Getting Ahead in Life
By Myron Ross
Have you ever wondered how to "get ahead" of others in life? Is it possible to "get God on our side"? I've struggled with these thoughts at times in my life. I've seen God work incredible, even impossible miracles on the job and in the lives of many others.
The people that have known me in my Air Force career and in retirement know that spectacular things have happened in my life. I want to share a watershed event between myself and God. This event came about because of my dissatisfaction with career progression in my early Air Force career.
By way of background, I watched God work to get me into the military long after I was disqualified for any military service for medical reasons. I couldn't pass the physical exam. I came to understand years later that God had created my (at times painful) disability to keep me out of the military—for a period of time. Although it was a "permanent" medical disability, nothing with God is permanent—as He states "is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen 18:14).
After my rejection by the military, I worked at various jobs to get my bachelors degree in Business Administration. Close to my senior year I finally decided I really wanted a career in computers. But, I couldn't get into the computer field unless I had two years of experience or two more years of math-only courses at the college level. I really didn't like math and I had no money. This may sound strange but I had an attitude about math and computers. Basically, I didn't see any reason for me to do any math when computers were perfectly capable of doing the math for me. So, if I were in the computer career field, I'd let the computer do the work and I would watch it crunch numbers—all day long. I call this working smarter not harder.
I took several tests in high school and college that showed that my interests and abilities were identical to people in the field of aviation. Well, you may have guessed, I couldn't afford flying lessons and I wore glasses. No problem, tests also showed I had the same interests as people in engineering, chemistry and computer science. Of course, this required more math courses—which I couldn't afford anyway. Tests also showed that I had the same occupational interests as military officers. Whoa! I already tried that route and it didn't work. Finally, my interests also showed a strong similarity with people in religious ministries. Oh no! I was raised on the mission field and was a preachers' kid and didn't really like it very much. In fact, my lowest score was a negative number for "preacher". Scratch four.
I'll skip the miracles to say that none of these barriers were any kind of a problem for God. Once I gave up on my life and threw everything over to God and His will, barriers became highways. I'm not talking about salvation here. I was already saved by faith at six years of age.
Eight years after rejection by the military God drew me to enlist in the Air Force, with a Bachelor's Degree in hand (while God worked a miracle with the Surgeon General of the Air Force to let me in). I was hand-picked in Basic Training to work in a prestigious research laboratory as a computer programmer. They willingly trained me on the latest hardware and software. Only in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would ever work in a research laboratory environment.
After three and a half years, I tried to get into Officer Training School (OTS) to get my commission (and thus fulfill my destiny—so to speak—after all, doesn't God help those that help themselves? I could think up a lot of things I wanted to help myself to!) but that failed. So, I spent time with God seeking His help and will. It was very clear to me that God had blessed me by bringing together three of the four career interest areas and, run them all simultaneously! I knew that we are supposed to "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Prov 3:5-6).
In answer to my prayer, God worked another series of miracles (if I had time to tell, you would be amazed) to get me selected for Officer Training School (OTS), during the toughest wind-down of the military after the Vietnam War. Only about 95 people in the whole country were selected for my class and only about 85 graduated. Let's see, I now had a high-tech career in software engineering, I was on my way to OTS and military officership, I was in aviation, and I was serving the Lord at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Church in San Antonio, Texas, and I had a great time working at a prestigious research laboratory as a real plus.
Better things were yet to come. While enlisted, I would routinely jog around a football field across the street from the Officer's Club at Lackland AFB, Texas. I noticed that officer's would have great parties at the club. They would be dressed up in their military tuxedoes and their wives in beautiful gowns. On a couple of occasions an honor guard would form up in two rows facing each other in front of the entrance and would have their sabers drawn and crossed above the walkway in salute as each officer and wife approached the entrance. An officer of the guard would stand at the end of the row and salute. It was a beautiful sight. I vowed that one day, Lord willing, I would somehow get invited to such a party and take my wife through the formal line and salute. Someday!
I earned the distinction of Distinguished Graduate from my OTS experiences. My student squadron won Squadron of the Week for 11 of 12 weeks in training. This also afforded my upper class the same distinction for 11 of 12 of their weeks of training. The class after mine also won 11 of 12 weeks as Squadron of the Week. This entitled the squadron members special privileges during the following weekend and week of training. No one could remember when so much winning was done by a single squadron at OTS up to that time. Also, one of my classmates won the all-time OTS mile and a half run at something like 5 minutes at 56 seconds! My personal best time for the same event was 9 minutes and 47 seconds.
