Nobody wants to be an extra in the story. I mean, in the big story, the main story, your own story. I know a guy who was an extra in Batman: The Dark Knight, and I can say I would have loved to be an extra in that story. But Batman is only a movie. There is a greater story taking place in the world; a story that began at the beginning of time. The story has seen its fair share of twists and turns, its a story that has written both the echoes of history and the whispers of destiny. I can guarantee, no body wants to be an extra in that story.
There is something far greater than poetic poise or charismatic presence that separates the leading roles, the main players, from the extras and stock characters. It is not wardrobe or looks, not age or ethnicity. The depths of what makes a great character go far deeper than surface level evaluation. A great character is one who is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the story. They are willing to invest their whole being, their love at the risk of loss, their self at the risk of pain, their fears at the risk of failure, and their soul at the risk of loosing their entire being.
Are you willing to risk? As a read through the story God has penned for the world to take notice, I read about the history of my ancestors, and yours. I find it intriguing to note what everyone I read about has in common… they are willing to sacrifice everything to live the story that has been written for them, at the risk of being shamefully disappointed yet with the reward of discovering true meaning and full life.
I remember in high school when a pastor recommended to me the book The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. The book leads readers through a series of daily readings at the promise of one conclusion, when the book is done, you will know the purpose of your life and you will feel compelled to pursue it. I know the book changed hundreds of thousands of lives and is one of the all-time best sellers, however I must confess… I never finished it.
It wasn’t that what Warren wrote was wrong, nor that I would dare criticize a pastor/writer who has accomplished great things and a book that is an all-time great according to sales lists. I think Pastor Warren makes a compelling case for offering purpose and purpose through a life in Christ. But for me, I was seeking more than purpose. Purpose is static. I needed purpose with movement, with trajectory. I needed adventure.
I am an extremely competitive person. When I play a game, when I play a sport, I intend to win. I don’t want second place. I remember a comedian’s routine I once heard where they remarked that sliver would be the worst medal to win in the Olympics. “With gold you are the best, with Bronze it’s ‘hey at least I got something.’ But with Silver, you are the best of the losers. No one lost better than you.” Nonetheless, I love to win. My wife will never let me forget when we played Monopoly while we were dating. Halfway though the game she requested to count my money, a request I denied (she was my capitalist enemy after all). The conversation digressed first to a wrestling match where I clutched my pile of paper money in one hand vehemently opposing the spontaneous audit she requested while I held her off with my other hand; this was quickly followed by the end of our game.
I used to joke with some former staff at my church that my life motto is, “life is a competition, win it.” Although I have no doubt that clutching to that as a motto will get me nowhere but friendless and confused, there is a kernel of truth to life being a competition. Whenever you compete, you take a risk, you willingly put yourself out there for potential loss because of the equal yet more enticing potential for reward. Donald Miller in his A Million Miles in a Thousand Years explains that a character is, “Someone who wants something and who overcomes obstacles to get it.” Simple enough, and yet according to that, Christians are most often awful characters, we are stock, we are extras in the very story God has written for us. I know there is exception but with over a billion Christians in the world, that exception is small. We are seen as passive, boring, ignorant, and arrogant. We aren’t the heroes of God’s story; we are extras. It is as if the secular world yells at us, “at l east non-Christians have a part to play. No matter good or bad, at least we are living something.” It is a myth that sadly most of us live into reality.
The great characters in history are people who were not afraid to risk. When I say character, I don’t mean fictitious person, I mean someone who truly finds themselves as a part of God’s story, and who lives the role that has been written for them. Abraham was essentially homeless; he and his elderly wife had no kids. When they finally got one, God asked Abraham to kill him. Most of us know that Abraham ended up not having to (God stepping in at the last moment) but Abraham didn’t know that at the time. He was willing to risk the one son he had because he believed God had written a story for him that somehow involved this risk, this pain, this unexplainable loss.
David was a young shepherd before he had a quick rise to power. Just when things were looking great for David, because of some Jealousy in the royal family, he was forced to flee and live in the dessert in the Middle East for years. He even had to ally with his enemies at times to stay alive. I have to imagine that David must have asked himself, “Is this all worth is? Wouldn’t I have been better with my sheep?” (Anytime you ask if you would be better off with sheep, there’s a problem.) David eventually returned to become one of the greatest Kings of Ancient history. Job had a great life, and then without explanation he lost everything. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong. And yet he remained faithful to God, believing the story God had called him to. Job made it our alright, he got his wealth and family restored to him with more than he had before, but we witness Job, in the middle of his misery wondering if it is worth it. Is God really good? Does he really care about my story?
Moses was a murderer living away from his people well before he became the one to lead his people to freedom. Paul was a murderer before he started one of the greatest missionary movements of history. Peter was a fisherman who was confident he was living his great story. Then in a moment of weakness Peter hit bottom. He denied the very life he claimed he would die for. He failed. And yet it was that failure that he was called out of to start the Christian Church.
Pain refines. Pain turns good characters into great ones. Pain humbles the proud, forces the weak to be strong, forces the arrogant to rely on God. Yes, pain hurts, but Pain separates those who really want great stories form those who want easy lives.
You are a great character, and God has written for you a great story. He doesn’t need any more extras, he doesn’t need anyone else standing on the sidelines. God has written an epic masterpiece, and he needs you to play your part. God has written you a story, Great! The plot is established. Now what? He is calling you to want something, and he is calling you through the obstacles, through the doubt, through the failure, and through the pain, to go get it. He is calling you to sacrifice the character you are for the one you were made to be. He is calling you to change the world; he is calling you to tell his great story by living your own great story. Do you want to be a David or do you want to be a Havilah? Who? Precisely. There is a story written and waiting for you, its not easy, it’s not painless, it’s not all happy, the great ones never are, and it’s a great story.