Establishing a Spiritual Lifestyle, Part 1

The transition from cadet life to active duty is a significant one, particularly for cadets from the military academies.  While cadets from civilian colleges have lived “real” lives for the past few years, most Academy cadets are straight out of high school.  The only life they have known has been the enforced structure of a military school, dorms and meals provided.  The Academy has changed significantly, in part due to progress, in part due to scandal.  Still, the fishbowl life of the Academy remains unique in its structure and rigidity.  The first time that most cadets experience “freedom” is immediately after graduation when they are given 60 days of leave before reporting to their first assignments.  Some take the opportunity to travel, others get married, some spend time with their families, and some do nothing at all.  Unbeknownst to them, that leave is a quiet transition between the “too much homework” of the Academy and the “too many things to do” of the “real” Air Force.

Many Christian Academy cadets graduate with high aspirations of the things they’ll do when they’re finally free and clear, whether it’s going to church regularly, finding a Bible study, starting a personal daily Bible study, or beginning to tithe.  Some cadets, for a variety reasons, find they can’t do those things while at the Academy.  With the academic, military, and physical demands of the Academy, cadets can be so busy that it may difficult to even establish a daily Bible reading routine, much less conduct a Bible study or focus on spiritual growth.  Financial giving may also be difficult.  Unfortunately, the sudden and complete freedom of 60 days of leave often convinces new officers to delay their resolutions until after their leave is over.  Once they report to their first assignment, they find themselves so involved with their first job that their previous resolutions—Bible reading, tithing, church attendance—fall by the wayside.

Set the Routine–Early

For that reason, new officers—particularly Academy graduates—should use the freedom of their post-commissioning leave as a time to set the foundations for their active duty life.  The cliché that it is best to “start now, because it will never get any easier” has been used to describe things as varied as investment schemes to daily Bible reading, and it’s true.  Those who are “too busy” or “too tired” will never find the day when they are not.  It is important to create a routine even when it is difficult; eventually, the forced repetition will become habit and the habit will become a lifestyle.  What habits do Christian fighter pilots need?  Christians need to establish a daily time with God.  Set up a daily Bible reading time (or “quiet time,” whatever it’s called), and make it part of a routine even while on leave and there really is no routine.  Establish financial stewardship.  Contribute a portion of those first significant Lieutenant paychecks back to God’s work.  Whether or not a Christian believes in an exact tithe, 10% is a nice round number for which to aim.  Throughout a pilot’s career he’ll find that he’s frequently moving and doesn’t have a steady church to financially support; at those times I recommend contributing to a national Christian organization like Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF), Focus on the Family, or national Christian radio. 

The Christian fighter pilot’s objective is to start his active duty life with strong spiritual habits in place.  Those Christian habits will help him with two aspects of his new active duty life.  First, because he’s left college or the rigid structure of the Academy, he’ll have significantly more freedom with his time.  If he hasn’t already decided what to do with some of that time, it becomes very easy to fill it with other activities.  By having a planned Bible reading time in his daily life, for example, he’ll prioritize it in the “free time” in his daily routine.  Second, after his leave ends and his life gets busy again with work, he will be able to carry on with his established spiritual habits.  Just as college life was busy with homework, classes, and the demands of the cadet military life, a pilot’s active duty life will soon seem overwhelmingly occupied with the demands of academics, training, work, and the extracurricular activities of professional development.  On those days when a hectic schedule pushes the Bible to the side, the lifestyle of Bible reading will be missed.  Without that established lifestyle, when the days get busier (as they most certainly will), the Bible will get pushed to the side and won’t even be noticed.  By establishing spiritual habits early, a pilot will set a precedent in his active duty life that will support him through varied and challenging times.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to say things like “set aside a daily Bible reading time” and much harder for a fighter pilot to actually do it.  That has always been true for Christian pilots.  In the 1970s, Officers’ Christian Fellowship conducted a survey of recent graduates, asking them for what they were most and least prepared, and asking what information they could provide for upcoming graduates.  A 1971 Air Force Academy graduate, describing the hectic demands of a pilot’s schedule, said,

Flying at different times, TDYs, and alert all tend to make it hard to set aside a regular time each day for prayer, and make planning ahead for meetings difficult.  Regular weekly attendance is impossible.

The challenges he described in the early 1970s are exactly the same as those I have faced, and they are challenges that Christian fighter pilots will experience in 2007 and beyond.  A Christian fighter pilot faces a continual struggle to establish and maintain those “stakes in the ground” of daily Bible reading, prayer, study attendance, fellowship, and the other “basic” Christian needs.

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