Involuntary Heroes by Rev. Tony Cooke

Involuntary Heroes Rev. Tony Cooke

John F. Kennedy is a great figure in American history, and is well-known as our thirty-fifth president.  After graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the Navy and was put in charge of a U.S. Navy Torpedo Boat, PT-109, in the Pacific.  When he and his crew were on a night patrol in August of 1943, their boat was rammed by the Japanese destroyer, Amagiri.  Kennedy (who had been injured himself) towed a more seriously wounded man as he led the survivors to safety by swimming to a nearby island.  Five difficult days afterward they were rescued.

As a result, JFK received the Purple Heart and other military honors.  Kennedy was later asked how he became a war hero.  Expressing his keen sense of humor, he said, “It was involuntary.  They sank my boat.”

When I read that, it made me think of how many situations we face in life that really are involuntary.  In other words, we all encounter circumstances that we never asked for (and probably never would ask for).  This leads us to a great truth in life: We don’t have control over all the situations we encounter, but we do have control over our reactions and responses.  In spite of Kennedy’s humorous twist regarding the question he was asked, it wasn’t his boat being sunk, but rather his response that made him a hero

The same principle is true of many of the great characters in the Bible:

  • Joseph didn’t volunteer to be sold into slavery or thrown into jail, but his response made him a hero.
  • Gideon didn’t volunteer to be one of those oppressed by the Midianites, but his response made him a hero.
  • Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t volunteer to go into Babylonian captivity, but their response made them heroes.
  • Esther didn’t volunteer to be raised as a Jewish orphan in a foreign land, but her response made her a hero.
  • Paul didn’t volunteer for a shipwreck, but his response made him a hero.

When confronted with great adversity, our natural instinct may be to despair, to complain, and to say, “This isn’t fair.  Why is this happening to me?” or even, “I didn’t sign up for this!”  But the Bible makes it clear that our response to negative circumstances needs to be the response of faith.

This is why James told us, “…when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.   So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4, NLT).

James understood that certain challenges in life were inevitable, but we can respond to such inevitabilities with a great confidence in God.  When we do, great results occur.  Someone said, “A diamond is a chunk of coal that made good under pressure.” 

Author Zane Grey shared the following outstanding insight: “Recipe for greatness — To bear up under loss, to fight the bitterness of defeat and the weakness of grief, to be victor over anger, to smile when tears are close, to resist evil men and base instincts, to hate hate and to love love, to go on when it would seem good to die, to seek ever after the glory and the dream, to look up with unquenchable faith in something evermore about to be, that is what any man can do, and so be great.”

Something Else That’s Involuntary

We don’t only face involuntary adversity, but when we stop and think about it, we realize that our calling in life—the assignment that God’s given each of us—is also involuntary.  It’s true that we have a choice to accept it or reject it, to submit to it or rebel against it, but God has given us a calling according to His own choosing.  Consider the following Scriptures:

Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you… (John 15:16).

2 Timothy 1:9 says that God “…has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

Paul, in Philippians 3:12, references the calling he received from the Lord and his response to that calling, and says, “…that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”  Notice that he refers to his calling as having been “apprehended.”

It is true that God is a gentleman, that He does not override our free will.  However, He does issue commands and asks that we submit our will to his.  Even Jesus had to do this, as was evidenced by His statement, “…not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).


We all face things in life that are involuntary.  We didn’t ask for some of the challenges we face, nor did we necessarily ask for God’s plan for our lives.  He loved us before we loved Him.  He sought us before we ever thought about seeking Him, and thank God that he also apprehended us!

There may be times in your life when you feel like JFK… that someone sank your boat, and now you find yourself dealing with the results.  You can bemoan the predicament, or you can become a hero through a positive and persistent response. 

William Shakespeare said, “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  I believe that greatness is thrust upon us when we respond positively both to the trials of life and to God’s claims upon our lives.

We pray that this will be a tremendous year for you, and that regardless of the challenges that life brings, you will find great strength and courage through your relationship with Him.