A Christian is to be a soldier “marching as to war,” not searching for a safe harbor in which to drop anchor and rest. He is to be in the world, doing the work God would have him do. That work—and the constant spiritual struggle it presents—can be unbelievably fatiguing. The daily struggle to live the Christian life while nearly being overwhelmed wears on a Christian’s spiritual, emotional, and even physical being. If after fighting not to be overwhelmed he spends his remaining energy recuperating from spiritual fatigue, he has little energy left for personal growth and nothing left for assertively professing his faith. Constant bombardment in a hostile environment quickly wears a Christian out, and it tends to put him on the defensive, rather than the offense for Christ he would desire. He may be in the world, but if his efforts are focused on not getting drowned by it, he’s not doing much in the way of saving those around him.
A Christian living a challenging life in the non-Christian fighter pilot world may begin to question whether he should continue to be a fighter pilot—or if he should even remain in the military. While there may be times when it is tiring and difficult, the Christian must strive to live the best life that he can for God. Paul said in Galatians that he should
not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (6:9-10).
The author of Hebrews encouraged him to
persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised (10:36).
A Christian will indeed see the results of what he has done if he endures. It would be nice if “the proper time” was that moment when he felt as though his struggle had been in vain; then he could be comforted that he was moving in the right direction. It’s possible, though, that the proper time may be eternity. Regardless, a Christian must persevere in making the choices and living the life God has for him.
A Christian’s Purpose
One of the primary ways a Christian fighter pilot can fight spiritual fatigue is to understand his purpose. Imagine that a commander grabs his stopwatch, takes his troops to a track, and tells them to start running. Their ability to perform to their best capabilities will be inhibited because they don’t know why they’re there: they don’t know whether he wants them to sprint one lap or pace hundreds. If he tells them that they’re taking an annual fitness test, then they know their purpose and they’re able to view the exercise with the proper perspective. Their level of effort may be higher than if it was just a “fun run.” If he tells them that the test requires them to complete 1.5 miles in 12 minutes, then they know their ultimate objective. If they didn’t know the finish line and were struggling at the 1.4 mile point they might be inclined to give up, not knowing how close they were to the end. By understanding their purpose and objective they’re able to gain their best performance, even under the hardest of circumstances.
The same is true for the Christian life. A Christian needs to understand his purpose and clearly define his objectives. In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul said
everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Christians will have hardship and put a lot of effort into what may sometimes seem a fruitless cause; it is easy for the Christian to lose focus and consider giving up—not knowing how close he is to the finish line. Knowing his purpose will help a Christian stay focused on the reasons for his labor. When he feels he’s suffering without cause he may falter and complain; when he knows that he suffers for a reason, he finds the strength to persevere. If he understands the purpose of his life it will give him the motivation to endure—it is the source of his push, drive, and his “velocity.” His objectives and goals—what he hopes to achieve—give his velocity a “vector.” A Christian fighter pilot must understand his purpose, define his objectives, and direct his efforts toward his goals.
A Christian fighter pilot’s purpose and objectives should be defined by God’s plan for him. God has him where he is for a reason. He may never see the glowing lights or hear angelic trumpets in the background as someone explains the divine purpose for his life, but by seeking God’s desires he will be able to search out God’s plan. Even if a Christian fighter pilot earnestly looks for God’s purpose, he still may not be able to discern the specifics of what God wants for him—not everyone has the luxury of knowing the future. In some Army and Marine training camps there are forced marches in which those participating don’t know the final objective—the commanders have simply said, “March until I say stop.” While hardly ideal for personal motivation, it achieves the purpose of training the soldiers to follow the order—start marching—without delaying to ask questions. The leadership has the big picture; they can’t always take the time to explain the intimate details to every soldier. Instead, they demand immediate obedience and command unwavering trust. Thousands of soldiers will roll up their sleeping bags and move out without knowing their destination or objective—just on the word of a General. Likewise, God has the big picture; sometimes He clues the Christian in, sometimes God tries but the Christian just doesn’t get it, and sometimes He tells him just to trust Him. While a Christian would like to have his heavenly Commander tell him the reason he’s here and tell him how far he has to go, sometimes that’s the only discernible order he gets from God: move out.
