It’s zero dark thirty—that means really, really early in the morning, in Army speak. I am sipping on a cup of McDonald’s premium coffee, mercifully open 24-7, right next to the installation, catering to soldiers who are up early to do “PT” (physical training) at Fort Jackson. That’s where I am. That is what I am about to do as I write this. I am on annual training this morning and it is 0430. I’ll begin the process of completing my physical training examination within the hour. That means running the race. For me it’s not exactly a “race”—more of a fast walk. I’m one of those “profiled” soldiers (old, broken, medically “profiled” by some disabling issue—me? two back surgeries and nerve damage) who walks and not runs. However, it was just a few months ago that I could barely stand (as I was terribly sick with a neurological illness; but that is another profile…)! Now at least I can walk—and walk with a good pace. I thank God for that!! But this morning is a test. It’s an examination to decide if I can have the endurance to go forward as an officer in the US Army Reserve. I don’t mind confessing, that in the shadowy solitude of zero dark thirty, in the still privacy of this new—very new, as in very early—day, I am writing these lines to medicate myself! I must admit it. I am a bit concerned about whether I have the strength to do this.
OK. What can I do? “Alright, Lord, I will preach to myself.”
The test before you, my dear old man, is like the test that you have in your life as a believer: it’s a test of perseverance—proctored each and every day—to continue running the race of faith in the Lord. It is, indeed, “a zero dark thirty moment” that every believer rises to face each new day. It is the race talked about by the writer to the epistle to the Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The problem is, Milton: you have a “profile” in your spiritual life the same as you do in your physical life. You are a broken man, unable to run the race of faith without Another. The inner strength one has for running the race of faith is given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. The assurance of your success, despite the obstacles of the world, the flesh and the devil, is completely in the strength of the Lord. I am inspired by Christ, His love and grace and power and presence and sacrifice, and how He has helped others with “profiles” like me, who have gone before. If the Lord was faithful to them—to Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Wycliffe and Aunt Eva, God will be faithful to see me through the race also.
Steady. Sip the coffee and don’t sue McDonald’s if you spill it on your naked legs sticking out of those Army running shorts. Get ready. Look unto Him. Now drive on old boy. Drive on through the darkness and take your test. This is your time.
And so I begin to run the race this morning. At zero dark thirty I begin to run a race to determine if I have the stamina, the endurance to carry forward. At zero dark thirty, a quiet time, a dark time, a solitary time, a testing time, we need to remember God’s faithfulness to us in days passed and his promises to us for the day at hand.
If I can think about it, I’ll let you know how all this comes out. This much I can tell you: Christ has run the race for us and he’s won no matter how I will have performed this day. What I learned in this past year, the season of illness for me, is that Jesus Christ endures even when I cannot. That’s a good lesson, even at zero dark thirty, and especially for a soldier with a profile.
Postscript: By God’s grace, I passed the test. The young enlisted men who were giving me the test were cheering me on as I limped across the line, with more than five minutes still left to go. The Lord is faithful. And having a herd of young bucks around to cheer on the old man feels good too. I kind of like zero dark thirty.
- Let’s Take a Walk (michaelmilton.org)
- United to Christ (thirdmill.org)
- Fundamental Structures (thirdmill.org)
- David as Shepherd – Psalm 23, A Message Delivered at the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)
- Justification (thirdmill.org)
- David as Warrior – 1 Samuel 17: A Message Delivered to the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)
- God’s Covenant (thirdmill.org)
- All in the Family (thirdmill.org)
- Don’t Miss Autumn…I mean “Fall” (michaelmilton.org)
- A Summer Sermon: Trusting God in Your Wilderness (michaelmilton.org)
- Hebrews 12:1-4 (thirdmill.org)
- Hebrews 11:17-40 (thirdmill.org)
- Hebrews 11:1-16 (thirdmill.org)
- Views of Heaven a Test of Character (thirdmill.org)
- “It’s a Growing Time” – Resting in God before Running in Ministry: A Convocation Message for the US Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, SC (michaelmilton.org)