I went to college at the US Air Force Academy. I don’t want to make it sound too terrible, but life at a civilian college would have been a lot more fun than attending a military academy. There are some unpleasant aspects about spending four years of your life at such a regimented institution.
But the powers that be provide strong motivations to stick it out. The basic rule is that it might be bad now, but it will better next year. Your freshman year is the worst. We had to walk and eat at attention. We couldn’t talk to anybody in public unless asked by an upperclassman. It was basically a year in which those above you screamed at you. But we always had next year to look forward to.
Our sophomore year was much better. But there were difficult things about it as well. You had to attend survival school. Then you had to pull duties as a CQ. This meant you were the errand boy for 100 other cadets. You had to sit at a desk for 24 hours, answering the one telephone for all the others. You had to make sure the squadron area was secure. But you always had next year. Survival school would be behind you, and you wouldn’t have to pull CQ.
Things were indeed better as a junior. You gained some extra privileges, such as more opportunities to leave the academy on weekends. But the best jobs and the most privileges were given to the seniors. Most importantly, only seniors could own cars. As a junior, you wanted, but did not have, the freedom the seniors had. But that would change next year.
As a senior, you finally got your car. You got the best jobs in the squadron. But you were still a cadet. You were making, at the time, about 100 dollars a month. You still had to live with those other cadets. But that would all change next year. You would graduate. You would make more money. You could get married. Most of the cadets would go to pilot training and fulfill lifelong dreams of flying.
But when you talked to those who graduated, they were also looking forward to next year. After pilot training, they would fulfill their seven-year commitment to the Air Force. Then they would apply to become civilian commercial airline pilots. At first, they wouldn’t make much money. But after 20 years or so, they would reach Nirvana. They would become a captain at American or Delta Airlines. Sure, it was a long way off. But they had learned to work hard for “next year.” Even if that year was 20 years off into the future.
In some ways, the Christian life is like that. We are told to endure as well. “Next year” it will be better. Even though we cannot know how long it will be until “next year” comes, we know it is coming. Next year, if we endure, we will be more like Christ. Next year, if we endure, the King will reward us when He comes. Next year, we know that we will receive, not a new car, but a new glorified body. These things are strong motivations to serve the Lord in anticipation of what is coming (Rom 8:22-25; 2 Tim 2:12; Heb 6:12). The future will be much better than today.
In another way, however, my experience at a military academy is nothing like the Christian life. In the final analysis, all that we cadets worked for would leave us unsatisfied. The rewards were temporary. That is why they always had to say to us, “Wait until next year.” When we reached each goal, we needed something else to motivate us.
A few years ago, I was on a plane flying across the country. A young lady sat next to me. We talked for a little while and I found out that her father had attended the Air Force Academy a few years after I did. She said he was now a captain flying for one of the major airlines. I told her that her dad had reached the Promised Land for cadets. Her words stuck with me. She said, “My dad wished he had never gone to the Academy. He always wanted to be a lawyer.”
When you get right down to it, that is true for everything the world offers you “next year.” It is never going to be good enough. You will wish for more, for something else. That is the case because it is all temporary, no matter how good it is and how much we admire those who pursue those dreams. John said it best: This world is passing away (1 John 2:17).
That is not the way it is for the believer. Our next year involves seeing our King face to face and living with Him forever. Our next year will be completely satisfying. Nobody will be saying, “Just wait, it will be so much better next year.”