Another key to defining the Christian’s purpose is found in the answer to a simple question: what does he want to be remembered for? This isn’t an arrogant question of legacy but is a simple filter to differentiate the important from the trivial. In his fighter pilot career and throughout his life a Christian will be faced with choices that will send him along separate courses. Would he rather be remembered as the World’s Best Fighter Pilot or the World’s Best Father? I use that example not to imply exclusivity, but instead to make the point that every choice he makes will nudge his life down a unique and specific course. He cannot be all things to all people all the time. He needs to define what is important and that must be what guides the decisions he makes in his life. It’s also important to remember that most things in this life will be forgotten. An oft quoted means of determining the gravity of a situation is the “Five Year Rule.” I’ve also heard it expressed as the “100 Year,” “10 Year,” or “Eternity Rule.” The premise is the same: in 5 years (or 10, or in eternity), is anybody going to remember or care what’s happening right now? Will you? If, 10 years from now, a Christian will look back and think nothing of what he’s going through now, then it can’t be that important. On the other hand, if he thinks that in 10 years he may still regret or second-guess the decisions he’s making now, then it may be time to alter his course.
Some Christians in the military feel as though they are fighting alone, in imminent danger of being overrun. They feel spiritually separated from the ungodly men and women around them, and they are often physically separated from their spiritual family. Every day they face pressure to conform to the world, and when they do not they may experience ridicule and rejection. While the military generally provides a Chaplain and other spiritual resources, in today’s military—faced with the global terror threat—there may be times when it is only a Christian and his Bible. A Christian may go places or be in situations where he is the only Christian, and he has no external spiritual resources on which to call. Whether locked down at an Air Force base in Iraq, on Army patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan, or on a Navy vessel on the ocean, he may be separated from Christian friends and Christian support. The men and women who are around him are the only friends he could possibly have, and they are the same with whom he may face mortal combat. But because of his Christianity, he risks separation from them and being perceived as an outsider. In such an environment there is a strong temptation to simply—albeit temporarily—become like everyone else to fit in and get some kind of support. A Christian must remember that he is not alone; even in the face of such pressure, he must depend on God’s strength to help him persevere in living a life honoring to God. As John said in the frequently quoted verse,
…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
The temptation to “bend to blend” is not new—Moses experienced a similar enticement. After being raised as a child of Pharaoh’s daughter, he could have chosen to mingle with the Egyptians to avoid the hardship of the Jewish nation. In Hebrews, though, it says that Moses chose to be mistreated with the Israelites “rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” in Pharaoh’s court (11:25). Moses regarded “disgrace for the sake of Christ” as greater than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (v26). A Christian who feels as though he is alone in Pharaoh’s court can take strength from Moses’ model, as well as the examples of other Godly characters that prevailed even when surrounded by godlessness: Joseph, Daniel, and Elijah are just a few.
To prepare for the potential of being separated from Christian support, a helpful Christian fighter pilot tool is a pocket-sized Bible. A fighter pilot can take it with him wherever he goes; I carried one in the pocket of my g-suit on every combat sortie. While it didn’t see any use in the cramped cockpit of my night sorties, I carried it in the event I was downed in Iraq. A Christian can find many words of wisdom and encouragement in the Bible. For example, when faced with ridicule for refusing to patronize bars, strip clubs, and other less than positive places, there’s an unlikely source of support in the usually dire book of Ecclesiastes. It says that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (7:2). Solomon was saying that as strange as it may seem, it’s better to go to a funeral than a party. At a funeral, seeing death reminds a person that the casket up front will one day be his. The reminder of death forces him to mature and live life appropriately. If he spends all his time at bars and parties, he will never have any motivation to get serious and realize the consequences of this life. He will end up going nowhere, and will be shocked at the end of his life when he realizes he’s accomplished nothing. So while some fighter pilots may frequent “houses of feasting,” there are benefits to avoiding constant partying. There are an infinite number of reassurances like that within the pages of the Bible; finding them requires a little knowledge and constant study. If a Christian is intimidated at the prospect of searching the Bible freehand for words of encouragement or other specific topics, Biblical concordances (which are available electronically) make searches easier, and topical Bible study books are available for virtually every subject. Obviously, scripture memorization is valuable for those times when a Christian may be separated even from his Bible.
