If there is one thing I have learned from having a husband in the National Guard and a son in the Marine Corps, it is that not all branches of the service are alike. In fact, there is a bit of rivalry among them – and even a degree of snobbery on the part of some branches toward the others. For example, when my son was at Fort McCoy (an Army base) for training, he wrote to me about how "lazy" the Army guys were. The Marines rose a full hour earlier than the Army, so they were often returning from their early morning exercises (PT) by the time the soldiers were getting started. The Marines would run by chanting a cadence to the effect of, "Hey there, Army, can't you see, stretching in the parking lot is not PT!" (In defense of the Army, I would not call rising at 5:00 instead of 4:00 "lazy"; but you get the idea!)
When people join the military, they have some choices to make. Not only do they have to choose between Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines; but they also have to choose between part time and full time – the corps or the reserves. This choice is often made based on how committed the person enlisting is to the military way of life. In other words, how much do they want to suffer and sacrifice? My son chose the Marine Corps for a specific reason: he wanted something more demanding than the Army but not quite as arduous as the Navy Seals. He wanted to be challenged and stretched and strengthened in body, mind, and spirit; but he did not want to become a fighting machine. My husband chose the Army National Guard because he wanted the training, the self-discipline, and the "job security" that it offered. But the military has never been his primary career.
The teachings of the New Testament make it clear that Christians are all soldiers by virtue of the fact that we have an enemy to withstand and a Commanding Officer to obey. We do not have a choice about this. Like it or not, it's who we are. However, we do have one tremendously important choice to make. We must choose our own level of personal commitment. We have to ask ourselves how far we are going to take this "Christian life" thing and what we are going to do with it.
We certainly have the option to be "Weekend Warriors." We can put on our "uniforms" and go to church on Sundays, put in our time, and then go back to our "civilian lives" Monday through Saturday. This isn't a bad choice. It even has its perks and benefits. We can hear good music, make nice friends, hang around with people who share our beliefs, and get the satisfaction of knowing we are doing the right thing by bringing our kids to Sunday school.
I can't speak for you; but I have to ask myself, Is this enough for me? Do I want to be a faithful minimalist? Or is there something in me that is stirred by the idea of a bigger commitment, a greater sacrifice, a higher cost? When I face my Commander, will He not just be satisfied but pleased? To put it another way, would I be more proud to display a uniform that is perfectly creased and pressed or one that is so muddy and bloody that it'll never come clean again?
When I was about fourteen, I read the biographies of D.L. Moody, Martin Luther, and Amy Carmichael. I was deeply affected by their life stories. As a young man, D.L. Moody was challenged by these words: "The world has yet to see what God can do in and through a person whose heart is wholly and fully committed to Him." Moody wanted to be that person, and that passion drove him to higher levels of commitment and service than most. Martin Luther was a man whose conscience was keenly attuned to the Voice of God. He risked his life to expose the lies that threatened the gospel and to put the Bible into the hands of the German people in their own language. If Luther was among the "special forces" in Christ's army, Amy Carmichael was a Navy Seal. She rescued literally hundreds of young girls in India from wretched lives as temple prostitutes. She lived in harsh, difficult conditions for decades refusing the usual furloughs that most missionaries take. She poured out her life in the extreme.
Amy Carmichael wrote a poem entitled, "No Scar?" which captures her perspective of the Christian life. Its closing stanza sums up the Christian's choice. When I read these words, I can't help but ask myself, What kind of soldier am I? What kind of soldier do I want to be?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?