I spent a lot of my childhood and early adulthood trying to prove that I measured up. I wasn't particularly fast and had only average athletic ability, but I was determined to do well in sports. I was one of the smallest kids in school but determined to prove I was 'tough.' I did pretty well in school but I worked hard at that, too.
Most of the time I feared that I could never really be good enough; that I might fail at something. Everyone would see that I was a fraud, that I didn't really belong. I grew up going to church and I believed the Christian Gospel, so I usually prayed to God for help before any big event or challenge. But when He delivered me through it, I always took the credit for myself and never gave any to Him. And despite what I claimed to believe about Christ, there was a lot of immorality in my life. You couldn't look at my life from the outside and tell that I was a Christian.
The realizations about a lot of this really hit me one night when I was 25 years old. I was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. I was the XO (executive officer, or 2nd in command) of an artillery battery. We had crossed the border into Kuwait two nights before and were advancing farther north as the Iraqi defenses were beginning to fall apart.
It was my job that night to lead the main body of the battery, consisting of about 15 vehicles, 6 self-propelled M110A2 8-inch howitzers, and some 80+ men through the desert to a particular point on the map already selected by the CO, about 15 miles away. From that point the battery would emplace its guns and begin firing more missions to support the infantry and tanks. It was my job to get everybody there without getting lost or getting anyone killed.
On previous occasions, I had managed to navigate through the desert pretty well. But on this night, a bunch of stuff went wrong. It was pitch dark, and very thick clouds of smoke from burning oil wells made visibility even worse, if that was possible. Plus, my route had taken me into an 'oil field,' where above-ground pipelines channeled me through a maze of different directions that I didn't want to go in, until eventually I couldn't pinpoint where I was within about a mile and a half radius. And what made that worse was that we soon got a report that another unit in our vicinity had just run over a land mine. So there was a good chance that we were in or close to a minefield.
Not only that, but soon we were driving right by burning oil wells that were shooting flames a hundred feet into the air'and several of the vehicles in my convoy were ammunition trucks. Not very comforting. I finally got comm with my CO, but he told me he'd had a lot of trouble himself and that he couldn't send a guide vehicle to help'I'd have to try to make it on my own. He said I could keep the convoy where it was overnight and they'd find me in the morning. That didn't sound to me like a good idea, either, and besides I was too prideful to have others say my unit couldn't accomplish the mission because I got us lost.
To make a long story short, my driver and I finally found a set of tire tracks going in the general direction I thought we needed to go in. We stayed in them so we wouldn't hit a mine and the rest of the convoy followed us. (It was too dark for me to actually see the tracks, but he had night vision goggles. If I had been wearing night vision goggles, I wouldn't have been able to read my map or compass.) But then the tracks stopped. Or, actually, they came to a T. We could go right or left, but we couldn't go in the direction I thought we needed to go in, at least not if we wanted to make sure of not running over a mine. If I made the wrong decision, we could get even more lost, wander into an Iraqi unit, or hit a minefield. Everything depended on my decision, and I had no clue what to do. My driver asked me, 'Which way, sir?'
This was one of those moments in which you come to the end of any human, native ability you have to cope with a situation. Nothing in my training, ability, wisdom, or intelligence could give me the right answer here. Silently I prayed. The prayer may have lasted ten seconds, or it may have taken a split second; I don't really know. But it went something like this: 'God, I'm not capable of getting us out of this. If you will get me out of this, if you will tell me what to do, I swear I'll give you the credit and any honor or glory that comes from it.'
My driver said again, 'Which way, sir?' At that moment, I heard a voice. Actually , I don't think I heard anything. But a message came into my brain very, very clearly, just as clearly as if someone had actually said it to me. The message was 'Go right.'
So we went right. (I tried to sound very confident when I told my driver, 'go right.') And to make a very long story short (I'll tell the whole thing if anyone wants to stop by my office and hear it) we soon made it to the exact position where I was supposed to take us. My CO was very pleased. I was told that he said, 'Lieutenant Andrew has succeeded again!'
Inwardly I puffed up with pride. But immediately after that, I said to myself, 'You fool. You just told God you'd give Him all the credit. Forgive me, Lord.' And that still, small 'voice' replied something like, 'It's OK. You are mine. I love you. I always have and I will never forsake you.'
Looking back, that night was a crucial step in God teaching me that every good gift I have, every ability, and every achievement comes ultimately from Him. And I understood better what I had been taught as a boy: because Christ died for my sins, I was made 'right' with God even if I didn't deserve it. If I claimed Christ as my Savior, God looked on me as His own child, and He would never forsake me. Knowing that, I could more and more live for His glory and not worry about my own. 'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.' (Psalm 91:14-15) Even now, I still have my human struggles against sin, pride, and fear. But again and again, God has taught me the meaning of His promise: 'Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20)