Guest essay by Dave Meyer
It was December 1777. The Continental Army had just lost a key battle to the British, and General Washington and his men began settling in their new camp at Valley Forge.
Yes, they were fighting the Redcoats. But they also fought hunger and sickness. Of the eleven thousand men, very few were properly equipped for the long winter ahead. Some lacked coats, while others literally walked barefoot through the snow. Food was also scarce, and most days they simply went hungry. By Spring, one in four soldiers actually died from the flu, smallpox, typhus, or exposure.
However, in the midst of the pain, the hunger and the cold, something amazing happened: None of the men complained or deserted the camp. It certainly wasn’t because of the pay they would receive—it was already four to five months past due. Why did they stay? Because of General Washington.
Months earlier, when Congress convened to pick a leader, they realized the troops needed a sober head and a steady hand. John Adams and Ben Franklin—two of the most persuasive members of Congress—already knew their choice. It was Washington, the only qualified man who didn’t want the job. This was partly what they loved about him. He was humble, selfless, and avoided the spotlight.1
Washington was unanimously chosen. He accepted the position but declared he would serve without pay.
It’s hard to say if any other man could have led our army through the trials at Valley Forge. In the midst of horrible suffering, he remained tremendously popular with the troops, often traveling through the camp to talk and offer encouragement. They knew his heart was for his soldiers. He was more than their commander…He was their rock, a quiet man who demonstrated strength and wisdom.
On many occasions, the men would discover their General on his knees in prayer in secluded wooded areas. Washington regularly sought God’s help and trusted in Him for success. In a letter to his friend Reverend William Gordon, he declared, “No man has a more perfect reliance on the all-wise and powerful dispensation of the Supreme Being than I have, nor thinks his aid more necessary.”2
Although sometimes criticized, Washington never hid his belief in Jesus Christ. He even ordered church services to be held every Sunday and commanded his troops to regularly observe days of thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting.
The winter of 1777—1778 proved to be one of the most important in our nation’s history. It was literally the turning point of the American Revolution. The crucible at Valley Forge is where our military received their greatest training for the looming battles ahead. It is where they adopted the courage and perseverance of their leader, General Washington.
Amidst overwhelming circumstances, the Lord used George Washington to help establish our independence and secure the beginning of the most free and prosperous nation the world has ever seen.3
More than a decade later, with the Constitution in place, Congress once again convened to pick a leader, but this time for the presidency. When the electors gathered, only one name was put forward—the obvious choice. George Washington left Mount Vernon and reached New York in time to be inaugurated on April 30, 1789. Prior to the ceremony, he requested a Bible. As he stepped out onto the outdoor balcony of Federal Hall, he placed his right hand on the open book and took the oath of office, adding his own words—“So help me God”—at the end.4
He then stepped inside to deliver his inaugural address, including these now-famous words: “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplication to that Almighty Being, who rules over the universe… that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States.”5
For the next eight years, Washington led the country much like he led his troops—with strength, wisdom, character…and dependence on Almighty God. Today, George Washington continues to be celebrated and honored. Almost 250 years later, he is still regarded as one of the greatest leaders in American history.
© 2015 Used by Permission