actions, and words in our own strength will reveal the depth of our sin—it is an impossible task to control sin because we need Christ’s finished work applied to us by faith. Our heart is revealed by what we say and do (Luke 6:45; James 1:26). Pursuing integrity requires a Spirit-dependent life, informed by the Scriptures, and matured by disciplined habits. Spirit-empowered Christian leaders will think good thoughts and speak useful words most effectively if they have a steady diet of meditating on God’s Word, hearing Biblical teaching, engaging in daily prayer, and guarding their eyes and ears from evil. Wise decisions made during a crisis, and good words that come out during stress, flow out of a spring that has fresh water (James 3:11-12).
We need fellow Christians and the local church to exhort us in right living and to point out when we are not living with integrity (Proverbs 27:17). When others find us compelling and worthy of their trust, then our bent knees will keep us relying on God alone who is able to make us trustworthy. Give public thanks to God for how He is using you in the military. Don’t justify bad habits, harsh language, and disobedience to the laws of the land, or to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), because justifying these things will harden us from seeing wrong patterns of behavior (Hebrews 3:13-14).
Invite a fellow laborer in Christ’s body to give you clarity and accountability. Say “Thank you” when someone points out a fault. Those two words are powerful, because they give another person permission to keep speaking into our lives. Accepting critique from others can keep us from being blind to our faults. While a mentoring relationship helps sharpen our skill set, we also need someone who is even closer than a mentor, someone who works and lives with us daily. This close friend needs permission to speak clearly, honestly, and often. Humble yourself in this friendship as God makes a less fractured and more whole you.
AS UNTO THE LORD
Personal integrity, flowing from our faith in Christ, will result in professional lives of trust and competence that are evident to those we work alongside. Integrity doesn’t mean we will be the top performer, will get great assignments, be promoted when expected, or achieve earthly success, but it does shine Christ’s light to a watching world (we call this professional excellence)! Work done “as to the Lord” implies we are diligent in our military duties—we know whom we are to please (Colossians 3:17, 23).
If there is a tension between obeying the commands of God or the command of an earthly leader, the choice must be to obey God. In making obedient decisions, the Christian is challenged to wrestle with Scripture and is helped by Christian elders and mentors who can help distill the issues and the obedience required. Paul instructs that we (servants) “are to be submissive to [our] own masters in everything; [we] are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything [we] may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10).
The prophet Daniel is a particularly good example of one who carried out his professional duties well while serving a secular government that was opposed to God. He faithfully served God from his youth onward, and when he was an elderly man in the court of Darius the Mede, the other satraps (governors) “sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Daniel 6:4-5). God sent Daniel into captivity, and then Daniel served God faithfully for the good of the Jews, Babylonians, Medes, and Persians.
Our good work will either flow out of a desire to please Christ in all we do, or from a self-focused motivation such as fear of people, pride, or a need to be recognized. When motivated to work as unto Christ, we rejoice not only in personal successes, but we also rejoice when others have success or receive recognition. In “failure” we are secure in our identity as loved and adopted children through Christ.
If we forget this identity and strive for self-gain or recognition, then the success of others can leave us with envy or bitterness. Christian integrity examines our motives and helps guard us against discouragement and feelings of uselessness when we plateau at work or when we hit tough obstacles.
CONSIDER A PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT
We want you to live a life in which your faith informs (is integrated into) your profession, family and community, and your ministry role within all of them. If this is a new concept for you, please pray about what it might look like to integrate your faith into every part of life. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and consider using a tool like a personal mission statement to help you initiate integrated living. Writing a mission statement will help you distill your purpose and focus and then help you remember that conviction when you revisit the mission statement later. If appropriate, write a mission (purpose) statement for your marriage and your family as well.
To begin this exercise, stop and think about why you are in the military and what spiritual, mental, and physical gifts you have. What are the main things (the big rocks, if you will) that you prioritize above everything else (the small rocks and sand)? In writing the mission statement, identify specifically who you are serving, the goal of your life and work, and the means to this goal.
