Heroes have been in short supply in America for decades. Although there have been a few-the first responders at Ground Zero, Captain Sully, the firefighters of Colorado and Arizona-more often than not, we revert to the view expressed by newspaper columnist Lindsey Williams, who lamented in 1985,
Not so many years ago heroes were an important institution of American life. They added dimension and inspiration to our conduct and to our confidence as a nation. Now, we seem to have become too sophisticated, too smug and too self-centered to emulate others of stature. Perhaps it is because we no longer seem to admire the qualities of achievement, character and challenge which combine to create heroes.
For generations George Washington was revered as one of America's greatest heroes for his qualities of "achievement, character and challenge." As a boy, Abraham Lincoln read Parson Weem's biography of Washington, which included the now disputed story of Washington and the cherry tree. True or not, the story must have had an impact on the boy who came to be known as "Honest Abe." Lincoln admiringly said Washington's was the "mightiest name" in "moral reformation."
Today, as Peter Gibbons wrote in his book, A Call to Heroism: Renewing America's Vision of Greatness, "Conditioned to seeing all the founding fathers as fundamentally flawed, we are reluctant to consider any of them heroes." Instead, Gibbons says, "On their empty pedestals we have placed celebrities, trading hero worship for celebrity worship."
Today's celebrities rarely display the qualities of character-much less achievement-that would make them "heroes" in our eyes and celebrity status is transient. Fans are fickle, so today's celebrity is forgotten with tomorrow's hit song, movie, or television show.
By age 21, George Washington had already become something of a celebrity. He gained prominence when the governor of Virginia selected him to head an emissary party to the French to notify them that their fortifications of the upper headwaters of the Ohio River were not welcome there. The French were unmoved.
Nevertheless, in an effort to alert British subjects to the threat posed by French expansion, Governor Dinwiddie had Washington's diary of this unsuccessful expedition printed and distributed. Soon people on both sides of the Atlantic were reading The Journal of Major George.
Washington's fame was further enhanced by his participation in the French and Indian War, which soon ensued along the American frontier. He joined the commander-in-chief of the British forces, Major General Braddock, in a march against Fort Duquesne, located near present-day Pittsburgh.
The offensive against the French was a disaster. Without any serious reconnaissance, the British were surprised by the French and Indians before they reached the fort. Braddock's army was slaughtered. Braddock himself was killed, and Washington, one of the few officers to survive, led the remaining forces out of the wilderness back to Virginia.
In that battle, two horses were shot from under Washington and four bullets missed him, but made holes through his coat. This experience affirmed the belief that had already been growing in Washington that God was in control of his destiny. Rod Gragg writes in By the Hand of Providence, "by this time he [George Washington] had now survived a freak fire, small pox, Indian ambushes, battle with the French, near drowning-and the worst British defeat in North America to date."
As Gragg observes, "Others might attempt to explain Washington's extraordinary survival as a combination of chance and circumstances. Not Washington. He was convinced then and for the rest of his life that he had been spared by God's sovereign grace." Washington wrote to his brother John Augustine, "I now exist and appear in the land of the living by the miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation."
Later, when his reputation for exemplary character and his field-tested courage in battle made him the Continental Congress' choice for General of the American Army, Washington wrote to his wife,
"You may believe me, my dear Patsy...as it has been a kind of destiny, that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking of it is designed to answer some good purpose. I shall rely, therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preserved, and been bountiful to me...."
Like Washington, each believer in Christ has a special purpose and Godly destiny for his or her life. Ephesians 2:10 states, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
In his book, Destiny, Dr. Tony Evans writes, "One of the main reasons people fail to live out their destinies is that they fail to understand why they were created and who created them."
If that's you, I encourage you to consider God's purpose and destiny for your life.
We may not have an impact like that of George Washington on the future of this nation, but God has a special calling and destiny for each of us. And as we seek to carry it out, God will work through us for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom.