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.

#P5: The Source of Courage

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“Now after him was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered into a troop where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot, defended it and struck the Philistines; and the Lord brought about a great victory.” 2 Samuel 23:11-12, NASB.

I love and am greatly challenged but this 23d chapter. In it is the recording of the names and many of the deeds of those who were closest to the king…his most trusted and valiant warriors. To read the stories is to step into a narrative of superheros. The actions of these men demonstrate incredible courage and are rewarded with supernatural victory by God.

Where does courage like that come from? In our world today, we (men) have allowed poets and philosophers to redefine courage. It takes courage they say “to sit down and have a conversation.” “It takes courage to forgive.” “It takes courage to admit you’re wrong.” These things do require character…but courage? No sir. I don’t think so…at least not in the way David speaks of courage here. Courage here involves stepping into the battle while greatly outnumbered and giving everything you have to win while trusting God to do what is pleasing to Him. The story above is of a single warrior who stood in a field of beans. All of God’s people (those with the promises of God made to them too) withdrew in the face of a large troop of the enemy leaving only Shammah to stand firm. The requirement for courage INCREASED as each man abandoned the land. In the end…Shammah stood and defended the bean field.

What strategic significance is a bean field? Limited at best…but the choice to stand firm was not about the strategy…it was about the HONOR of the NAME OF GOD! To retreat…was to trumpet a lack of confidence in God’s ability to bring victory. To retreat was to proclaim confidence in one’s own intellect over that of the Lord’s directive. To retreat was not to be the “bigger man” but to simply be a coward in the face of danger.

Shammah had nothing to count on that day…except the power and presence of God. I imagine he quietly decided (having surveyed the fields around him and the size of the enemy forces) that it was better to die standing for something than to dishonor God by fleeing. Did he believe he could win? I am not certain…but I imagine he had seen God bring victory out of the most overwhelming circumstances imaginable before…and believed that God just might do it again. Frankly though, I am not as certain in his expectations of OUTCOME as I am his understanding of RESPONSIBILITY in the present. Maybe he would die…but that was simply a consequence left up to God. What he knew in the moment was no true believer in the power of God runs when facing the enemy. He stands his ground and trusts God for the outcome that He sees fit.

So, what is the source of courage? Two things- confidence in God’s ability and obedience to the orders at hand. The rest is up to God.

Shalom, CA