We Can Be Heroes (of Faith)
What might happen if, when teaching our kids about Bible heroes, we talked first about their faith? What difference could it make to our kids' own faith journeys?
Here's a question for you: who's your favourite Bible hero and why?
I'll see you in two minutes...
OK. That might have been an easy one to answer. Perhaps there’s a person in the Bible that you’ve always admired, or particularly relate to. Or perhaps you found it a little more complicated – because there are just so many to choose from!
What probably wasn’t a struggle, though, was understanding the question.
It’s fair to say that, in children’s ministry, we love to bring heroes into our Sunday mornings – from the costumes in the dress-up trunk, to the classic 'Which superpower would you like to have?' icebreaker. And it's entirely likely we use the phrase 'Bible heroes' too, to describe the men and women found in Scripture whose stories of courage and calling have literally gone down in history.
But I wonder if it’s worth taking a closer look at what exactly we mean when we use this word 'hero'? Because, as natural and appropriate as the term may seem, 'hero' also has the potential to create some unhelpful misconceptions in our children as they set out on their discipleship journeys.
What do I mean? Well, for many kids, 'heroes' = 'superheroes'. Extraordinary people who bring some unique ability or superpower to the table. Good people who can always be relied upon to do the right thing – no matter the cost. Strong and courageous people who are ultimately victorious.
Or some might think of the real-life heroes they've heard about in school. People who’ve achieved something of great significance or world-changing. People they admire – whether that’s for their talents, creativity, or bravery – and aspire to be like.
These are the ideas our kids bring into ministry spaces with them, and it’s easy to reinforce them when we teach about people in the Bible, whether explicitly or not. After all, there are plenty of people in the Bible whose stories wouldn’t look out of place in an action-packed, live-action movie: Moses holding up his staff and parting the Red Sea; Samson with his super-strength; David and his extraordinary courage, facing down the super-villain Goliath; Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal.
Add to this the fact that, when we explore these stories with our kids, we often draw out the 'something' these Bible figures had. Moses’ leadership skills. Joshua’s bravery. Samson’s strength. Ruth’s compassion. Solomon’s wisdom.
Start to connect the dots, and it wouldn’t be a stretch for our kids to come away thinking that, throughout history, God has been choosing amazing, 'super' people to help Him, and that we need to be like them in whatever skill or virtue they possess, if we’re to play our part in God's plans.
And this is where things start to come undone. Where does this leave us if we feel, well, ordinary? If we don’t fit the 'hero' mould? Does it mean God can’t use us – not, at least, until we get the heroic qualities we need? What if we never do anything 'big' or 'significant' for God? What if things feel really hard?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about Bible figures as heroes. The Bible is packed full of amazing men and women who have loved and followed God throughout history. It’s such a gift to be able to read about the things they did and said, and to learn from them.
But maybe we need to reimagine what it is that makes them heroic. What is it about their example that makes them a 'hero of the faith'? The answer, I think, is hiding in plain sight. Heroes of faith are heroes because of their faith.
When we’re talking about heroes, there’s one Bible passage that likely springs to mind for many of us. Hebrews 11, often known as the Hall of Heroes, is the honor roll of Scripture, commemorating many of the Old Testament’s best-known figures, and offers a snapshot of some of the great stories that we teach on Sundays.
But unlike conventional heroes, it’s not their mighty achievements that they’re remembered for. It’s not the stunning showdowns or the breath-taking miracles. No - it's simply their faith. How, catching a glimpse of God and all He was doing, they said 'Yes' to Him. How, in obedience, they made His story their story too. How they placed their confidence in Him and His good promises. When they didn’t know where the call would lead – even when it led to suffering – they chose God every time.
Actually, I think that’s why this chapter was written in the first place. These heroes are the great 'cloud of witnesses', whose faith and obedience in good times and hard times encourage and inspire us in the here and now:
'Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)
So, I wonder – what might happen if, when teaching our kids about Bible heroes, we talked first about their faith? What difference could it make to our kids’ own faith journeys?
Firstly, it places God at the center of the story. At RaiseUpFaith, we like to talk about teaching 'the story of the Bible', rather than 'Bible stories'. To see the whole Bible as one story - God’s story – within which we have these smaller, interconnected stories of how God has met with women and men, and worked with them for His glory. And when we start to see things from this perspective, it changes everything. We're reminded it's not about us – it's about Him.
This perspective is something David understood. The 'big moment' that most people remember from 1 Samuel 17 is when David, just a young shepherd boy, defeated Goliath with a stone and a slingshot. But the key moment is surely the bit before this, when David stands in front of Goliath and declares that 'the battle is the Lord’s' (1 Samuel 17:47). Here, we see David’s rock-solid faith in God, His plans and His promises. And it’s that faith that gave David the courage to do what God had called him to do.
It’s very easy to read these wonderful stories from Scripture, and think that God wants us to be strong, or brave, or successful for His glory. We can look at the examples of our Bible heroes and think we are called to do the kinds of things they did. But maybe this misses the point. Maybe the true act of heroism is saying yes to God – whatever that might mean for us. And maybe the question these stories invite us to ask is not, 'Can I be (for example) a courageous leader like this person?', but 'What will God do through me when I say yes to playing my part in His story?'.
The wonderful truth is, God only ever uses ordinary people. Few of our Bible 'heroes' would have seen themselves the way we do. Moses effectively told God, you’ve got the wrong person (Exodus 4:10-13). As did Gideon (Judges 6:15). Paul was very open about his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:5-10). But they put their faith in God, and experienced what God could do with ordinary people like them.
In fact, there's only one person in Scripture who fits our working definition of a hero, and that’s Jesus. Jesus, who was the Word made flesh. Jesus, who brings light and life to all. Jesus, who came to do the good will of the Father. Jesus, who defeated the enemy and secured freedom for all of us, for all time. Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and who we are called to become like more and more as we’re filled with his Spirit.
He’s the true Hero (big H). It is our privilege to help our kids say yes to knowing him, loving him, and following him. We all have a race to run, no matter the size of our running shoes. And it’s when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus that we can be heroes in God’s kingdom too.
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