Holy Spirit is On Duty

“What about you, in the front? What job do you have?” asked the whitewater rafting guide as we paddled down the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, GA. “I’m a chaplain,” I answered.

Our guide, who had a very salty tongue, was a buff shirtless guy probably in his early 30’s who looked like he just walked off the set of Duck Dynasty, sporting a huge bushy dirty blonde beard. He was getting to know his crew of six Soldiers from HHC, 3-3 BSTB before we got too far down the river. Soldiers sat in the raft, and all told him their jobs. Then it was my turn.

“So, you’re a preacher man?” “Yes,” I responded, “but probably more of a counselor – but be yourself.” “Well, I’ll tell you something, Preacher Man, I’m always myself. It’s the only way to be. And…thanks for what you do but I have issues with that Book of yours. No offense, but I just have a different view of things. I’m more of a natural man. I live my life and have a good time. It’s all about having a good time. Tried your Book in the past but it didn’t work out for me, so I do the best I can.”

“No offense taken,” I said, realizing it unwise to argue with a guide who can keep you safe on an unfamiliar river. I decided to focus my eyes forward and on the quickly approaching whitewater rapids. I did say a quick silent prayer for the guy. Strangely, I soon noticed a change in the guide’s language. It got instantly cleaner. He kept on telling his stories and cracking jokes in between instructions to his crew. But I noticed him catching himself and making his language PG-13 instead of R, which I appreciated. But I also silently wondered what impact “my Book” did have on him in the past. He guided us through the rapids and once we were out of the river, we boarded the bus to go back to the outfitters and start all over again in two-man rafts called “ducks.”

This time our guide hopped into a two-man raft with another Soldier. Before he donned his life vest, I noticed the many tattoos he had on his upper body. He sported a huge one over his right pectoral muscle – a portrait of Jesus wearing the Crown of Thorns. Across his neck from one side to the next it read “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” I was faced with a choice – comment on those two tattoos, or say nothing.

“I like your tattoos,” I told him. “That one of Jesus is powerful, and that one around your neck is very true.” “Thanks, Preacher Man,” he said. A little while later down the Chattahoochee River, when my buddy and I hit a particularly wild Class IV rapid, the little raft popped up and tipped to the side, throwing me overboard. My buddy was also thrown from the raft trying to reach me. The guide and his Soldier partner frantically paddled to reach us. We were in no real danger because my buddy already had one leg back inside the duck raft and I was floating down stream in the current, wearing my personal flotation device, waiting for my paddle to reach me before I swam back to the raft. The guide frantically kept barking orders to my buddy to paddle the raft towards the rocks on the side of the water flume. And then as I was making my way over to my raft with my recaptured paddle in hand, the guide said, “You got it, Preacher Man, you got it. Throw your leg up over the side and climb up in that thing.” Adrenaline was pumping and I thrust myself up over the side of the raft and successfully climbed in. “Woohoo! That was awesome!” my buddy and I were shouting. “What a ride!” Later, after the river run was over and we turned our rafts in back at the outfitters, I grabbed the hand of the guide and as I shook it, I told him, “thank you very much for an awesome time. Thanks for rescuing us too, because I might have gone through that next rapid outside the raft. The current doesn’t bother me, but I just didn’t want to slam my ankles against underwater rocks.”

He thanked me for our group being there and said, “See you again soon, Preacher Man.”

I realized that another crew member was on that river with us. Nobody could see it, nobody could hear it, but its presence was certainly felt. The Holy Spirit was on duty. The Spirit apparently changed the behaviors and language of our guide, without me getting in the way.

In the Army, I serve many Soldiers with a wide variety of religious views, and lack thereof. I learned early on that the most effective way to be a witness to the non-Christians I serve or work around is to step out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work. The Holy Spirit is always on duty. In the past I would develop this careful plan about when and where I would introduce spiritual truths, using different tricks and methods to start the Gospel conversation. That was alot of pressure because if I failed to engage my plan I would feel guilty.

The trouble with all of that is that it was about ME. I have no power to save anyone, let alone myself! It’s not about my plan but the Lord’s Plan! When I shifted to saying silent prayers for the guys around me, and respecting them, not being shocked at what they told me about religion, and TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT TO DO THE WORK IT WILL DO ANYWAY – I moved out of the center of the picture and the Lord took over the process of changing the hearts and minds of people I was around. My job as a witness is easy: be present, be respectful, and be myself. I saw it work on that river last week. I see it work daily when I counsel Soldiers.

Last week, I was approached by more than one Soldier with seriously opposing views from mine about religious matters. I respectfully listened, asked probing questions to determine how they came to hold their views – and then did not seek to change their views. Why? Because I’ve learned that when the person is sitting there talking to a Chaplain with a Cross on his uniform, and Christian symbols and prayers are on his office walls, the person clearly recognizes where the Chaplain stands. They didn’t come to me to hear me espouse my views, but to get help with their issues.

When the person sees that I respect their views, and don’t approach it like I have a captive audience to tell them the error of their ways, they begin to respect me, and possibly my views. And what they don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit is the third being in the conversation. I stay off my soapbox and try to find common ground with the person – no matter how different they are, and the Lord has easy, unobstructed access to the person who came to a Christian for help. In my counseling sessions I will often ask the Soldier if I can say a quick prayer for him or her, but I never assume I have permission. I already know the Lord is working on their heart just because they came to a Christian for help.

Yes, I know the person could die still as a spiritually lost person. But I know this to be true: everyone lives eternally – we just have to choose where. No need to panic when we have prayer and the awesome power of the Holy Spirit. More life-changing than any powerful weapon used in the Army. I’ve seen self-proclaimed atheists ask me for Bibles. I’ve seen backslidden Christias ask me to teach them to pray. And I’ve seen it countless times – men and women intentionally check their dirty language just because I come around. And all the time I tell them, “at ease,” “relax fellas,” and “please, be yourselves.” Yes, the Holy Spirit is on duty. The Holy Spirit is real, alive, and changing hearts. My prayer is that I can be a witness and ready with an answer when asked, but stay out of the way and let the Lord’s Plans prevail instead of mine. The Lord will show me what to do and say.



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