I need more fingers and toes to count the sermons I’ve heard on the better-known heroes in the Bible. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Deborah, Daniel, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah. Few would quibble that these men and women deserve the hero mantle, the Superman cape. They stood for truth in dark times. They exhibited faith. They risked their lives and their reputations. Some led an army, others a nomadic people. Some governed a nation. Some prophesied. Some spoke against injustice.
(I’m using the second definition at dictionary.com which defines a hero as “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”.)
In the accounts of these biblical heroes, did they aim be a hero and change the world? To get their name in Hebrews 11? Was “hero” a status they sought? Let’s take a look at Moses’ life.
Moses does all he can to get out of the “be a hero and change the world” job when God offers it to him. He asks God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God assures Moses he will be with him, but Moses throws out a worst-case scenario. God solves that and gives Moses a play-by-play of what is going to happen with guaranteed success.
Still not enough for Moses. He asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me…?” God tells Moses about the secret weapons at his disposal and throws in a few special effects for good measure. Still not enough for Moses. He uses his personal limitations–” I am slow of speech and tongue”–as an excuse; God disposes of those impediments by reassuring Moses that he will help and tell him what to say. Still not enough for Moses who says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 3:1-4:13).Is this a man intent on being a hero and changing the world for God?
I’ve been to and watched footage from large-scale Christian conferences held in sports arenas where the intent was to inspire people (often young adults) to get out there and do something to change the world. Whether it was to evangelize all people groups, end slavery, end poverty or to be a better representative of my gender, the speakers worked hard to convince me their event’s aim was what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to take action, make a difference, make the world a better place. The work of the kingdom was up to me, and I needed to rise to the challenge. God needed me to make things happen.
From these talks and presentations I formulated a principle: God cared most and was most pleased by what I did for him. My spiritual life and growth could be measured by what I accomplished and the impact I was having on other people or my ability to address systemic issues. The heroes were the ones on stage telling of their success that could be supported with facts and figures. For years I saw their lives as the model of a godly person–a spiritual hero–for me to emulate.
Now I think God cares most about who I am becoming. It took a few decades and a couple of times where physically I could do very little for God for me to change my mind about this. I found, and still find, it hard to let go of being busy for God and focus instead on my heart attitude and mindset (Philippians 2:2-6).
It takes a major shift in thinking and orientation to move away from this false self who finds security and significance in what one has, does or how others think of us.1 Doubly hard because I thought that was the measure God was using.
It’s easier to get hyped up about an issue and take action than it is to go through the process of self-examination and allow God to transform me. I think it’s easier to be busy with programs and committees than it is to spend time in silence and learn to wait for the leading of God. I think it’s easier to go for the buzz that comes with activity than to be humble and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 66:2). I think it’s easier to try and change the world than it is to admit there are many things God needs to change in me. I think it’s easier to be a hero than it is to be an obedient follower (1 Samuel 22).
But I am convinced God is looking for the faithful followers; the people who want to discover their true selves–who they truly are in Christ. He’s searching the land for people on the spiritual journey for the long haul, or as Eugene Peterson has named this, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He’s looking for the ones who will come to the end of their lives and be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
He’s not looking for people who want to be heroes, the world has enough narcissists and fame-seekers as it is. He’s looking for those who will faithfully serve him day after day even if nobody notices or follows them on Twitter. He’s looking for those who will persevere to the end even when that means trials, testing and suffering (James 1:3; Romans 5:3-6).
I think it’s false advertising to claim that God wants people who will change the world or that he’s wanting to unleash people on the world. The truth is that God is looking for people who will let him change them, whether they become heroes in the process or not. Some may become heroes like Moses and David, but more will be like Jeremiah who nobody listened to when he issued dire and prophetic warnings for forty years. Or one of the seventy-two whose names are unrecorded. (Luke 10:1-20).
God is looking for the individual who will hear his call and respond in the affirmative. The person who will believe like Abraham and whose faith will be credited to them as righteousness (Romans 4:3).
God isn’t looking for heroes; he’s looking for the faithful.
1 David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 2004) 92.