I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
American overconfidence was mowed down by machine guns in France’s Belleau Wood. The year was 1918. It was the first time American troops fired in anger in a war that had engulfed Europe for four years. It was America’s first taste of mechanized warfare. It was a shock to our system.
In August of 1914, troops on both sides were sent off to war with flags waving, crowds cheering—with the assurance, “ You will be home before the leaves fall.” They weren’t. Except for those who came back in ambulances and caskets.
Americans watched the overseas carnage with apprehension that turned to determination. We grew confident that we could break that stalemate in the bloody and putrid trenches. With a popular song we announced to our allies over there, “The Yanks are coming! The Yanks are coming! And we won’t come back till it’s over over there.”
Many Yanks are still over there. Some lie in Flanders’ fields under crosses row on row. Some graves are marked with only, “Known but to God.”
In the first day of the first battle at Belleau Wood there were 1,000 American casualties. By the end of the battle, some 10,000.
American Marines and Soldiers may have gained a victory there. But they also lost something: their overconfidence.
Confidence is a good thing. Training in the U.S. Armed Forces builds confidence. Experience in the field sharpens it. Pity the warrior who has no confidence in his leaders, or weapons, or his fighting ability. Pity more the one who is overconfident. For him, ruin awaits.
The Apostle Paul was a bloodied warrior in battles physical and spiritual. He points to his combat ribbons:
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (II Corinthians 11:24-27).
After all that, who would blame him for being cautious—maybe a bit hesitant to engage the enemy? Waging war against enemies physical or spiritual comes at a cost. Wouldn’t Saint Paul be excused if he said he had paid enough? Since he had received so many setbacks, wouldn’t he have lost confidence?
How can he still say, “I can do everything”? Is not this foolish overconfidence? It is not. The weary warrior did not base his confidence upon himself but on his God. It was God Almighty who worked through him. He was merely a tool in the Master’s hands. Makes us think, doesn’t It?
Are we not the same?
We pray: Eternal Father, strong to save, without you we can do nothing. Even our next breath would be impossible without your power. But with you, nothing is impossible. We thank you for the victories in life that you have given us. Give us more of them. Remind us that anything we do that is good is worked through us by the same power that gave us life instead of death. Build up our confidence in you. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military