The Big Lesson From Valley Forge

The Big Lesson From Valley Forge

The Big Lesson From Valley Forge

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Moses did not stumble and grope, but ran into the tap at the finish line. Where did this kind of resilience come from?

First, Moses persevered. The mountain top moments Moses experienced were like nothing ever seen before. In the last verse in the book, Deuteronomy 34:12, it says, “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” But with every high, there were dark valleys he had to cross. At one point, he asked God to take his life as he cried out, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of these people on me?” (Numbers 11:11; 13)

But Moses ended on the mountain top. When God led him to the top of Mount Nebo for one great look at the land, it wasn’t a slap in the face, but a reward of grace. “Before you leave, want you to know you made it. Well done!”

In Robert Chernow’s biography, Washington, he writes about the darkest moment in the American Revolution – the winter of 1777. The British army had chased the Continental Congress from Philadelphia and retired there for the winter to enjoy its comforts. In that time, it was common to break from warfare during the cold, allowing officers to enjoy concerts, plays, and parties. But General Washington had no such luxury. His army was small, under-resourced, and on the verge dissolution. He made the tough decision to stay with his men through the long winter months at a place forever remembered as Valley Forge.

The men set out right away to begin building winter quarters. In a few short weeks, over 2000 log cabins were set up in rows, huts about 14 by 16 feet. The ceilings were six and a half feet high and could house about 12 soldiers. Washington was concerned about their survival. Walking into Valley Forge, he saw streaks of blood in the snow from soldiers with no shoes.

As winter fell, the struggling army took the appearance of a collection of homeless beggars. Food was scarce, as neighboring farmers sold their crops and supplies to the enemy, instead of giving them away to the penniless American army. The men often ate what was called “fire cakes,” which were blobs of flour and water baked on hot stones. Soldiers had rags for clothes and no blankets to protect them from winter winds. Because the trees were cut down for cabins and firewood, the ground became a muddy mess. Horses died, and their rotting bodies lay on the snow, filling the air with the smell of decay.

Dr. Albigence Waldo of Connecticut described one soldier this way, “There comes a soldier, his bare feet are seen through his worn-out shoes, his legs, nearly naked from the tattered remains of an only pair of stockings; his breeches not sufficient to cover his nakedness; his shirt hanging in strings; his hair disheveled; his face meager; his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken and discouraged.”

Washington could have taken a leave of absence to his warm Mount Vernon estate. But his presence stabilized, inspired, kept the army from desertion, and fanned the flames of liberty throughout the colonies. At their lowest point, a Prussian captain named Baron von Steuben appeared. He knew how to train, drill, organize, and instill discipline. He gave the troops a sense of purpose while they waited. They began to drill all day long on the grounds in the center of camp, as von Steuben let loose a flood of profanities. By winter’s end, the army knew how to turn in formation, and switch from line to column and back to line. Through that time of shared suffering, the Continental Army would rise stronger and more determined. Maybe the most significant victory of the Revolution was not on a battlefield, but in persevering through Valley Forge.

The word persevere comes from two words, per and severe, meaning “through” and “difficulty.” When you persevere, you don’t go around, over, or under tough times. You go through it. God does not promise to save us from every trial. He does promise to help us at every step to make it through to the other side. As we hold on, God will send to us or creates in us, the very thing we need to rise to a new level. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

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