This was just like enlisted Basic Training 3 ½ years earlier when my Flight won Honor Flight, the first time the award had been given in two years. Yup, I was the Dorm Chief in charge of all 50 guys in my flight during evenings and weekends. This was clearly God's blessing.
I want you to understand when I say, "God was running my life". It wasn't always easy to let Him be in charge, but it was always glorious. And, I enjoy winning. Losing is too much work!
I really need to shorten this narrative. Yes, during my first officer assignment I was technical lead on the largest command-unique software project in the Air Force. My "client" was the US Foreign Military Sales program. The software supported the Defense Language Institute (DLI) English Language Center (ELC) at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. DLI-ELC trained foreign military personnel in the English language before sending them off to our military technical schools. Because of this I was invited to a whopping big Christmas party bash at the Lackland Officer's Club by none other than the Shah of Iran. Yes, I did take my wife through the crossed swords to enter the building. It was an awesome event and a Cinderella experience, not soon forgotten. Let's see, open bars throughout the club [I don't imbibe], three separate bands in different rooms, tables in each room piled high with the best foods and mounds of fresh gulf shrimp. You would have to see it all to believe it all. I kept looking at the walls for ghostly fingers to be writing some message to the Iranian students. God really honors His word and does "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." (Gal 3:20).
My second Air Force assignment was at the Headquarters for Air University at Maxwell AFB. I was afforded the opportunity to complete Squadron Officer School (SOS) early in that assignment. But there was a problem. I noticed that my grades were slipping and I was upset. Yes, I was under a contract teaching advanced Computer Science classes at Auburn University, Montgomery during the evenings while my classmates spent their time studying for the next test. Also, I was upset that the SOS faculty was very clearly biased towards pilots. I had two pilots in my flight that each had the distinction of being the Air Force Combat Pilot of the Year. But the faculty perception was that pilots could do nothing wrong while I knew I could best them on most things, except flying, and did whenever I had a chance.
Well, what should I do? I prayed and fasted because I could see the distinction of being a Distinguished Graduate was slipping away. God answered my prayer but in a most curious way. The Lord gave me the faith to believe that the next time our class went out to compete in soccer, that the Lord would show me His answer to my prayer—and that I would understand better His will for my life. Whoa!
I entered the next game with the full assurance that God was going to control things in a special way. This was going to be very interesting for me as I wanted so much to excel in everything. We reached the third quarter of the game and the Lord assured me that the "event" was at hand. My team was ahead by two points, so, if I scored anything it wasn't to save the world or the game—this was puzzling because I was getting spoiled under God's care.
I was playing left forward. This was the worst possible position for me since I'm right handed and am rather spasticated with my left foot. Well, the ball came toward me and I turned to catch up with it and was able to get on the left side of the ball. As I said, this was a bad position for me. I wanted to "sweep the ball" to my right back towards the goal, but I couldn't get my left foot and the timing of my steps to coincide with the ball. Also, the ball and I were moving too fast. To "sweep the ball" I would have to step behind and to the right of the ball with my right foot and swing my left foot across in front of my right foot to connect with the ball. This action, due to the speed I was running, would cause me to trip and fall. Talk about frustration--and the back edge (out of bounds) of the playing field was rushing up on me. Also, even if I could have performed such a maneuver, my forward speed would ensure the ball went out of bounds—as my angle of kick would be insufficient to send it towards the goal.
If I tried to stop the ball, I would overshoot it and have to come back to kick it. But an opponent was just behind me—and such an action on my part would only setup the ball for him. Plus, my team had technical possession of the ball and if it rolled out of bounds, possession would automatically transfer to the other team. Whew! There was no reasonable solution to this problem. However, a thought came to me that if I could somehow get a half step ahead of the ball with my left foot and swing my right foot, yes, my right foot rightwards toward the ball, I might be able to kick it back up the field (un-aimed) so that one of my teammates could try and kick it into the goal. If you think this might be easy, try kicking a ball rearward while running fast in a forward direction.
Let me digress for a moment. On this particular day, my wife and two kids were sitting in the bleachers watching the game. My wife told me later that two faculty members from SOS were sitting behind her and commenting on the game. These faculty members were experts in the game and refereed many student games themselves. They did not connect my wife and kids sitting in front of them with me on the field so they were liberal with their comments. Why is this important? Well, according to my wife, these two coaches were absolutely impressed with the way I was playing the game and anticipating each move and optimally positioning myself for each play. They had more favorable things to say about me than any other person on the field that day. Of course, no one knew the game was staged—so to speak—and that God was ensuring I wouldn't miss the message He so kindly had for me.
