Summer is a great season for superhero fans, with movie studios churning out sequels and reinterpretations of all our favorite characters from comic books. This year’s crop includes Wonder Woman, which just came out, and the newest Spider-Man movie in July.
Strange as it might sound for a man of my age and position, I have a fixation with comic book superheroes. It started as an escape during my childhood, which was marked by the tough realities of divorce, alcoholism and bankruptcy in my family.
While my life was collapsing, I took great comfort in the world of superheroes—larger-than-life characters who could always fix everything, beat the bad guys and stand up for underdogs like me. Today, I love to search eBay for additions to a collection of vintage comics I’ve steadily built over the years.
I still enjoy the fantasy of superheroes. But I’ve noticed a trend among some real-life “good guys”—pastors, ministry leaders, humanitarian workers, even moms and dads—who fall into the trap of trying to be superheroes. Maybe you recognize these hero wannabes:
- There’s “Superman,” the guy who’s unwilling to show any weakness, acting like he can accomplish anything if he just puts forth enough effort … but underneath he feels like Clark Kent.
- Or you’ve probably met “Wonder Woman,” trying to juggle raising her kids, pursuing a career and keeping a perfect house … and the biggest feat of all is making it look effortless.
- And then you’ve got “The Flash,” pushing himself to go faster, attend more meetings and cram more activities into his day … but all it gets him is stress and speeding tickets.
Reality check: We don’t have any special powers, and we can’t prevail in ministry on our own. Nowhere does the Bible talk about us possessing any power that doesn’t come from God.
Instead, there are dozens of verses about the power of Christ that is available to us. Consider Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” That sounds like superhero language to me—a description of complete and absolute supernatural power!
Other New Testament verses carry through that theme. For example, the “full armor of God” in Ephesians 6 far surpasses any superhero gear—Superman’s cape, Spider-Man’s web-shooters, Thor’s hammer and even Iron Man’s suit. Imagine starting every day outfitted with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, gripping the sword of the Spirit and shield of faith!
On our own we’re weak, but the power of Jesus enables us to withstand the worst our world can throw at us. This is our assurance in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.”
While that sounds like a scene right out of X-Men, it describes the real-life conditions of some of the people I’ve met in my travels—humble heroes serving at the world’s margins.
I think of Khalil Sleiman, who leads World Vision’s relief response in Iraq. He grew up in war-torn Lebanon, where as a child he saw his village and home devastated. God has miraculously turned these traumatic experiences into remarkable compassion for refugees and displaced families.
Today, Khalil is standing up for the most vulnerable people affected by conflict: innocent children. He believes the best way to help them, once they escape the war zone, is through World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces, which are tents and classrooms where children can safely play, learn and heal from what they’ve been through. This care is key to children’s resilience, which can make all the difference in what they become.
And Khalil wants these kids to join the “good guys.” But he says it’s tiring work. “You are trying to change a person,” he says. “Being a good person is difficult. Being a bad person is easy.”
Khalil understands that it’s only through the power of God that he can serve this desperate population with such passion. “This is God’s work through us,” he says of himself and his team. “It is never about us. We are only the tools.”
It’s not about us. We’re no superheroes. But we serve One who is—the One with the ultimate power of the universe. When we go up against impossible odds under the banner of Jesus with the full armor of God, we prevail—and the world takes notice.
Rich Stearns (@richstearns) is the president of World Vision U.S. and the author of four books, including The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished.