Survival Tip #10: Do The Next Right Thing

Survival Tip #10: Do The Next Right Thing

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
–Galatians 6:9

In 1965, then-Commander James Stockdale was shot down over Vietnam. As the forty-one-year-old fighter pilot floated to the ground, he said to himself, “Five years.” That is how long he thought he would be held in captivity. As it turned out, he spent almost eight years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. For four of those years Stockdale was in solitary confinement. For two years he was forced to wear leg irons. He was tortured at least fifteen times. The highest-ranking officer in the prison camp, Stockdale organized a system of wall taps for the prisoners to communicate with one another and developed a set of rules governing prisoner behavior. He also led the prisoners’ resistance against the Vietnamese attempts to use them as propaganda or informants. To Stockdale, integrity was the most important thing for a prisoner of war to maintain. He instructed the American soldiers that when they were tortured, it was okay to divulge useless information along with their name, rank, serial number, and birth date. One prisoner, when he was asked to name their top pilots, gave his captors the names of comic book heroes. In doing so he bolstered the men’s spirits, protected vital military secrets, and preserved his honor. In 1969, Stockdale’s Vietnamese captors decided to parade him in front of foreign journalists. Stockdale refused to take part of the charade. He slashed his scalp with a razor and beat his own face with a stool because he knew his captors would not want to show a prisoner with cuts and bruises on his face. When the Vietnamese saw how determined Stockdale was to resist and how his resistance emboldened his fellow soldiers, they ceased torturing American POWs and improved conditions in the prison. In 1973, during Operation Homecoming, Stockdale and the other prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton were finally released. Stockdale’s courage and heroism became widely known, and in 1976 President Gerald Ford awarded Stockdale the Congressional Medal of Honor.

You may not be in a literal prison, but perhaps you are in prison of regret over something you have done or an opportunity you missed. Perhaps you feel like you are in the rut of a dead-end job or a dead-end marriage. Perhaps you feel like you are being attacked from all sides because you are trying to live out your faith in a hostile world. For the past few months, we have been exploring ten strategies for thriving in a hostile world. How do we survive and thrive in that kind of environment? This week we are looking at the tenth and the final survival tip, and it is one that James Stockdale embodied: do the next right thing. When Stockdale was in prison, he did not have a pity-party and blame his captors for his situation. Instead, he concentrated on doing the next right thing. You may not be able to change your situation, but you can always do the next right thing.

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Survival Tip #10: Do The Next Right Thing” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2019.

“James B. Stockdale,” United States Naval Academy, https://www.usna.edu/Notables/featured/10stockdale.php; Devon Hubbard Sorlie, “Navy Legend Vice Adm. Stockdale Led POW Resistance,” The Sextant (blog), Naval History and Heritage Command, November 13, 2015, https://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2015/11/13/navy-legend-vice-adm-stockdale-led-pow-resistance/.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.