I’ve been thinking lately about the way the lightning of public awareness strikes unexpectedly and how abruptly private citizens may become household words.
What if you had told Terry Schiavo when she was a healthy young woman living a normal life with her nice husband, maybe trying to diet a little and shed a few pounds, that she was going to be featured in every newspaper in the country and become the subject of untold hours of news television. But that she could do nothing to prepare for it. It was just going to happen.
What if you had told Laci Petersen that before her 30th birthday the world would know her, would thrill at her lovely smile, and would learn more details about her history and her marriage than almost anyone anywhere. But there was nothing she could do to prepare, that it would just happen.
Or take Ashley Smith, Brian Nichols’ hostage in suburban Atlanta…
Suppose you had told her one day that she would soon grace newsmagazines’ covers, be interviewed by all the big anchors, and be featured on every talk show, and that we would all learn the details of her life. That she would be a hero. But the only thing she had to do by way of preparation was to go on living, doing the best she could, getting up when she fell, learning from her mistakes, and looking to her Lord.
There were the victims of Columbine. All they did that day was go to school, the same way they had done hundreds of times previously. Within days, some of their names were household words, with friends and family members telling their stories, testifying of their convictions, their lives, their faith. A number of books were written, leaving a permanent record of some young people whose lives while brief counted for a great deal.
September 11. “Let’s roll.” In the weeks that followed the crash of the plane in the Pennsylvania countryside, the entire world heard Lisa Beamer telling of her life with husband Todd and their faith. We learned about his phone call to the telephone operator and their conversation about the hijacked plane. We wept over his death, rejoiced in his faith, and marveled at his courage. Lisa’s book became a best-seller.
You never know. Sometimes lightning strikes and suddenly you are it. And since there is no way to know who will be next, there is little one can do to prepare. Except to live faithfully.
Anyone who chooses to follow Jesus Christ needs to know that He had every intention of turning the spotlight on His disciples. It was His intention that the world see what exceptional people He was producing. In Matthew 10, He began to prepare them.
“You will be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.”
I laughed at Newsweek’s report of the Ashley Smith story. After reporting how she had read portions of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” to her captor, reporter Dirk Johnson digressed to tell about the book and Pastor Warren. The book, he says, has sold 21 million copies, “more than any non-fiction hardback in American history.” Then he says, “When news of Smith’s ordeal reached Warren, he was in East Africa with his wife, distributing some of the millions from his book for AIDS relief.” Score another one for the Lord. What is Rick doing with his money–vacationing on the Rivera? Looking over a private retreat he’s considering buying? Spending it on himself? No, giving it away to the poor, the sick, the dying. Way to go, Lord!
When Rick Warren got home, he began the rounds of the news and talk shows. He had not planned this spate of publicity. Lightning had just struck. Thankfully, he was ready.
In our culture saturated with round-the-clock news programs to fill, with tabloids and newsmagazines and dailies hungry for someone fresh to canonize or vilify, heroes and villains come and go daily. More and more people are getting their fifteen minutes of fame.
My one prayer in this is that the spotlight–the lightning, if you will–when it lands on Christians will find more and more of us like Ashley Smith and Rick Warren. Going about our business, doing right, and getting caught at it.
God help us to be ready.