Chaplain preps himself for divine duty
By Chaplain Dan Wilton, Illinois Air National Guard, Deployed
My first deployment was full of many wonderful demonstrations of God’s faithful presence and gracious empowering. Nearly every day I saw God grow in me a greater desire to be obedient to His Spirit in what, when, and how I would go about my duties as a chaplain. My family’s sacrifice to enable me to serve had afforded me a ministry opportunity temporarily uninterrupted by the blessed limitations of family life. My wife, kids, and I were determined to not let it go to waste, but we knew that would require a daily disposition of our hearts to abide in Christ and be filled with His joy.
Every morning I made it my practice to not leave my small room until I was happy in the Lord and filled up by His Spirit through prayer and Bible reading. Every morning wasn’t memorable. However, each morning became very meaningful. One morning about half-way through my 6-month deployment, I was half way out my door into the desert heat when I felt strongly in my spirit that God wasn’t done meeting with me. My heart accepted God’s invitation, and I stepped back into my room and got on my knees to pray.
Not knowing quite where to begin in my prayer or what God had in store, I just wanted to be obedient. After a few moments, I began to share with God how ready I was to introduce someone to Jesus. God knew that was in my heart, but I didn’t know it until that moment. I was trying to be patient, but God wanted to hear about my desperation. It had been 3 months and I hadn’t yet had the privilege of seeing an Airman give their heart to Christ even though I had been faithfully teaching, preaching, and visiting. My theological tradition celebrates God’s gracious and proactive work in salvation, and it has freed me to share the gospel without feeling the burden of other’s unbelief.
However, I had become entitled in this freedom and neglected to ask God with boldness to use me in His salvation work. That morning when invited by God to linger a little longer with Him, I prayed what I should have been praying all along. I asked God to do a miracle in someone’s heart and let me be a part of it.
I left my room that morning deeply encouraged and ready for the day. As the day moved along, my memory of that morning began to fade. I was busy and there was much to do for many. In the late afternoon, I was working in the chapel office when two airmen entered. I recognized the supervisor, and he introduced me to an older sergeant named Dan. Dan has given me permission to share what happened next.
In my office, Dan shared his story, and I listened. He had been deployed many times before and had always been able to deal with the stress and trauma of it all. However, this deployment was different. He wasn’t in as much danger as he had always been before, and yet he no longer had the capacity to deal with the stress. He was confused and scared, and death seemed to him an appropriate escape.
A day or two before we met, our base mental health team was able to intervene and had determined that it would be best for him to return home and begin treatment. Feeling his pain and prayerful about how I could help, I asked Dan to share why he had desired to come and speak to a chaplain. Dan shared that he wasn’t a Christian but for several months had felt drawn to the chapel, but he had resisted the urge to attend a service or speak to a chaplain. He then shared that in the morning the urge had become too great to resist any longer, and that is why he had come. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew it was what needed to happen today. With growing excitement, I asked Dan if he was interested in hearing about Jesus, and thankfully he said yes!
For the next several hours, Dan and I sat in my office and I white-boarded the story of God and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we talked, Dan became more and more interested and excited in the gracious work of Jesus. He saw the good news in the Gospel, and he was drawn to it by the grace of God. I was witnessing a miracle. It was like seeing what Luke described when Paul received his sight. Dan’s body-language and demeanor demonstrated what was happening within his heart. It was like seeing scales fall from his eyes (Acts 9:18). My prayer from the morning was being answered. I was seeing a dead soul come to life. Together we counted the cost of following Jesus, and Dan decided to give his whole life to the Lordship of Christ. God did a miracle. He took a man despairing of physical life and gave him eternal life.
As I have shared and reflected upon this day over the last several months, I can only praise the Lord for His faithful and steadfast love. He didn’t need me to save Dan. He could have used another chaplain or believer hanging out in the chaplain corps office. However, I am so thankful He did use me. He quickened me to pray when I wouldn’t have prayed. His Spirit enabled me to pray for those things that I normally wouldn’t have had words to pray for. He brought Dan to the office at just the right time despite his resistance. God was determined to save Dan, and it was beautiful.
None of us need to go to the desert to be participants in God’s beautiful redemption plan. He is going to place opportunities all around us. No matter where we are, it will be for our joy if we commit to pray in the Spirit for what God desires. He will place us exactly where He wants us at the right time so we can behold and participate in His beautiful work.
Join me in rejoicing over the salvation of this Airman’s body and soul. Pray for Chaplain Wilton and the 199 other CBAmerica chaplains serving in difficult places around the world. Ask God to prepare them for each day’s duty in His vineyard.