Walking by faith is contrary to the ways of the world and especially our American world where rugged individualism has long been treasured. But being focused and on the leading edge does not necessarily equate with individualism. There are so many of our American heroes who were people of faith and who relied on God to go before them and to direct their steps, and among them are even those who were at first reluctant—reluctant to move as God might have them move and reluctant to move as circumstances might have demanded.
One of my favorite movies, if not my favorite, is “Sergeant York.” It is a biographical film about the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War I. Alvin was one who had set a path of independence much to his mother’s dismay. William Bennett in his book, “The Book of Man” records the following [brace yourself it is a bit longer than usual]:
“When Alvin was only twenty-four years old, his father passed away. Being the oldest remaining son at home, Alvin was left to help his mother raise his younger siblings. So he took a job on a railroad construction crew and another working as a logger. It wasn’t long before the hard work and pressure began to affect Alvin. In the few years building up to World War I, he became a violent alcoholic who often fought in saloons and was arrested several times. In his own words, he was “hog-wild.””
“Alvin’s mother, a devout Protestant, tried her hardest to persuade Alvin to repent and change his ways. Sadly, her pleas fell on deaf ears until one unfortunate night. In the winter of 1914, Alvin and his friend Everett Delk got in a fight with other saloon patrons after an evening of heavy drinking. The incident ended with Delk beaten to death inside the saloon. The event was painful enough for Alvin that he finally followed his mother’s advice and became a pacifist and stopped drinking alcohol. He was baptized as a Christian in the Wolf River in early 1915.”
“Having completely changed his ways, York later wrote, “I am a great deal like Paul [the apostle], the things I once loved I now hate.””
“Only two years after his conversion, Alvin York was drafted into the United States Army to serve in World War I. Being a Bible-believing pacifist but also a proud patriot and supporter of his country, York was torn over his proper duty in the war. At first he tried to get an exemption based on his religious convictions. When he registered for the draft, he answered the question “Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?” by writing, “Yes. Don’t Want To Fight.””
“York filed four appeals on religious grounds; all were rejected. Still wrestling in his mind over the virtue of war, he was miserable during his first weeks of military service. He remained silent about his uncertainties until he found out he would be assigned to a combat unit headed to Europe. His company commander sent him to see battalion commander General George Edward Buxton. He and York spent hours discussing the Bible’s teachings about war.”
“Ultimately, Buxton gave him a ten-day pass to return home and think things through. Buxton agreed to discharge him if he hadn’t changed his mind by the time he returned.”
“York spent two days in the Tennessee mountains soul searching and asking for God’s wisdom. One biblical verse in particular weighed heavily on his heart: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Gradually, York came to the epiphany that the only way to keep peace in this world would be to engage the Germans on the terms they understood—war.”
“York returned to duty in April 1918, and shortly afterward his division set sail for France. In late June, they were commissioned to serve on the Western Front. Life in the trenches was anything but comfortable. Bullets constantly whizzed overhead, bombs dropped from above, and you never knew when the enemy would charge your trench without warning. In his off hours, York read his Bible. In his diary he wrote, “The only thing to do was to pray and trust God.””
“On October 8, 1918, York’s division was part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive in northeast France. After his regiment was pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire, York spearheaded a seven-man unit designed to silence the machine guns and allow the regiment to push forward. His squad had already taken two casualties when York found himself face-to-face with a German machine-gun company with just a rifle and a pistol.”
“Using his rifle, York picked off any Germans who popped their heads above the trenches. Then, when six Germans rushed him with bayonets, he grabbed his pistol and killed all six. He quickly positioned himself at the end of the German trench and began mowing down Germans as they stood in line. When the dust settled and the fight ended, 25 Germans were dead. Stunned and scared, the remaining 132 Germans surrendered to York and his unit.”
“Describing the fight in his diary, York said, “There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharpshooting. I don’t think I missed a shot. It was no time to miss. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had. (Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: “Sgt. Alvin C. York’s Diary: October 8, 1918”)””
“York’s heroics elevated him to the heights of an American hero. He was later promoted to sergeant and received the congressional Medal of Honor along with fifty other decorations and honors. When he returned to the United States, York was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for endorsements, newspaper articles, and movie roles. Being the simple Tennessee man that he was, York wrote, “They offered so much money that it almost takened my breath away.””
“In the end, York refused the money and returned home to Tennessee. Looking beyond himself and his own personal gains, he believed God had chosen him to “bring the benefits of an industrial society to his neighbors . . . [and that] the war had been part of God’s plan to prepare him for a life of service [to his neighbors]….” (Bennett, William J. (2011-10-04). The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood (p. 50-52). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)
The thing that impressed me most was his change from rebellious independent to reluctant, submissive, and humble servant. Alvin might have continued as one who followed dreams to make something of himself, but rather was turned into one who when something was made of him he shied from the attention and the recognition. It is so contrary to how we tend to function, yet at the same time I think there is something in each of us where we might hope we respond that way.
I return to my life verse at times like this and I pray that I indeed might be one who always takes all of my barriers and all of my opportunities and lay them before God, seeking His direction and asking for His wisdom in each of them.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)
Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/2)
Living in dependence on Me is a glorious adventure. Most people scurry around busily, trying to accomplish things through their own strength and ability. Some succeed enormously; others fail miserably. But both groups miss what life is meant to be: living and working in collaboration with Me.
When you depend on Me continually, your whole perspective changes. You see miracles happening all around, while others see only natural “coincidences.” You begin each day with joyful expectation, watching to see what I will do. You accept weakness as a gift from Me, knowing that My Power plugs in most readily to consecrated weakness. You keep your plans tentative, knowing that My plans are far superior. You consciously live, move, and have your being in Me, desiring that I live in you. I in you, and you in Me. This is the intimate adventure I offer you.
“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10, NASB95)
“for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17:28, NASB95)
“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” (Colossians 2:6–7, NASB95)
“In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20, NASB95)