- Pastor Tom Cunningham
BEYOND THE INFANTRY
Do you believe in miracles?
“The Miracle” is a movie about the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War. The drama and exhilaration of that event was remarkable. The story is told of the USA Hockey team, made up of College athletes, actually defeating the Great Soviet Union Hockey team of seasoned veterans, some who had played on that same team for over 10 years! At the closing seconds of the game, with time running out and the US Hockey team up by a goal, the game announcer is screaming, “Do you believe in miracles!”
The story, however, is really about leadership. US Team Coach Herb Brooks had only a few months to mold a collection of College athletes into a cohesive unit that could take on the mighty Soviets and put a stop to the relentless humiliation they were inflicting on all comers. Brooks first raised eyebrows by cutting the superstars from the team. “Stars do not win championships,” he said. “Unity does. I want players with a passion for the game and a fierce loyalty to each other who will function on the ice like one man.” He drove them unremittingly and demanded superhuman effort. Most of the time, the players despised him. As they began to win games however, they began to buy into the vision Brooks had cast.
“The Miracle” is instructive on many levels — sports, dedication, loyalty, teamwork, patriotism and history — but mostly, it’s about leadership and one key to successful leadership: followers.
One man quipped, “You may call yourself a leader, but look behind you—who is following?” Well? Who is really following? The trouble with being a leader today is that you can’t be sure whether people are following you or chasing you.
In our current generation, God is attempting to raise up leaders, but we find most of us are entrenched in the problems of the daily battle of life — struggling and embittered in the rages of the infantry — the battle field — the flummox of close personal combat in the chaos of life — never able to rise above that daily pressure. A true leader will have the vision for the whole war, not just the individual, momentary battle, but raising himself above that most recent combat and be able to see the entire field — and even beyond that to other fields needing to be won, to be engaged at future times — and even further, beyond that, to envision a war that has an end — and a wise leader will find a way to get the men there… The key to becoming a leader is to get beyond the infantry — into the ranks of the cavalry (officers) — where the battle really gets interesting!
"If you have run with the footmen (infantry), and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses (cavalry/officers/leaders)? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?" ~Jeremiah 12:5
A footman is a broad term for a runner or messenger. The footmen in Jeremiah 12:5 were couriers. The Bible often uses ‘footmen’ to refer to foot soldiers or infantrymen.
When running with the footmen, there is much preparation and training… It is good to be a footman. Great lessons are learned in the throws of battle that really cannot be learned anywhere else. A man’s character is often exposed or refined when bullets are flying, mortars are exploding and men are dirty, hungry and tired. When I was in the military, there was nothing like getting up at 4:00 AM to do my shift at guard duty while in the field. The only thing better than that was to have a rank high enough not to have to get up for guard duty at all! No one should be a private or an airman forever… In fact, the military eventually forces retirement or separation on all those who will not advance in rank. There is a time limit for all services. You progress to a certain rank by a certain date or you go home. The military has no need for men who are not able to overcome the trials of the battlefield! Why? Because, even as horrific and dangerous as battlefield conditions are, they are only one component of the war as a whole. Men who were once mired in the battle and found a way to persevere and overcome are invaluable tools as future leaders.
In Jeremiah 12:5, the prophet Jeremiah is chastising those in the rank and file of life. He is frustrated with people that cannot seem to rise out of the chaos of the battles of life. Are you struggling to get ahead? Really? Or are you keeping yourself stalled in the pits and the trenches of life because of your response to what happens around you? Jeremiah is saying (paraphrased) ‘if the smallest evils and issues to which you are exposed, cause you to so often complain and stumble, how will you feel when, in the course of life, you are exposed to much greater issues from enemies much more powerful?’
The footmen are a symbol for the common evil issues and events of life; these are the trivial assaults against us that threaten to take us down, but they are nothing compared to the assaults the horsemen endure which are on a whole different level — responsibilities to a much higher degree, evils that are much more terrible. If you have sunk under the small difficulties of life, what will you do when great ones come? If you cannot handle the pressures of a job, marriage, parenting, financial difficulties, paying bills and being faithful to God and your local church — then how in the world can God count on you for the much bigger things to come?
The longer a footman stays a footman, the more possibility exists that he will die at his post. Unless he learns to advance and overcome he will never win the field he is fighting on… Footmen are trained to fight. Leaders are trained to get the footman beyond the fight and into victory.
GETTING BEYOND THE INFANTRY
"…For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” ~Luke 12:48
In order to advance beyond the infantry of life, you must learn to deal with greater crises, issues and demons (inside and out). The devil has been defeated. He is a cat with no claws. You must stop negotiating with a defeated enemy and learn to stake your claim on faith in the power and authority of Jesus Christ. Victory is already ours. We have a right to claim everything Jesus gave us. We get into trouble by concentrating our efforts on things which have nothing to do with kingdom service and everything to do with the flesh — and these things will keep us mired in the foot soldiers’ battle… However, if Jesus said victory is mine, then I do not have to ask Satan for permission to take it. In a storm of life, I don’t have to beg the devil for peace, all I have to do is remember that Jesus gave it, I got it and come what may, I’m going to have peace. Peace is never won through compromise — peace is won by taking dominion and breaking things — until you break the back of the enemy and take back what he stole from you, you will remain hindered and ineffective in the battle.
I always instruct Christians I counsel to go ahead and take that new job that starts them out at ‘the bottom’ because I know faithfulness and integrity is rare in our generation — and I know a foot soldier does not have to remain a foot soldier long if he will show forth those qualities of one that can overcome the enemy and succeed at all costs. That man will be seen and that man will be promoted! Every leader of every battlefield mired in conflict, every workplace and every company will seek him out! He will fill the void needed to bring that company to the next level. All he needs is a starting point.
"Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” ~1 Corinthians 4:2
In John Grisham’s ‘Bleachers’ we learn about Eddie Rake. Eddie Rake coached a high school football team for 44 years, during which they won 13 state championships and earned a reputation as the powerhouse of state athletics.
As the story unfolds, Rake lies on his deathbed and former players return home, gather on the bleachers of the stadium to reconnect and reminisce about their football years under Coach Rake. Most of them despise the man for his brutal win-at-all costs tactics. Only after a young player died of heatstroke did Rake get fired… And still, an accumulation of his players from past to present sit around on the bleachers and decide whether they loved him or hated him. Yet, a tribute to his leadership is that these men, spanning a generation, interrupted their lives to journey back to the side of the man that had had the most profound impact on their lives to date. Love him or hate him? Ultimately they loved him because he made them better; better football players and better men. Eddie Rake extracted the last morsel of energy and sweat out of their lives when they didn’t think there was a morsel left. But, he knew they could take that next step — he knew they were capable — he just needed to get them to believe that taking the next step was possible. Leadership qualities and methods are relative and can often be disputed, but what cannot be disputed is the profound effect a leader can have on those he leads.
"When leaders lead in Israel, then the people willingly offer (volunteer) themselves, bless the LORD!” ~Judges 5:2
Herein lies the perfect arrangement for every team, every church, every army: leaders leading, members working. Leaders leading and members working results in the best of all possible combinations. No coach wins the game alone, but no team wins without a good coach. It takes both. Each needs the other; each feeds off the other.
With neither leaders nor workers doing anything, apathy, stagnation, and hopelessness set in. Defeat and discouragement flourish. When leaders lead but the people refuse to follow, both groups will grow frustrated. The old adage, “if you are leading and no one is following, you’re only taking a walk,” rings true for those who have been there. Scores of pastors and coaches and managers know too well the frustration of trying to inspire people who will not budge. I believe that a leader with integrity will inspire the people and they will go forward. The Church of Jesus Christ is desperate for a team of people with leaders of integrity who can fight beyond the battlefield and chaos of life and embrace the amazing vision for the epic war of the ages that we are fighting in these last days!
"So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” ~Romans 12:5-6