Once we can articulate what God might do with our lives in the military community, we will then waste less time and resources while simultaneously finding greater joy in every assignment. Amid the many great opportunities to serve, play, volunteer, and travel in the military, a mission statement can give clarity for what we say yes to, and it provides thoughtfulness for the times when we have to say no. It is one way to lead a life where our faith informs our profession, our family, our role in community, but most importantly, in the transformation of our personal lives. It helps us to live “integrated lives.”
Having a mission statement can help protect you from a sense of purposelessness. This can creep in when there are no priorities and when most of your decisions flow from self-focused motives or in reaction to crisis moments. Your conscience should speak loudly if you are being selfish with your time and resources. Draw near to God through Word and prayer, review your mission statement for alignment of purpose, and then be 100% available for the activity you are convinced requires your time right now.
The good fruit of an integrated life may look like: 1) a home that is open to others, 2) free space on a calendar that allows for interruption, 3) the prioritization of weekly worship and fellowship, 4) space for an intentional Sabbath rest, 5) a willingness to lead the local OCF body even when tired, stressed, and with limited free time, 6) giving a listening ear to a hurting friend, 7) a family that is working together as one team, and 8) children who understand that family time, finances, and food can be gladly spent on others.
Keep an eye out for godly role models who live integrated lives and who appear excellent in their private, church, and professional lives. Look for those who demonstrate perseverance in pursuit of glorifying God. This type of person motivates us toward professional endurance and effective military ministry and may even be a great person to ask to be your mentor. May God make you the type of person that others will desire to imitate (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; Hebrews 13:7).
PROFESSIONAL LIFE REPUTATION
Public leadership springs from personal integrity. Leaders with integrity will be found doing what is right in the sight of God, even if it is invisible to others. This kind of private integrity begins with a heart attitude that submits to God and to the earthly authority He has put over us (Romans 13:1-7). We are all initially judged by outsiders based on visible things like our personal appearance in uniform, haircut, and fitness.
If these things are squared away, there is often an assumption that you can be trusted in other areas. You must know the regulations and obey them, since ignorance is not an excuse, especially after the initial two or three years in uniform. Grace is given to Ensigns and Lieutenants, but everyone expects a more senior officer to conform themselves to military customs and courtesies and to excel beyond the minimum standard. Christian leaders must grow up and demonstrate maturity, not only spiritually, but also professionally.
If you know your commander’s priorities, then you can make those priorities your own. Faithfully carrying out assigned duties will honor your commander, glorify God, and bless subordinates who are watching for consistent character. Do not lie; live a transparent life, taking responsibility for your own work and the work of your team. Behave in a manner consistent with your Sunday worship by obeying even the simplest things like traffic laws. Be patient with drivers around you. See if good words flow out of your mouth when in a stressful situation.
The Holy Spirit convicts, reminds, and teaches us regarding these examples and many other areas every day. The apostle Paul exhorts Christians to live quietly, to focus on our own issues, to do our work well, to live consistent lives before non-Christians, and to provide for our own food, clothing, and necessities (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
Officers bear a responsibility to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so it makes sense to study the Constitution. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech … .” Stay abreast of how this amendment is being interpreted and applied by the judiciary. Be gracious in speech, careful in policymaking, and avoid giving the perception of viewpoint discrimination.
As representatives of the federal government, officers help establish an environment that allows the free exercise established by the First Amendment. All may publicly worship and be secure in this free exercise. Jesus’ statement that, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” remains true even as you ensure the religious accommodation of those with a different religious view. Be genuine in what you do and say, not lying about anything you know to be true. When you have questions about the First Amendment, seek out a trustworthy chaplain or other counselor for advice. Be an advocate of First Amendment freedoms as one who is helping perpetuate a healthy nation.
ONE DAY IN SEVEN
If the mission requires you to work on a Sunday when you would normally have the day set apart as your day of rest unto God, then do your work without complaint. The Bible shows that God expects us to save lives, to stay under authority, to live for the good of others, and to help those in need even if it is a Sabbath day (Matthew 12:8, 12; Luke 13:16; 14:13). On the other hand, do not be lazy when preparing for that seventh day of rest.
Be diligent by working hard for six days. Get studying, errands, and yard work done so that you can worship and enter God’s rest on the seventh day (Hebrews 4:9-11). This Sabbath command is anchored in creation, repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments, and is found in the Ten Commandments alongside murder, adultery, and stealing.
