Howard Rutledge was a navy captain and pilot during the Vietnam War. He flew over 200 successful missions before being captured. He spent seven years as a prisoner of war in what was called ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ a brutal inmate camp. During that time, he had a real encounter with God and told about it in his book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies.
Rutledge recounts that before being captured, he had little time for church or spiritual matters because he was busy building his military career. All that changed as his time in the war camp progressed:
Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak solitary confinement, there was no pastor, no Sunday-School teacher, no Bible, no hymnbook, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God. (In the Presence of Mine Enemies, 1973)
Our human tendency is to put off the important things and deal with the urgent and pressings matters that are right in front of us. The danger is that our inner person is hollowed out when we don’t attend to essential matters, like growing in our spiritual life. We are all pressed for time and pulled in many directions. Taking moments to attend to matters of the heart is never wasted: it strengthens what we truly need in our hour of testing.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)