Called to Serve - The Warrior's Journey®

Guarding the Streets of Heaven. Photo by Marines is licensed under CC By 2.0

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28 (NIV)

The Bible challenges us like no other book. One of the toughest commands of Christ occurs in Matthew 20. The mother of James and John,

U.S. Army Paratrooper assigned to the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, puts the finishing touches to her face paint camouflage at Villafranca Air Base (3rd Wing) Italy, in preparation for airborne operations onto Juliet Drop Zone, Pordenone, Italy, May 21, 2019. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army's Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands' areas of responsibility. (U.S. Army Photos by Paolo Bovo)

two of Jesus’ disciples, asked Jesus if her sons could have special recognition when Jesus comes into His kingdom. The other ten disciples were miffed that James and John would lobby for special places, but their hearts were no purer. Knowing this, Jesus proceeded to give a short lesson about leadership to the entire group.

He referenced the style of leadership practiced in the surrounding culture. The Romans were in charge and led in authoritarian fashion. But Jesus taught and modeled another style of leadership altogether different than what the disciples had ever known. Instead of lording over subordinates, Jesus came to serve them. To emphasize the point, he talked about the need for a leader to be willing to become a slave.

Leaders serving? Leaders becoming like slaves? This must have been mind-blowing to the disciples, except for one important fact. Throughout the entire time they had followed Him, Jesus not only displayed this kind of servant leadership, but he achieved amazing results.

There can be no serious debate. Jesus is unquestionably the greatest leader who has ever walked this earth. His followers today number in the billions.

So, what about servant leadership? How does this apply within the military? How does a leader give commands and direction along with a myriad of critical guidance to subordinates while commanding an infantry battalion, a fighter squadron, or naval destroyer? How can a leader be in charge and act as a servant at the same time?

Scripture reveals the answer. When asked to sum up the whole law of God, Jesus responded with what has been characterized as the Great Commandment.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).

Breaking this down, it means that a military leader’s first responsibility is to love God. The primary way that we know if we are loving God can be measured by our obedience. Jesus himself said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV). Obeying Jesus unquestionably encompasses loving other people, i.e., those God has placed under the responsibility of the leader. Jesus modeled this perfectly. He led his disciples, teaching them many things while always living out what He taught. He loved and cared for them, even to the extent of being willing to lay His life down for them. At the end, he demonstrated His love by dying on a cross. Jesus did this not only for His disciples, but for the entire world. He did this for you and me.

We don’t have to make this complicated. It simply isn’t. However, it’s hard -so hard that we can’t do it without the Lord’s help.

Army 1st Lt. James D. Whitler, a platoon leader from Colorado Springs, Colo., serving with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, walks the line of his unit’s perimeter and checks on Spc. Alan L. Villalobos, an infantryman from Edmonds, Wash., Feb. 26 at a remote Afghan Uniform Police checkpoint near Takhteh Pol, Afghanistan. The unit is securing the checkpoint while assisting the AUP in conducting highway interdiction operations. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

Have you ever had the privilege to work under leaders who genuinely practiced servant leadership … who loved their warriors so much that they would have done anything to care and protect them? We’re talking about leaders who cared more about preserving the lives of their warriors than they did their own lives. Such a leader is almost always universally loved and respected. Warriors gladly follow this kind of leader.

I (Scott) have had that privilege on numerous occasions. I’m not talking about perfection, but rather a fellow human being who took God’s commandments seriously enough to consider his/her own life as expendable if necessary.

Are you that kind of leader? If you are, stay on that course. If not, you can make the decision right now to become a servant leader. You alone must choose.

Colonel Joe Smith (name changed) is such a leader. His demonstrated leadership and performance earned him selection to command a brigade-level unit. I (Scott) visited his unit for a couple of days. As I walked around the brigade area, it was immediately obvious that Colonel Smith was loved and respected by all. When he spoke, warriors listened. You could tell they enjoyed talking to a leader who was authentic, transparent, and totally committed to serving everyone in the unit.

This description of Colonel Smith’s leadership could not be complete without providing additional information, though. He had Stage IV cancer and was being treated with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. His life was literally hanging in the balance.

So how did he handle it? Was he hospitalized, and did he miss a lot of work? No, he didn’t. Other than an occasional day or two in the hospital or a few hours off to receive chemotherapy, he was at work. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen for myself the guts and fortitude this man displayed.

Colonel Smith is gaining ground in his battle with cancer. While not out of the woods, he has made amazing progress and doctors are starting to believe he may beat this dreaded disease.

Make no mistake. Servant leadership works. The choice is yours.

Photos: (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0) (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0) (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0) (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0)

The content of this Devotional comes from “Daily Strength for the Battle (You, God’s Word, 5 Minutes): Volume 6 Developing the Leader in You” (2020) and is copyrighted by Scott and Judy McChrystal. Used with permission.

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