Jesus knew His followers would face hardship. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples and said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it…As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:16-18). Jesus attempted to prepare His disciples for the hardship they would experience in John 15:18-19, when He said
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
As a follower of Christ, a Christian is not of the world, and Jesus has sent him into the world just as He was sent. A Christian living a Godly life in the world can receive the same worldly hatred in the form of ridicule and persecution. A Christian in the fighter pilot world lives life against the grain of the people around him; nothing he does will satisfy those around him who want him to conform to their world. When it comes to moral character and strength in principle, there will be nothing that a Christian fighter pilot can do that won’t be criticized. Jesus experienced the same thing, as He explained in Matthew 11:18:
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
John the Baptist’s Nazirite lifestyle led people to say he was possessed, and when Jesus lived the opposite He was criticized for associating with sinners. John, undoubtedly a holy man whose coming had been prophesied for hundreds of years, could not avoid the disparagement of others. Even the Son of God could not satisfy those who would criticize His life.
Knowing that he will be criticized and accused of wrong, a Christian must strive to live the best life that he can. Peter encouraged his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). A Christian cannot please men. Instead, he should work for God and live a life honoring to Him. In his writings Paul “urged” his readers “to live a life worthy of the calling [they had] received” not for the sake of their witness, but because it was the least they could do as children of God (Ephesians 4:1). God redeemed man with the blood of His Son even before he was born. A debt that man could never hope to pay was paid by Him who knew no debt. It is for that reason—God’s love—that a Christian should live his life in a way “worthy of the calling.”
Even in the face of hardship a Christian must work as though he is working for God in whatever place he is; he must do it well, with all his effort, energy, and enthusiasm. If he works with the attitude that God is his supervisor and is in control of his career and destiny, then it is significantly easier to display one of the more obvious traits of a Christian lifestyle: joy. The cynical and sarcastic complaining of soldiers—about everything from the mess hall to the leadership—is legendary. Army leaders have famously said that they know it’s gotten bad when soldiers stop complaining. A Christian fighter pilot that has a positive attitude in all circumstances—even when others around him are bitter and negative—stands out. A Christian fighter pilot should strive to be the one that demonstrates an uplifted spirit and joy even when times are at their worst. Paul communicated how to do this in his first letter to the Thessalonians when he told them to “be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances” (5:16-18). In Philippians the command was similar: Don’t worry or be negative, but take everything to God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Times may be hard, and the Christian may not know why; it is then that he must “trust in the Lord with all [his] heart and lean not on [his] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). A Christian fighter pilot must rely on the constancy of God—then he’ll be able to persevere through the toughest times. The instructions to Christians are clear: pray, be thankful, don’t worry, trust, be joyful. As hard as they sometimes are to apply, following these Biblical commands gives a Christian true joy—something few men have.
It is encouraging to remember the plight of a unique Old Testament woman. Her people were conquered and exiled, and she had been commanded to join the harem of their pagan captor. Still, because God was with her, she gained favor with all she met and eventually became the queen. As queen she was able to save her people from the attempts of an evil government official to annihilate them. She could never have known that God intended her for that purpose, and she, too, struggled with how she should act in her position as a Godly woman in an ungodly court. The difficulties of a Christian fighter pilot pale in comparison to the struggles of a God-fearing woman forced to marry a godless king who ruled over her vanquished people. When the young Queen Esther hesitated and wavered, her Uncle Mordecai asked her, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). God may very well have the Christian fighter pilot exactly where He wants him, for a plan that only He knows.
Joshua, too, undoubtedly experienced spiritual fatigue of his own as he watched the nation of Israel constantly wander from the very God that had delivered them. I’ve wondered if the man who was Moses’ right hand for decades ever considered resigning after all the failures he saw in the Jewish nation. It surely seemed as though there was little good coming of all the work he did. Still, Joshua was chosen to replace Moses as the leader of the Jewish people. With the nation’s track record Joshua certainly had reservations about what the uncertain future held. As he prepared to lead the Israelite nation over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, God repeated a simple, reassuring command:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (1:9).
Being a fighter pilot and a Christian is sometimes hard, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. Being a fighter pilot is cool, and it can be exactly where God would have a Christian be. Spiritual struggles are a challenge that can be overcome. Whether a Christian fighter pilot gets Biblical encouragement or Christian support to help him, or he feels he needs to “take a break” and have a tour outside of the fighter pilot world, he has the available resources to continue to be in a profession he enjoys and not be spiritually overwhelmed. If a fighter pilot doesn’t enjoy his profession, including the flying, then spiritual struggles will only make him more miserable and he may want to consider another career that he would actually enjoy. Ultimately, a Christian fighter pilot should strive to overcome spiritual struggles and take pleasure in an enjoyable line of work.