By Chaplain (Col) Stephen W. Leonard, USA, Ret.
“Be sober-minded; be vigilant. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
Fifty three years ago, I was an Infantry Platoon Leader in Vietnam. I was a member of a Mechanized Infantry Battalion, which utilized Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Tanks. They were too bulky to operate well in the jungle, so we used them in spaces called Jungle Breaks, 100 yards wide and around 100 miles long. The engineer created paths through the jungle, and kept them defoliated by regularly spraying Agent Orange from the air.
In a Jungle Break, we could dismount from our APCs and take foot patrols out into the jungle to find and fight the enemy. We would begin these patrols at daybreak and finish around suppertime. It was hot, tiring, and wearying work, stopping only for lunch and a brief rest. It required constant vigilance; M-16 rifles were held up, ready to shoot at all times. On a sweltering, hot day, the alertness required was difficult to sustain. But on the other hand, laxity could be fatal.
As my patrol at suppertime was very close to returning to the Company, APCs circled in the Jungle Break, we heard the rest of our personnel talking and carrying on as they ate their evening meal. Of course, our alertness then relaxed, and M-16s dropped from readiness level to arm’s length. We could lazily walk the last 200 yards to join the rest of the company and eat and rest.
But unbeknownst to us, Viet Cong soldiers, maybe three or four, were watching the company from the jungle as they peered into the Jungle Break. Our patrol came up behind them, squeezing them between us and the rest of the Company. They noticed us first and quickly opened up on us with automatic weapons fire, which was quite a shock to us tired, relaxed men.
Their firepower was devastating. The bullets flew everywhere around us. They blew up dirt around my feet, causing bark to fly around my eyes and body from the trees immediately next to me. To this day, I do not understand why none of the bullets found my body as I frantically sought cover and protection, as was the case with the entire patrol.
There was a lesson here to be learned for life from this terrifying experience. A constant vigilance must be sustained to defeat the continual enemy of our souls. It is why the Scriptures tell you, “Be self-controlled, be vigilant, because your enemy, the devil, prowls around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are in an actual war until Jesus returns (Ephesians 6:12). Self-control, alertness, and vigilance is required constantly because the moment your guard goes down, the coiled snake strikes and the prowling devil pounces.
You can rest in life, as my patrol did at lunch. You can sleep; you can relax your tired body, but you never let down your guard spiritually. You must stay alert to Satan, maintain self-control of temptations, stay in the Word, and pray without ceasing. A prowling lion is ready to launch his attack instantaneously when he sees the slightest letdown. You cannot give him that opportunity. “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the sins of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.
Vigilance is possible. Remember Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Only in his strength can you sustain vigilance to defeat your enemy. In Christ, this can be done! And must be done.
“Sure I must fight if I would reign: increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.”
(4th verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” 1724)