Faith

Exercise Christ-in-me: How to keep the faith during NS

5 handles to keep you fighting for God’s army, even while you’re fighting for the Singapore Armed Forces

by Kenneth Chew // October 25, 2016, 5:19 am

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I used to think that the two years of National Service wouldn’t shake me. I would go in, take everything in my stride, and make a lot of new friends along the way. Then my time in green would end and I would move on to other things. But what I hadn’t taken into account was the lukewarm Christian I was at the time, going to church out of habit rather than passion. It was by sheer grace that I emerged from NS unscathed.

I saw many fall away from the faith during those two years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I learnt many things the hard way, but ultimately found that my faith was purified in the crucible of my Army days. You can overcome. To my brothers about to embark on every Singaporean Son’s rite of passage, expect change – to your worldview, your relationships, your character.

So, like Daniel, purpose to allow God to transform your old beliefs into living faith convictions that will stick with you through life as an NSF, NSman, and till we meet Him face to face.

Colossians 3:1-3 teaches that there are two parts to practical Christian living: Putting off the flesh, and putting on the new self. How can you apply this to your NS life? From the aide-memoire of Christian soldiers who have walked before you, here are some handles for your journey through the fire to victory.

1. DON’T SUCCUMB TO PEER PRESSURE

In the midst of peer pressure, heightened by the platoon mentality of doing everything together, it is easy for a Christian soldier to lose sight of God. So to have any hope of putting off the flesh, you need to be wary of negative peer pressure.

From the onset of BMT, you will be taught a new manner of speech, much of which cannot be reprinted here. There will be anger, bitterness and scoffing. And if you fail to communicate in this manner, people will notice. You will feel out of place, but stand firm. Your peers will eventually come to respect you for it.

Some will notice the Bible in your locker. Then they will try to accuse you of being self-righteous, snobbish, or call you pastor. On the occasional night out, your platoon mates might collectively try to get you wasted, or push you to some sexual awakening in the midst of debauchery.

Free from responsibility, accountability and inhibition, many Christians brothers spurn the Spirit, and fall to the flesh.

To the watching world, shedding your innocence while holding a finger up to the face of authority is part and parcel of coming of age. More so if they think you were raised in a conservative culture. Live for once. Be a man!

But put off that need for the affirmation of others. Put off the cries of the flesh. Silence them that we may only hear His still small voice.

Instead, put on spiritual discipline: Always make time for yourself to draw away from the crowd, like Jesus daily did. Try praying continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17) through the mundane hours of rifle-cleaning, route marching, or running. Or you may have to wake up earlier each morning to spend time in God’s presence each morning – for me, it was in the toilet before the day’s reveille.

A small price to pay.

2. FIND YOUR BAND OF BROTHERS

So bat off the bad peer pressure. Instead, try to find good peer pressure.

If you’re part of a church youth group, you’re probably familiar with the concept of godly fellowship. However, in a new environment, sometimes we need to take the initiative to establish one.

Early on, identify the Christians in your section, platoon, or block, and propose the bond of Christian brotherhood, where you commit to growing together in faith, hope and love. This will do wonders for your spiritual life and keep you from stumbling.

Accountability in this brotherhood is more than just merely having shared experiences. It’s about vulnerability and mutual respect, not based on one’s reputation or rapport, but because of a shared understanding of God’s amazing grace. Christian brothers are able to speak life in truth and love, and spur one another to love and good works, iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

A community of believers is also in a perfect position to establish a prayer altar, to intercede on behalf of the entire camp. As the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife and vice versa (1 Corinthians 7:14), we carry God’s presence into a place where He not known or respected.

3. DON’T BE ASHAMED OF YOUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST

In Christian circles, there is the common teaching that we must avoid being NSFs who happen to be Christian, instead aiming to be Christians who happen to be NSFs. So one’s Christian identity precedes his identity as a soldier.

Instead, the call is for the flavour of our faith to be expressed through our vocation as soldiers.

In reality, it is not so simple. When we enlist, we are no longer simply “Christians” or “NSFs”, but Christian-NSFs. Both aspects are fundamental to our identity. We are not called to live in isolation as Christians, or to prioritise church activities above our national duty.
Instead, the call is for the flavour of our faith to be expressed through our vocation as soldiers. Jesus calls this being in, but not of the world (John 17:16).
So don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Own it, live it out, and share it freely, and you will be amazed when people are personally impacted by your testimony. Stand up for God’s morals, while flowing with the culture of military life. It’s rarely mutually exclusive, but when they do stand at odds, know that God fights for you and walks with you. You need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).

4. ENGAGE THOSE WHO ARE NOT LIKE YOU

Jesus brought up the picture of salt and light during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). While a certain amount of spiritual discipline (prayer, word intake, and solitude) is necessary to remain salty, salt ultimately finds its purpose in food.

Similarly, light finds its purpose in illuminating the darkness, and giving direction, as a lighthouse guides the passage of ships away from precarious, rocky shores.

Jesus sets an example for us, not by expecting people to become like him, but by sitting with the sinners, the hurting, and the lonely. Washing the feet of His disciples, He calls us to do likewise – be servants to all, and all things to all men – that some might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

In camp, this means openly engaging with people different from us, bringing faith beyond holy huddles to places of struggle and hurt. Here, we “put on” compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience in the places where people are mean, selfish, angry, proud, and restless.

This means loving the unlovable – the chao geng soldier, the siao on officer, or the foul-mouthed Sergeant Major – with the love of Christ. It means proclaiming peace and gratitude when your buddies are anxious and ungrateful. It means holding on to His promises, and doing everything in the name of Jesus, for His glory, with His joy as our strength.

5. FIND YOUR RELEVANCE

Finally, we need to make our faith relevant to role we’re assigned to.

For a commander, it could mean taking off your epaulette, and ministering to your rifleman or recruit as a brother. For a trainee, it could mean having the courage to pray for your trainer or commander who could use a listening ear.

May we be the salt that makes even the worst combat rations (Hainanese chicken rice) be like honey on lips, and living water to thirsty souls.

In command school, it could be putting your own rest and welfare aside to help your appointment-holder with overnight mission planning. During exercises, it could mean carrying an extra load of ammunition for the sake of the platoon.

It could mean helping an exhausted brother build his A-frame hut in the cold rain of Tekong or Brunei, while offering your last pack of biscuits to your mate suffering from hunger cramps.

It could be as simple as being quick to say “sorry”, “hang in there”, and “are you okay?”

Your life is a living testimony to the grace you carry. And when people are receptive to the gospel, we can invite them into our circles of Christian brothers where they can have a taste of what godly Christian fellowship feels like. Or we could invite them to church over the weekend, rather than adding your name to their clubbing guest list.

May we be the salt that makes even the worst combat rations (Hainanese chicken rice) be like honey on lips, and living water to thirsty souls.

Fight the good fight, brother. One day you will reminisce over the glory days of old. You will hold them close to your heart, because in them you took those huge last steps to manhood, didn’t bathe for days, fired weapons, and made lifelong friends. But most of all, because God was real to you. Now you live for Him, and Him alone.

Mandatory conscription binds you to the SAF, but you have the incredible honour of enlisting in God’s army, where you’re called to fight the good fight till kingdom come.

About the author

Kenneth Chew

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.