Well, I did the impossible right sweep with the outside of my right soccer shoe. I hoped to return the ball back toward the center of the field. However, the ball came off the top of my right foot and sailed high towards the far end of the goal. This was not where I aimed it. As you can see from the diagram below, the ball travelled over the goalpost and dropped into the goal in the far upper right corner.
The goalie jumped for the ball but he couldn't get his fingers on it. This was an impossible shot. How the ball got the correct spin to perform the curve and how it was aimed just high enough to miss the goalie's fingers and how it fit into the far upper right corner while missing the cross bar and then bouncing from the upright post into the net—instead of bouncing back out the direction it came from, is part of the miracle. I was off-stride, on the wrong foot, on the wrong side of the ball, and on the wrong side of the field and too far away to take a controlled shot.
Naturally, everyone was impressed by such a cool shot. Even I was deeply impressed. But I was the only one that knew the shot was a complete flub. I was totally out of control and couldn't possibly manage the ball from my position. I could not overcome the technical problems of the shot on my own.
The shot looked perfectly deliberate—as if I had planned it. In all my years of playing soccer and watching professional games, I had never seen such a shot. But the Lord assured my spirit that this was the moment and the example He wanted me to study.
There's more I could tell, but let me summarize the lessons God showed me. First, God did not need my heroics to save anything. Secondly, achievements in my life were allowed and orchestrated for His glory not mine. Thirdly, that God gives to everyone skills, gifts and training as it pleases Him and to those gifts God also enables achievements. Even if you don't have the skills or the right stuff, God always does. I think of the amazing achievement of my two classmates who each earned Pilot of the Year awards after the toughest flying training in the world and realized that God was the one that enabled them. They did not get that distinction by their own merits.
Fourth, it's OK to want to excel for God. However, if God doesn't want us to excel at some task, He will either prevent us from excelling or simply not enable us! He does want us to have a humble attitude about what He does do with our lives. We need to remember that "He hath done all things well" (Mark 7:37).
This lesson was very hard to absorb when I thought I was controlling the events in my life. Paul said that he wanted to excel for God without a lingering infirmity that held him back:
8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
11. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (2 Cor 12:8-11).
As a result of this soccer experience and as I read these verses I realized that my medical disability was determined by God—ouch—it really does hurt to have your right hand ground up in a table saw in the eighth grade. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the years of emotional pain and consequences. But why did this happen? That the power of Christ might be seen in me to negate the infirmities I had. However, not every infirmity in my life was negated to my satisfaction or timing. That wasn't the purpose for the infirmities. The infirmities were there for God's purposes and glory and when He chose to, He overcame them in wonderful ways.
To brag and say "Look at what I have done" is a very sorry way to neglect to give God the glory for performing His work through our lives. God held me back in SOS to show me that He empowers others in their achievements—even when I wasn't empowered. They will give an account. They will eventually confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. As King David wrote:
5. Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.
6. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
7. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. (Psalm 75:5-7).
My job is to rejoice in what I can't do, that the power of Christ can work in my life. I now recognize that my entire Air Force career was done in God's power.
I have many other distinctions that God awarded me with. Even though I didn't get the Distinguished Graduate (DG) award in SOS, I sleep easily at night knowing that God has used me to fix problems in our nation's security that many other experts were unable to fix for several decades. I like to say that with Christ, I've walked the "high places" of the Earth and have seen things and done things no other person has. The Lord has also blessed my children. My son has the distinction of earning the US Army's grueling three-day Best Ranger Competition for the year 2010, and my daughter has her own world-class achievements. What a fabulous God!
My achievements (some classified) through Him will last much longer than the singular achievements of Pilot of the Year or DG. I give God all the glory because without His empowerment and involvement, all my labors would have been in vain: "Except the LORD build the house [career or nation], they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city [career or nation], the watchman waketh but in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
So, to answer the question, "How do I get God on my side so that I can get ahead in life?" is to ask the wrong question. Rather, we need to ask, "How can I turn over everything in my life to the Lord's keeping and control and then trust Him by faith for His blessing?" It is a deliberate choice that we make. In my case, it was a choice made out of sheer desperation—after I became tired of trying to run my life for Him. This life is not about you or me, it is about Jesus Christ. Now I let Him run my life any way He wants to. It seems scary but His love and faithfulness are most certain and He does all things well.