Most of us have them. Heroes, that is. If you were to ask the average person on the street who they considered to be a hero, you’d likely get many different responses. Perhaps you’d be told stories of family members who sacrificed to provide a loving and secure home, or of firemen and other rescue workers putting their lives on the line to help others, or maybe about whistleblowers who’ve spoken out against injustices, often putting themselves at risk. Possibly you’d hear all about people who became a “gazillionaire” at an early age, inspiring others who dream of building financial security, or maybe about a disabled person, refusing to allow their life to be defined by their limitations, who finds the strength to do those things no one ever expected them to do. Maybe you’d hear the names of celebrities from movies and television, or musicians that are particularly loved, or sports stars whose abilities on the court or field of play bring enjoyment to those who watch.
Yes, there are as many different ideas of what makes a person a “hero” as there are people. Our backgrounds and unique life circumstances, as well as our values and priorities all determine who we consider to be heroes.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes?
As for me? While it’s true that I’m moved and humbled at times by the selfless and positive examples of some who don’t know Jesus and although God has used their acts of bravery, self-sacrifice, and discipline to inspire me to be more like them in certain ways, I’ve learned that the best heroes to me haven’t been found on the list of the Forbes 400, on any concert stage, television, or movie screen, not on the world news, or even on the playing field. I’ve seen that the true heroes I personally want to emulate are ordinary people who are living through circumstances that are desperate and painful yet they’ve risen above those circumstances to show true faith in the goodness and love of God in everything. These are the people I want to learn from and these are the people, whether currently living or long-since dead, who inspire me to live honestly and passionately before God. They stir up within me that God-given desire to put Jesus on display, to see Him glorified through my life.
I have an incredible family. I personally look up to my mother, she’s my hero. She’s actually my step-mother but I tell you, even though she didn’t give birth to me, she’s my mother in every way that matters and I love her very much. She’s gone through great suffering in her life, losing a child first to addiction and then, to death, and she’s faced down breast cancer not once, not twice, but three times, and is healthy today, despite it all. Now she’d be the first to tell you there’s nothing special about her (Although on that point, I’d have to respectfully disagree) and she’d definitely point you away from her, to the One who has carried her through every single, painful situation. And that’s what I respect the most about her: her faith in the love and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Her determination to trust Him no matter how dark things can get, inspires me deeply.
I especially love what she told me during her last bout with cancer, “Don’t worry about me. Jesus is still holding me in His hands. He’s let me go through some really difficult things in the past but He’s never dropped me, not once… and He never will.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated those words to myself during my own difficult days and they always encourage me to keep my eyes on the only One who loves me completely and Who will never drop me or leave my side. Yes, I’m blessed to have a mother who’s honest about her struggles and failures and who models true faith to me but I’m also equally blessed to have a mother-in-law and a father-in-law who are just as passionate about Jesus and who inspire me to be the same.
Joni Eareckson Tada is another person I really look up to. Since a diving accident as a young woman left her a quadriplegic, her example to live honestly and faithfully trusting in the good heart of God never ceases to inspire me. This is a woman who lives what she’s saying, she understands the dark road of suffering in ways I probably never will and even now, as God has allowed searing pain from a non-fixable fracture in her sacrum to be her constant companion, she still chooses to trust God through it all. What an example to me and to so many others that God always knows what He’s doing, that He’s always at work, for His glory and our good, in all the details of our lives! Her life inspires me to long for Heaven, for God’s ultimate healing of all physical infirmities and pain.
But there are other heroes I have, ones I’ve found in the pages of the Bible. Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Hope is what gives us the ability to keep on going, to trust, and to love, particularly when the bottom falls out in our lives. And this hope is found in the examples of many people who lived a long time ago, in cultures very foreign and different to my own. God made sure these life stories were preserved for you and me to learn from and to be inspired by.
