A raging wildfire 85 miles northwest of Phoenix cost 19 firefighters their lives on Sunday. When winds changed unexpectedly, the men were caught in the blaze. The men were “some of the finest people you’ll ever meet,” according to their fire chief. One woman learned that her husband died by watching the news with her four children. “They died heroes,” she said. President Obama called the men “heroes” as well.
The men paid a high price to join their elite 20-person firefighting unit. According to the “Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew” website, their members’ “common bond” is “our love of hard work and arduous adventure. We believe in rigorous physical and mental training, which allows us to perform at the optimum level in any location and under any circumstances.” Their members are required to possess “traits such as teamwork, professionalism, integrity, honesty, care and respect, and reliability.” Nineteen of them died displaying those traits and protecting those they were pledged to serve.
More than a million firefighters risk their lives every day in America. According to the United States Fire Administration, there are 1,082,500 firefighters in the U.S.; 278,300 are career, while 804,200 are volunteer. Of their number, an estimated 81,070 firefighter injuries occur each year in the U.S. Each day they protect us, they display heroism.
For today and the rest of this July 4 week, I’d like to focus on people like them—heroic women and men who risk everything for the sake of causes greater than themselves. How do they do it? Why do they do it?
Ronald Reagan noted: “Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver five minutes longer.” Historian George Kennan agreed: “Heroism is endurance for one minute more.” C. S. Lewis observed that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
We are heroes to the degree that we persevere in obeying God’s call on our lives. Paul challenged us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). James added, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). What trial is testing your faith today? That trial is your opportunity to be heroic.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the devil’s garage sale. His tools were on display, priced and labeled. Hatred, murder, lust, anger, and all the rest. At the end of the table was a tool that was more worn than any other. It bore no name, but had the highest price of all. Someone asked the devil what that tool was. “Discouragement,” he replied. “Why is it priced so highly?” “Because no one knows it’s mine.”