True God-stories are never about us. It’s probably why we appreciate this one so much. The late Brennan Manning spoke of early successes in a person’s life as being so often detrimental to their spiritual formation. “Glorious failures and miserable successes” is how he referred to the phenomenon. Here’s a story of a series of glorious dead ends leading one man on a miserable, sort of, roundabout path to God, one that would include seven plus weeks of Air Force Basic Military Training... 🪖
By February 2015, 21-year old Colt McMichael* was back home again, living with his mom. He had started and quit college three times. Every relationship he had been in up to that time (and then over the next few years) hadn’t and wouldn't work out. His last bid at school was at Michigan State—not because it was the best fit for him, but because he "was pretty sure it was going to be a good time." Now here he was again, right back where he had started.
Colt perceived there had to be a God behind the Universe. Surely the God who designed him would know what he was supposed to be doing with his life! So he started going to church, at first during weekend visits home. "Every time I went, they would talk about Jesus. Jesus this, and Jesus that, only Jesus all the time." he said.
"Okay, I get that Jesus loves us, and he died for us and all that, but that’s not what I'm looking for," Colt was thinking to himself. He wanted to hear from God. He didn’t have anything against Jesus. "Jesus was just, well, kind of the face of a religion." he told me. "Much in the way Micheal Jordan was the face of the Bulls franchise. He draws a crowd, he sells tickets and all that. I knew Jesus healed people and did miracles and went bravely to the cross—and that was awesome—but what did that have to do with any of us?" he had wondered.
The fall of 2016 had change in store. Unbeknownst to Colt, an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force would allow him to continue to pursue his questions further. One day during his first week of basic training, the recruits of his flight were gathered in their dayroom for the purpose of getting to know one another... "Name... where you’re from... and something about you!" called out the TI (Training Instructor) as he dictated the agenda.
Colt recounted what transpired next. "A 19-year-old kid from Iowa raised his hand, introduced himself, and said, 'I just want you guys to know that every night I read my Bible before bed because I just sleep better when I've had time with God.'” Colt sat amazed, "I was concerned about how I would sleep without a couple beers in me, and this kid is saying he can’t sleep without having his time with God." He had no idea what it was like to need time with God, so this one had his attention. The young Iowan also took the opportunity to invite anyone who wanted to join him in his nightly reading to do so. They could come by his bed after lights-out and read with him. Colt couldn’t wait.
After lights out that night and almost every night thereafter, he made his way over with flashlight and Bible in hand. Most nights there were a few others with them as well. It was pretty simple; they would quietly share a verse that had stood out to them, and indicate why it was their favorite. Over time, Jesus began to become more than just the face of a religion.
As Colt relates it, "Jesus became more than a good teacher, more than a good leader, more than a prophet. He said that he could carry my burdens. He promised to give me rest, (and man was I tired) so I began to trust him,.. then I began to follow him. I began to want to treat people the way he treated people. I began to realize that I really wasn’t any good in and of my own self."
Colt knew he needed change. "I knew by looking at God's Son that the life I had been living and the things I had been pursuing were not what he had for me. I was slowly loosing trust in myself and knew only God could manage my life successfully. I needed more than a change of behavior too; I needed a change of heart. So every night I began to pray for God to make me into the man he had created me to be."
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, [in the One] who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."
An even greater understanding of who Christ is came with his next set of orders, at the training base assigned to his job specialty. The Gospel slowly came clear as he read through an apostle's letter to Christ-followers in Rome (see Romans 6:23 & 4:25). Jesus' mission informed Colt of who Jesus was and why he had to die. If something was free, somebody had to pay for it. At this time, God was faithful to also speak to him from John's Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
If you're familiar with the Gospel of John, you know that this apostle also testifies that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among [them], and [they had] seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Colt wasn't sure how he had missed this before. He's pretty sure now that he must have been skimming through his readings, and picking out sections based on headings that interested him. He was still new to all this, after all, and hadn't yet developed the patience or discipline to start anything on his own and finish it.
Today Colt carefully reads his Bible and puts a great deal of emphasis on the first 18 verses of The Gospel of John. "It's foundational," he says, "and the only way to truly see Jesus as you read the gospels." Yes, John had confirmed it for him, "Jesus is God!" And God, after all, is who Colt had been searching for all along. ✨
We weren't the only ones to build into Colt's life here at his first duty station in the desert southwest, but we came alongside him, casting vision—to include his identity as a disciple. Today Colt reaches out to other young men as a "fisher of airman." At the time of this article in 2021, Colt finds himself fishing the Korean Peninsula because Colt McMichael* is currently on remote assignment for his Lord.
🌵 Doug is Navigator staff assigned to military ministry in the Desert Southwest. He lives with his wife Beth Ann in Tucson, Arizona.
For further reading, we recommend NavPress' 24-page booklet by Joe Maschhoff: