On Becoming an ‘old salt’

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” —Hebrews 12:7

Some of you may not be familiar with this term ‘old salt’. I first heard it during my early days in the Marine Corps. An ‘old salt dog’ was commonly used to describe a grizzled veteran; someone who’s knowledge and maturity was acquired through hardships and experience. Their bones were made of pure grit. Their countenance was a stoic temple. I desperately wanted to be one.

Rejoice in Suffering

The first thing a young Marine who is trying to become ‘worth his salt’ learns is how to turn his pain into something he can use. It’s why you see us laugh in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Paul, the ‘old salt’ that he is, understands this concept very well when he writes:

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We loathe suffering because we are prisoners to our own comfort. It’s why we beg for the dog days of summer when old man winter shows up at our door, and then complain at the first drop of sweat. Culture would have us believe that comfort can produce character. It sees suffering as bad, and therefor all suffering must be eradicated, and the crown of achievement placed highly upon the head of comfort. Paul preaches the opposite, because Jesus modeled the opposite. So if you’re like me and you’re out there trying to become one of God’s ‘old salt dogs’, know that the road to that narrow gate was paved in suffering.

So the question becomes “How then do we rejoice in suffering?” Nearly all of the twelve disciples died defending what they had seen and heard. Polycarp’s farewell as he was being martyred was “I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 says:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

John Piper said it like this in a sermon “God rescues us from the fires of hell and puts us in refining flames.” Brothers, If you feel as though you’re being forged in God’s refining flames then praise God for finding you worthy of this hour.

Endure to the End

Old salts’ look the part. The constant barrage of salty sea water faded every stitch of clothing. The ones that I admired looked to be distant relatives. Holes and makeshift patchwork covered almost every inch of their camouflage uniforms. Gear all beat up, smelling of CLP, gunpowder, and JP8. Though they looked haggard and disheveled, when it came time to execute the mission you followed them because they had already walked the path. They were forged in the fires of combat. Their wisdom and disciple was assembled by the refining fire, and they bestowed it upon us like a father to a son.

Once I had joined the ranks of the ‘old salt dogs’ myself I could hear their voices. I tried to preach their same message to my Marines so that as brothers they would endure together. When Jesus says things like “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16) and “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22) and “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34) he is fully aware of the inevitable separation between those who will believe in him and those who will not.

What forges us in the refining fires that God places us in? The answer is quite simply our response. How do we respond to a world that persecutes us because they do not share our beliefs? Jesus says “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11,12). What about the flames of our adversary? “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experience by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5: 8,9).


The ‘brotherhood throughout the world’ is suffering just like you and I, and God’s response is to redefine what suffering looks like. If you think the expectation is to take it on the chin and keep marching you’re wrong. We are called to endure differently. God’s ‘old salt dogs’ rejoice while they are being beaten and stoned. They worship at the lash of a whip and the gnashing of teeth. They weep with tears of joy at the opportunity to be crucified alongside their savior. They praise God for finding them worthy of a prison cell in his namesake. I have no way of knowing if this will one day be my fate. I certainly don’t pray for it, though maybe I should. But I do know one inescapable promise from the lips of my savior. That “he is with me always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Heavenly Father I pray for my brothers and sisters. I pray that anyone who is reading this right now in the midst of suffering hears the promise that you are with us. Grant us all the strength to endure the calling you have placed on our life. Help us to be your salt and light. May your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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