“Success becomes significance when it fits into God’s plan, when our accomplishments somehow further His kingdom here on earth. Often that kind of significant success is not seen as success when measured in human standards.
All my life I have strived to be successful: to be a great athlete in high school and college, to get “outstanding” on my naval officer fitness re-ports, to be a “top gun” naval aviator, to be a tough resister in a Communist prison, to be commanding officer of an aircraft carrier, to rise to the top in military rank, to found a defense policy organization that would have an impact, and to establish a thriving small business in my retirement. When measured by human standards, I’ve succeeded in those areas—and I have been duly rewarded by athletic scholarships, early selection for service rank, military awards and decorations for my performance as a POW, choice duty assignments, and the praise of men.
However, those rewards have not been my greatest rewards. My experience as a POW in Vietnam helped me to see the difference between success as measured by men and success as seen in the eyes of God. There were many times in my lonely cell when my victories were known only by me and God, and I found that those victories were profoundly more re-warding than the times I received a pat on the back or a military award. Since my return to freedom, the opportunities I’ve had to share with others the love of God that sustained me during my captivity have been infinitely more precious than my chestful of military decorations. Writing my book, Scars and Stripes, as a testament to God’s faithfulness during those dark days has brought satisfaction not paralleled by anything else.
And by far, the greatest rewards have come from times when I’ve done something simply because it was the right thing to do, when I’ve been criticized, or even ostracized, for taking an unpopular stand on causes which look like failures in the eyes of the world. Then, just as in my lonely cell, God knows and I know, and that is enough. My success has become significance.”
THE FINAL SERMON
The last sermon I had prepared as prison chaplain in Hanoi was constructed out of the gloom and despair I felt about never being released. Strangely, God took me to the Book of Job, to the story of a man who had his share of trials and yet recovered. I never did deliver it in Hanoi be-cause we were released us just before the Sunday service. Instead, we held that service at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines after we landed.
The words I prepared under the inspiration of God’s Spirit while in captivity, took on new meaning and perhaps even more pertinence when I spoke them in freedom. This is the part of the sermon that stands out for me even now; I still think of it whenever I am tempted to ask the reason for what I endured. Job was a righteous and upright man who had great wealth, more than any other man in the land. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was a holy man who loved God, and God loved him. But Satan was able to come between the Lord and Job, so Job lost all his wealth, little by little. His house was blown down. He lost his seven sons and his three daughters. He was covered with boils and all the people turned their backs on Job. This went on for a significant period of time.
But Job fell down on his knees and worshiped God and never once lost his integrity. He did not renounce his faith in God, but endured all that Satan could offer. God held him in highest esteem and returned to him what he had lost. God said, “My son, remember well these words I have spoken to you. As long as you live, you will be subject to change, whether you like it or not: now glad, now sorrowing; now vigorous, now lazy;now gloomy, now merry. Without battle, no man can come to victory; the greater the battle, the greater the victory.