I barely recognized him. My grandson was no longer the 19-year-old kid I knew. He had lost weight and was lean, angular, and fit and carried himself with confidence, tall and straight. When he spoke, he was direct and respectful.
Although Aidan’s face reflected the same warm expression as always, it was obvious he now was different. My grandson had just graduated from Marine boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“Aidan, how could you change so much in only 13 weeks?” I asked.
“It’s a new mentality,” he told me. “There are many tiny things I used to care about and get upset over that just don’t matter anymore. I have much better priorities, Grandmama.”
Aidan had successfully endured what the Marines call The Crucible, the culmination of rigorous training that would validate his worthiness to receive the honored title of United States Marine.
Everything Aidan learned in boot camp was designed to help him survive this grueling test. Drilled into him were obedience, courage, leadership, specialized skills, endurance, thinking under pressure, assessment of danger, and teamwork.
I expected the Marines to change him. What I didn’t expect was how God would use Aidan’s experience to change me.
“Every day our drill instructor hammered into us instant willing obedience to all orders, respect for authority, teamwork, and self-reliance. You don’t give up. You push past it. You deal with it,” he told me.
The Crucible lasted 54 hours, with only eight hours of sleep, little food, and extreme physical stress, including a “death hike” and night infiltration courses. Each recruit marched about 40 miles carrying about 40 pounds of gear; an M16 rifle; and sometimes designated wounded recruits, along with all their gear. They had to work together to solve problems and never leave anyone behind.
These Marines put duty first. They did what was expected of them instantly and willingly, and their ordeal helped me better understand God’s instructions to us as believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3–4).
Not an Option
It’s not an option for a Marine to sleep late because he doesn’t feel like getting up. It’s not an option to leave a wounded comrade behind because carrying him is too difficult. It’s not an option to march out of cadence because he is tired. Teamwork is essential, and selfishness is not an option.
Self-discipline always impresses me because I see so little of it in society, and I struggle with it in my own life. The media mesmerizes us into believing our own agendas are the most important things and that whatever we feel like doing (or not doing) is perfectly acceptable.
But aren’t self-discipline and selflessness hallmarks of the Christian life? Jesus Himself said He came to serve others; and Paul said, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
From the Marines website, I discovered that Judeo-Christian principles delineate the Marine Corps’s three main values: honor, courage, and commitment.
Honor exemplifies the ultimate in ethical, moral behavior: Never lie, cheat, or steal. Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity: respect for human dignity and respect for others. (See Exodus 20; Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:9.)
Courage requires the inner strength to do what’s right, to adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct. (See Psalm 31:24; Philippians 4:13.)
Commitment inspires the unrelenting determination to achieve victory. (See Joshua 1:9; Nehemiah 4:9.)
How Much More?
Aidan’s experience challenged my faith. These recruits willingly submitted to authority and discipline, enduring the Marine Crucible for reasons unrelated to serving God. How much more should we be willing to go through trials and discipline our lives in obedience to Christ our Savior?
I’m sure I’ll never have to lug 40 pounds of gear on a sleep-deprived, long-distance march; but I know genuine adversity afflicts us all. Accidents, divorce, cancer, birth injuries, loss of loved ones, failure, disease, addictions, and life-altering decisions are often part of living. We need to expect hard things to come our way and let each cumulative suffering strengthen us, build our faith, and prepare us for our next personal crucibles.
We need to make demands of ourselves. We don’t want it said to us, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Prov. 24:10). Godly men and women can’t cave in to lazy, sloppy, undisciplined living. We must submit to God in obedience, seize the crises He allows into our lives, and trust the Lord in humble submission.
Aidan’s training transformed him into a Marine. Our crucibles should change us into men and women of valor and faith, who are transformed and conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 12:2). Our loving heavenly Father prepares every suffering and adversity to train us and build our endurance. Our wills must yield to God even when He uses suffering to mold us into the image of Christ. Sometimes suffering is His most effective tool.
Imagine Daniel without the lions’ den, David without Goliath, Moses without Pharaoh, Nehemiah without the struggles he had trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, Esther without Haman, or Joseph without the jealous brothers who sold him into slavery. Their crucibles proved the quality of their faith and encourage us today.
God charges us, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) and “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).
Jesus suffered and died for us, enduring the penalty for our sin so that He could raise us to hope and eternal salvation if we place our faith in Him (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). So, too, we should endure our trials for His sake.
At Aidan’s graduation, the new Marines were told to be Marines in their hearts. As I sat there, the Lord inspired me anew to be a Christian who is instantly willing to obey Him from my heart, not because of a drill instructor’s orders, but because I love Him. And I love Him because Christ first loved me, gave His life for me (Gal. 2:20), and redeemed me—not with corruptible things like silver and gold but with His own dear, precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
I’m reminded of the hymn “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” by the great 18th-century hymn writer, Isaac Watts:
Am I a soldier of the cross, / a follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause / or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies / on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize / and sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight if I would reign, / increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, / supported by Thy Word.
May the Lord help us as believers in Jesus to adopt the Marine motto when it comes to serving God: Semper Fidelis, Latin for “Always Faithful.”