In the last scene in the classic movie “Saving Private Ryan,” James Ryan is an aging man, standing in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in front of the cross marking the grave of Captain John H. Miller, the man who led the search team to locate him and bring him home during World War II.
Private Ryan was one of four brothers, three of whom had been killed in action. When General George Marshall learned of this, he sent orders to Captain Miller and his men to find Private Ryan somewhere in France and bring him home. Miller and several of his men lost their lives in the effort.
At the gravesite years later, Ryan flashes back to that moment on the bridge in Normandy when Captain Miller died. Ryan had actually relived that moment almost every day of his entire life.
As Captain Miller was fading away from gunshot wounds, he pulled young Private Ryan close and whispered into his ear, words slow and labored, “James … earn this … Earn it.”
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In that final scene, kneeling before Captain Miller’s grave, Ryan says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge … I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
When his wife walks up to his side, Ryan looks at her and says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life … Tell me I’m a good man.”
She touches his cheek and says, “You are.”
After she walks away, Ryan stands at attention and salutes the grave.
It’s an all-time epic movie ending.
As a result of what happened on the bridge back in 1944, James Ryan lived a life of pressure. So should all men.
I know that’s probably not a popular thing to say.
After all, we are to rest in God’s grace and provision for us at the cross. We can’t save ourselves and must come to the end of ourselves and reach out for Christ, our only hope.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
While this is true, as men we are made to battle in a state of divine tension. Temptations, our own flesh, the challenges of life, and the culture are all fighting against us, trying to get us to break down and then stay down.
Yet God can use those pressures to goad us into rising up to the occasions around us.
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In essence, what Ryan was asking himself and his wife was, “Did I make my life count? Did I matter? Did I make a difference? Did I rise to the occasion?”
These are the same questions men are asking themselves today.
Some years back, my son, Zach, and I found ourselves walking through Arlington National Cemetery when we were visiting Washington, D.C.
Zach was about 13, and it was just the two of us. When we got out of our car, I told Zach what the cemetery was all about.
“Dad,” he said, “I’ve never seen so many white crosses.”
We began to walk, and it got really quiet between the two of us. Few words were spoken as an aura of sacredness hung thick in the air.
As we wove our way through the cemetery toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a military funeral was going on with soldiers in dress blues firing a gun salute. We had to stop and stand.
Zach stood beside me as we watched this family bury their loved one and pay tribute to him.
There was silence. There was reverence. There was honor.
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Finally, we made our way up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As we stood there, Zach saw the guards and the aura and the history of all those who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Because freedom is not free. It costs something. Someone had to pay the price.
That’s what we do in this life. We give tribute and honor and value to those who served. We don’t minimize those works. We call ourselves to that same level of servitude in life. We call ourselves to that same standard.
As my son and I stood there, we could hear “Taps” playing in the distance. Tears welled up. Another family had just buried their son or daughter.
To keep America safe and free, it takes sacrifice.
When I was growing up near Clearfield, Pennsylvania, my older brother, Jimmy, signed up for the military—the U.S. Marines. My dad was a World War II veteran, and he and I would drive into town and pass this big sign on the corner by the courthouse that said, “The U.S. Marines: We’re looking for a few good men.”
Just like the Marines are looking for a few good men—so is God.
He is looking for men after His heart who will do what He wants them to do.
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The great need of our culture today is not for more men of talent or more men of success—but for more men of character with hearts that follow hard after God.
Our culture needs men who have taken up David’s challenge to Solomon to “be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man” (1 Kings 2:2)—and who understand what that means.
Yes, God is looking for a man.
Will He find you?
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This article is adapted from “Take It Back: Reclaiming Biblical Manhood for the Sake of Marriage, Family, and Culture” by Dr. Tim Clinton and Max Davis. Tim Clinton, Ed. D., LPC, LMFT, is president of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors, the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He serves as the executive director and dean of education for the James Dobson Family Institute and is recurring cohost of Dr. Dobson’s signature radio program, “Family Talk.” The author of over 30 books, Dr. Clinton is professor of counseling and pastoral care and executive director of the James C. Dobson Center for Child Development, Marriage and Family Studies at Liberty University. Follow him @DrTimClinton.