Since the military leader’s life is typically driven by a schedule outside of their personal control—whether it be work-ups, field training exercises, annual training, or weekly mission requirements—you will need to regularly step back and look at where you are spending discretionary time. We make time for things we prioritize. So, if you hear yourself tell someone that you do not have time for daily devotions, weekly fellowship, or the spontaneous encouragement of brothers and sisters in their workspaces, then ask yourself whether those things are a priority.
You probably have more time for spiritual disciplines than you think. Whether it is fitness, gaming, shopping, scrolling the internet, or watching movies, we make time for certain activities. Now think about this: God is a jealous God, and if He waits for us to desire His worship above distractions on this earth, then would you be willing to be as honest with yourself as possible (Matthew 6:19-24)? What will you prioritize today?
Perfectionism is a threat to most military officers who strive to be excellent at work. It takes self-control to stop a project when “good” accomplishes the mission since there is always one more way to make it better. If this is you, try to analyze where you take a pause in the workday (chat break, coffee break, exercise break, etc.), and see if you can use that time to seek spiritual fellowship, Biblical nourishment, or time in prayer. Spiritually integrated lives come from faith muscles being developed over time by intentional pursuit and constant practice.
PRIVATE LIFE REPUTATION
Everyone develops a reputation. In the military community, officers usually live in something like a fishbowl or glass house. Their lives are regularly observed, analyzed, and critiqued, both on and off base. Military leadership encompasses a 24/7 responsibility—there are times to step away from the immediate job, but not from the responsibility of being the accountable leader.
Similarly, the Christian is always an “ambassador of Christ,” carrying around the responsibility to speak only what He speaks, to represent Him in daily life, and to share Him with a watching world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). The car you drive, the house you live in, and the hobbies you pursue will all speak a message to the watching world. So “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands … so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
Junior officers who follow Christ are frequently asked why they do not use inappropriate language, laugh at immoral jokes, get drunk, or participate in immoral behavior. These questions do not come up as often later in one’s career. The reason is that our reputation and integrity become known, the pressure to conform diminishes, and we become trusted who are not prone to behavioral modifications under pressure.
Developing this reputation requires us to be ready to answer questions about motivation, meaning, and identity, and even about who will judge actions on this earth (family, commanders, the UCMJ) and at the end of the ages (God). Practice using everyday language to express spiritual truths when giving an answer for the hope that you have in the finished work of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:15). Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians exhorts us to live confident that Christ is returning and that we have an eternal welcome into His presence. Live as if you will depart this earth today, while simultaneously making decisions in case you to live to be 100 years old (1 Thessalonians 5).
OPPOSITION IS NOT A SURPRISE
Christ said that He came to elicit such obedience among His disciples that even members of a person’s own family would hate them (Matthew 10:21-22; Luke 21:16-17). This sounds odd at first, but we should not be surprised when we face opposition for holding to the Christian faith. Our enemy is not the person confronting us, our enemy is the father of lies, Satan (John 8:44; Ephesians 6:12). Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us, remind us of what He taught, and to give us the power to obey all that He commands. We are to be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting [our] opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
When opposed, take a deep breath, pray for wisdom, and ask the person opposing you a question such as “Why do you ask/say that?”, or “Why is this important to you?”, or “What do you mean by the phrase __?” Asking questions gives you time to discover the origin of the issue, helps reveal motivation, avoids jumping to wrong conclusions, and thinks the best of the other person.
Confrontation, even when it feels negative, is often used by God to teach us. Hebrews speaks of our being trained and disciplined by a loving Father so we may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:3-17). His loving discipline humbles us and opens our eyes to things we have not seen. It also reveals pride and self-righteousness in our hearts, and we learn to love as be have been loved.
Choosing to serve in the U.S. military is a calling and an adventure. A life of faith within the military poses some unique challenges for uniformed and family members alike. You have daunting responsibilities, professional challenges that can seem overwhelming, frequent moves and deployments that stress relationships, and your Christian faith may not be welcome in many places. For more information and resources on living an integrated life, please visit the OCF Integrated Faith Project (ocfusa.org/ifproject).