(Note: This article was published in the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog. It made their top ten list of blog posts in 2019. It was also posted on the 4Word Women blog and the Coram Deo blog.)
I went on a short walk around the neighborhood this afternoon just before the sun went down to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. It gave me some much-needed time to reflect and pray.
I was thinking about how much I wanted to get my unique approach to the theology of work which is summarized by the term Immanuel labor out to the military community at Fort Leonard Wood where I work as a Department of the Army civilian. I am going to have to re-focus my message for these folks that I serve with. They need to hear how God’s presence will directly impact their Army experience.
God is in control
One of the most relevant aspects of this doctrine is that of trusting God during the assignment process.
A Christian in the Army needs to understand the sovereignty of God. He is in always in control. He reigns. Additionally, He is an all-powerful, all- knowing, loving, and faithful God.
If your next job assignment is literally in the hands of someone you have never met at Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky, you must know that God has you in His bigger hands. He knows where you need to go, what you need to do, who you need to serve with, and when is the right time that He needs you to be there for His purposes.
From this point forward, I will share several quotes from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work.
My experience as a recruiter
For those who are on active duty, officers and enlisted personnel will get sent to a variety of assignments every two or three years according to the needs of the Army. Over a 20 year career, I was stationed in the following places: Fort Stewart, Georgia; Camp Market, Korea; Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort Collins, Colorado; Fort Hood, Texas; Kitzingen and Wurzberg, Germany; Salt Lake City, Utah; Camp Humphreys, Korea; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
During my twenty-plus years on active duty, my wife and I recognized that each time I was up for reassignment, there was what we called an angel in uniform who watched over the process. God needed us to be His representatives and do His work at just the right places at just the right times as we were stationed around the country and overseas.
However, that did not mean that I had success everywhere I went.
A prime example is my sixteen months as an Army recruiter in Fort Collins, Colorado. Even though I worked hard and was trained to be able to paint a picture for my potential recruits of how the Army would help them to meet their personal goals, I just could not get folks to commit. I did not handle their objections well on a consistent basis. I could not produce the results they expected every month.
The funny thing is, I had specifically requested that assignment. (You have to be careful what you pray for, because you just may get it.) Shortly after I started recruiter school, I was told that I would go to Kansas City, where I went to high school. However, for some reason it was stuck in my mind that I needed to go back to my old college town, which was close to Denver, where my wife is from.
After my nine-month training and evaluation process ended, my chain of command submitted a packet to relieve me from recruiting duty as an ineffective new recruiter. It was a humbling process, but one that I was grateful for and was sure was the right thing to do. After several months, they decided that I would be immediately reassigned to Fort Hood where I could better serve the Army.
God’s timing at Fort Hood
One small but exciting chapter in my life illustrates that God can use us at the right time and place in our workplaces to build His eternal kingdom. In the spring of 1995 at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked behind the scenes to try to get a small group from my own chapel to attend a Promise Keepers men’s conference. This simple act later developed into a major effort that involved several army chaplains from other chapels on post. We were able to bring a total of 168 soldiers from all ranks, races, and backgrounds to the Houston and Dallas Promise Keepers men’s conferences that year. These events were life-changing for many of these soldiers and their families, and was a real faith-builder for me. Only God could have pulled this off.
Timing is everything. If I had been a recruiter for three years as originally planned, I may or may not have been attending chapel at Fort Hood in 1995 for God to use me as a catalyst to bring all of these soldiers to two Promise Keepers conferences. He clearly worked all things out for good (Rom. 8:28).
Some biblical principles
Of course, my story, although mildly interesting, would be of little value to Christian Soldiers if it was not supported by Scripture. How can you know that you can trust God in every new assignment throughout your military career and beyond?
Joseph also found himself in places that he did not plan to go. However, God had it planned all along. In Gen. 45:7–8, Joseph concludes that despite what his brothers did to him, it is not man who causes things to happen to us but God. He alone is sovereign.
Later, we read from the prophet Isaiah that “we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8). God sovereignly works in the circumstances and hearts of His people to prepare them to do His work and to mold them as He desires to fulfill His purposes.
Let me conclude with this bold statement. God sends us where He needs us to go so that we can do what He needs us to do with those who need the work we will provide. I know that God is sovereign. He’s in control. Everywhere I have ever been, even here and now, the sovereign God has worked things out for His purposes and for my benefit.
God is present with every Soldier who abides in Christ. You can trust Him in your own career path.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.