Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.

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3 Strikes…and I’m Out

strike-3Everyone has one. It may be your wife’s brother who knows you are not good enough for her. It may be the best friend who knew you when you did every goofy thing of questionable legality that you cannot talk about due to a statute of limitations. It may be the neighbor who always wants to remind you that his grass is greener and his truck is newer. I am speaking of the person you want to share the gospel with and he will simply not accept it. You package the gospel story in pretty paper with bows on it and he can find three reasons why it is not true. Perhaps the problem is you. Perhaps they’ve not seen enough life change yet to realize that you really have been changed. Perhaps your change reminds them of their moral ineptness and they are not ready to face it yet. What should you do? Keep sharing with humble and gentle hearts…over and over and over again. This is how God pursued you.

The Scriptures give different counsel about another type of person. This one is a professing believer. He is in your small group. He always speaks up at a business meeting. He comes up after the sermon or lesson and explains what he read on the internet that contradicts you or how Andy Stanley did it better. He attends your discipleship class and pushes back on the truth because he sees it differently. He is not trying to learn or gain understanding, but to keep you “humble.” What do you do with him?

First, a teachable spirit, the lovechild of hunger and humility, is a key characteristic of the disciple. Not everyone who SAYS he is a disciple or who attends your church has one of these teachable spirits. What do you do with this guy? Do you continue to repackage the teaching in paper and bows trying to win him over? Do you chase him down to get his blessing?

Sometimes you do. A shepherd is told to be patient and to correct wrong doctrine. But, as Paul instructs Titus, there is a time when the guy who always resists must be corrected. Titus 1:13 says when his actions bring discredit on Christ, rebuke him severely. When he is a danger to others by drawing them astray, shut him down. See, leadership requires movement and change in people. The man who is factious and refuses to move cannot be waited on indefinitely. You, as a leader, must move past him.

“Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.” Proverb 9:7-9.

As one old preacher said, “Don’t jump down in the mud to wrestle a pig. Both of you will end up muddy but the pig likes it.” Sometimes you have to simply nod, turn your head, and move forward. Some will follow. Some will not. Let that be God’s business. Know what He called you to do and do it. You may be surprised what happens next.