There are many heroes of the faith whose lives point me to God but here are just a few who have proven to be particularly meaningful to me lately: Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, Joseph, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
Mary is amazing to me because as a teenager she was chosen by God to carry His Son, Jesus. In a culture that valued the virginity of women above all, Mary was to bear the life-long scandal and self-righteous judgment of everyone, for a perceived wrong she didn’t even do. Can’t you just hear it now? “Yes, I’m pregnant but I promise I didn’t sleep with my fiancée, Joseph. God’s Spirit came on me and placed this child inside of me.” “Why sure, Mary, sure, whatever you say” had to be the sarcastic response she got in return. Hardly anyone believed her and yet she bore this shame willingly. When God’s angel first appeared and revealed what God had planned for her Mary didn’t complain, she didn’t waffle or say no. In Luke, chapter 1, Mary’s only response was, “Be it unto me according to your word.” I want to be like Mary and set aside the personal cost to me, focusing only on allowing God to do whatever He knows is best with my life. I want to be humble and live only that God’s will be done in me, just like Mary did so long ago.
Joseph’s story is told in Genesis 37-50. He was sold into slavery in Egypt because his brothers were jealous of him and of his position as the favorite son of their father. He was then falsely accused of attempted rape by a vindictive woman and placed in prison for his “crime”. I’m amazed at his attitude through everything that happened. There was no hint of him ever feeling sorry for himself; rather, Joseph determined to make the best of the situation God had allowed him to be in. After spending years in prison God revealed to him alone the interpretation of the distressing dream that Pharaoh had and allowed him to give wise counsel on how to handle the years of famine God was going to inflict on everyone. Out of gratitude, Pharaoh elevated Joseph to a position second only to himself and Joseph oversaw the plan to store grain ahead of time so the famine wouldn’t destroy the land of Egypt. Later, when Joseph’s own brothers travelled to Egypt in order to buy grain so their family could stay alive through the famine, he ended up revealing himself to them. But as evidenced in Genesis 45, instead of desiring revenge against his brothers who had hurt him so much, Joseph’s attitude was one of forgiveness and a deep belief in the sovereignty of God. I’ve repeated his words from Genesis 50:18-21 many times to myself and they always remind me that regardless of what happens to me, even if people deliberately hurt me; although they might intend evil towards me, God intends it only for my good. Whenever I choose to really believe it, this perspective allows me to live with trusting, open hands, without defense or bitterness for past wrongs.
Hezekiah and Josiah were two different kings of Judea, who both stood up against the overwhelming sins of the Jewish people and of the evil kings who preceded them. They both removed idols from the land, restored the temple, and brought back the celebration of the Passover, and they remind me that purity and holiness really do matter. And Hezekiah’s response in 2 Chronicles 32 when Sennacherib, the dreaded king of Assyria, set his sights on conquering the land of Judea, inspires me. Instead of running and making deals and alliances with the nations around him, like so many other kings would have done, Hezekiah immediately took his fears to God in prayer. He modeled an attitude of dependence on God alone that I want to have when I feel overwhelmed by the things I’m going through. And I also want to have Josiah’s attitude of humility when he heard the words read to him from the forgotten book of the law found during his temple restoration project. In 2 Chronicles 34 he modeled a reverence for the scriptures and displayed utter grief and remorse over the sins of the people. He humbled himself, tore his clothes and fasted and prayed to God to have mercy on the people, to forgive them of their great sins. The example of Josiah reminds me both of the privilege I have of reading and studying the Bible, and the importance of praying over and repenting of, the collective sins of America and the world, confessing our arrogance, selfishness, and our stubbornness, praying for God’s forgiveness and His great mercy on us, just like Josiah did.
Why are these people, and so many others, heroes to me? Because I can relate to them, they remind me of the real priorities of life, and they inspire me to be more than I am, to trust God no matter what, and in so doing, rise above my circumstances and allow God to create in me the character of Jesus… Jesus, who is my greatest hero of all!