The word is perhaps a bit overused today, but there are many epic stories out there. Many of the classic geeky favorites from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Harry Potter can all properly be described as epic in scope. I have noticed something though, most of the kind of movies share the same story. The specifics are clearly different, but the primary story is the same. See if you can place what movie this story is from. An orphan being raised by his uncle is bored or trapped by their mundane life. They get glimpses that they are meant for something more, that there is something special about them. There is a sense that maybe they are meant to be a hero. Even though they initially resist this, a wise mentor guides them along the way. The mentor can only go so far, as the hero embarks on a series of trials. Along the way, new friends are met who aid the hero on their journey. Eventually the hero has to face a great evil, the ultimate trial. The hero finds the strength within, discovers the truth about themselves and emerges victorious. What story is that?
It could be Star Wars with Luke Skywalker being mentored by Obi-wan Kenobi. He befriends Han Solo and Princess Leia, and he has to learn to use the force to destroy the Death star. It could also be Harry Potter who lives a miserable life under the stairs until he is told he is a wizard. He is mentored by the wise Dumbledore, and is helped by his friend Hermoine and Ron. Yet in the end, he has to claim that he is a great wizard and defeat the evil Lord Voldermort. It could also be the Lord of the Rings, where carefree Frodo enters a greater world after he is entrusted with the one ring by his uncle Bilbo. The ancient wizard Gandalf mentors Frodo. A fellowship of the ring is formed to aid Frodo on this quest, and his best friend Sam goes with him to the end. In the end though, he has to rely on his own inner strength to resist the ring’s corrupting influence and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom. This same plot structure, even fits the Wizard of Oz! Dorothy leaves her mundane life behind and enters the land of Oz. The good witch Galinda offers her guidance, she makes friends along the yellow brick road, but it is up to Dorothy to defeat the wicked witch of the west. Only then does she truly learn, there is no place like home.
This story is extremely common, and it still the basic structure for many stories today. This basic plot structure is something called the hero’s journey, and what is amazing about this basic story is that it is found in cultures all around the world and is found in some of the most ancient literature we have uncovered. The details are clearly different, but the same basic structure is the same. This had led to literature professors to title the hero’s journey the monomyth, because it is so common and the basis for so many stories across cultures. This has led people who are a lot smarter than me to write books upon books about why this story, why this monomyth exist. I do not think it is hard to understand though. The common story exist, because it strikes on desires that are found in all human hearts. We all want to be something special. We all want to make a difference. We do not want to live meaningless, mundane lives of zero consequence. In short, we want our lives to be epic.
A good example of the hero’s journey in the Bible is the story of Samuel. Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren and wept bitterly before God because of this. She promised to offer her first born up to God’s service if she could be granted kids. God answered her prayer, and when Samuel was three or four he was dedicated to God’s service and ministered under Eli. On one fateful night, God called Samuel out of the mundane. Samuel obediently followed God even when it was difficult, and it started out difficult. Samuel had to tell Eli that God was going to punish his family. Samuel’s journey with God began that night in the temple, but it did not end there. Through Samuel God subdued invading armies, anointed kings, delivered messages, and even saved David from death. Samuel lived an epic life, and it all began with him saying “Here I am.” The story of Samuel’s calling should remind us that God still invites us to adventure, to epic lives.
Samuel’s epic life began once he responded to God’s calling. Like Samuel, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we accept a grand adventure. To view the life of faith as anything less is a gross misrepresentation of what it is. Being a Christian must be about more than just avoiding Hell. Accepting Jesus as Lord is so much more than taking out an eternal insurance policy. We are accepting an invitation to epic adventure. We are accepting that we have fallen short. That we are mired down in a mundane sinful life. We accept freedom from that existence. We accept being reunited with our loving Creator, and we accept the mission to share that love with others in action and deed. Just like the hero’s journey will surely have some struggles, just like Samuel had his own pile of mountains to get over after he responded to God, we too will face obstacles. We will have opposition. We will have to go against naysayers, doubters, and those who are against us. When we join God in sharing the love and grace that saved us with others obstacles are inevitable. When we love the unloved there will be struggles, and when we take bold risks to ensure that people get to experience God’s love like never before, there will be a huge list of reasons why we should not even try. We should though. We should live epicly, because we get to actually partner with God, the creator of everything, to transform a broken and lost world.
One of the greatest lies we have bought into as the modern American church, is that being a Christian is just a cultural/social thing. We have been fed the lie that going to church is just something we do. The deception is that belonging to a church is little different than being part of some civic organization. Our faith, following Jesus as Lord and Savior, is so much more than that. It should be epic in scale. We should never lose sight that our goal is to love radically, to save the lost, and to transform the world. We have been invited to something so much more than a mundane life. Which are you living the mundane life or the epic life?
To live an epic life of faith does not require us to travel the globe as a missionary, preach to stadiums of people, author multiple books of theology, or pray with kings. Throughout the history of Christianity there have been precious saints who’s life has been characterized by a tiny epic faith. These people give decades to teach through word and example children the love of Christ as a Sunday school teacher, these people give up an evening every single week to continue attending the support group. Even though they have been sober or clean for half a lifetime they still come to support those who need it. These people through a lifetime of consistent acts of love, charity, and grace make an eternal difference in the lives of countless people.
All who seek to follow Jesus, have been invited on an adventure. We have been called to our own hero’s journey. If we respond and we follow obediently we will have no idea where it will lead us. However, we can be sure that whatever happens it will certainly be epic.