How to Become a Hero
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I can remember reading The Hiding Place (the story of Corrie ten Boom, a woman who risked her life to save Jews during World War II) and desperately praying that I would have Corrie’s courage and self-sacrifice when I’m eventually confronted with a time that requires it.
How does one become such a person? Jonathan Parnell has some thoughts about this on the Desiring God Blog, where he writes about Jon Meis, a young man who risked his life to save his fellow students during the shooting at Seattle Pacific University:
The person who’d be willing to put the good of others before himself in the event of great loss is the one who puts the good of others before himself in the hundred events of little losses every day. “We are always becoming,” as Joe Rigney puts it, “who we will be. Right this minute, we are headed somewhere, and sooner or later, we are bound to end up there” (Live like a Narnian, 52).
The person of great sacrifice, therefore, must be the person of little sacrifices—the person who has discovered that the life of sacrificial love is the life of greatest joy. The response of sacrificial love in the midst of panic is the end of a trajectory that gets played out as sacrificial love in the midst of normalcy….
The big moment of courageous action doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but has behind it tiny moments of simple sacrifice that have been trending that direction all along. In other words, if we can’t wash dishes and change diapers, we shouldn’t kid ourselves with the idea that we’d step in front of a bullet. If we are stingy with our time and money toward those in need, we’ll be stingy with our lives when a gun gets pulled on innocent people.
Stories like Jon’s should make us pause and ask whether we’d respond like he did. But the question isn’t what we’d do in a particular situation; it’s about what we’re doing now.
We won’t truly know who we’ve become until we’ve been tested. Until then, pray the Holy Spirit enables us to give up our lives in the everyday moments. “The person of great sacrifice must be the person of little sacrifices.” Now is the time to practice dying by His power, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
“[W]hoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”1—Amy K. Hall2
The heart of a hero
I remember memorizing Hebrews 11 as a child, which detailed quite a few gruesome ways to die: “They were stoned; they were [sawn] in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and [in] mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”3
It made me wonder how much it hurt to die. I knew that I was quite a pansy when it came to pain, so I tried to figure out, if one had to die, what would be the least painful way to go—as I’d opt for that. You see, I really didn’t want to disgrace God by being a total wimp.
Today I can look back at my childhood worries with amusement. I realize now that the real issue was that I’ve always felt lacking in courage. In the Bible there are countless stories of men who did courageous things. Open to almost any book and you read of brave deeds galore. Again, Hebrews 11 lists many of these courageous folk. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”4
Looking at the brave men listed in this chapter, the origins of the word “courage” take on greater meaning—their hearts were in the right place. These men who did such courageous things had something wonderful in common—which was the source of their courage. In Psalm 37:31 King David says this about a righteous man, “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”
There’s the famous Bible account of three Hebrew boys who were told to either worship a golden image or be thrown into a furnace. But, no, these boys stand there and they say they’re not going to bow down. This is what they probably thought were their last words in response to an angry king:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold[en] statue you have set up.”5
I read this account in the safety of my house, separated from this scene by thousands of years—but still the strength of their belief is loud in their words; there isn’t any faltering or trying to negotiate something less mortally dangerous for themselves. But to have the courage to face an experience like this, I think you have to go back a bit. You see, I don’t think their parents ever told them, “You know, one day you’re going to be brought before a scary king, and there’s going to be a furnace, and you’re going to choose between your life or worshipping an idol—when that happens, remember to choose the furnace.”
Instead, I think they told these boys something more along the lines of, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”6 And, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”7
I doubt that the parents of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what lay in store for them, or when and how they might be faced with needing to act courageously. But there is one thing they knew they could control—what was stored up in their children’s hearts. Proverbs 4:23 explains this concept well: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”8 The New Living Translation has translated this same verse into these words: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
Everyone loves a good hero story; the ones with the good guys in capes and tights are a particular favorite of mine. The thing is, in real life, you don’t get to decide whether you will have the opportunity for a huge heroic moment—if you get to rescue someone, or somehow or another save the day—but what you do have control over is what you put in your heart. That’s how you can be prepared for these larger-than-life moments, as well as those everyday moments that require courage.—T. M.9
Published on Anchor July 2017. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
1 Mark 10:43–45.
3 Hebrews 11:37–38 NIV.
4 Hebrews 11:32–34 NIV.
5 Daniel 3:16–18 NLT.
6 Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV.
7 Proverbs 18:10 NIV.
9 Adapted from a Just1Thing podcast, a Christian character-building resource for young people.