The Spider Man franchise faithfully delivers, once again, a movie that is both fun and full of good, inspirational messages. This new Peter Parker is a bit more fun and less burdened than some of his predecessors (notably the Tobey Maguire version). He’s light-hearted and confident and eager to save the world, all the more so after having gotten a chance to do so already with the Avengers. Herein lies the problem: How do you go from saving the world to high school algebra again? How do you settle for daily life when you know you are made for more, capable of more?
Warriors need battles. Heroes need opportunities to be heroic. Superstars need opportunities to shine. Actors need a stage. Kings need kingdoms. You get the picture. But what happens when you know you’re the star player, but are then told to sit the bench? What happens when you’re Spider-Man, capable of saving the world, but you’re told to go be a normal kid again? Hear Peter’s frustration with the situation:
Tony Stark: Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man now? Peter: But I’m ready for more!
Peter: Come on man, I don’t need training wheels.
Peter: Mr. Stark treats me like a kid! Ned: You are a kid. Peter: Yeah, a kid who can stop a bus with his bare hands! … I could do so much more!
Ned: You want to be a high school drop out? Peter: Dude, I am so far beyond high school now.
Can you hear his frustration? Have you been in his shoes? Most of us have at some point or another, feeling that we had a skill to offer but we were told to sit the bench and hide our talents for a while. It’s so hard. It feels you are being wasted. It feels you have no worth. It’s even harder when you have to watch things unravel knowing you could keep it from happening. It’s hard to let someone else fail where you know you could succeed.
Peter had a lot of skills to offer, but that didn’t mean he didn’t also still have a lot to learn. Tony Stark saw his potential but also had the wisdom to put some “training wheels” on Peter while he learned. He told Peter to get experience on the ground, in the neighborhood, locally. He basically encouraged him not to despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Very wise, Biblical advice. Peter didn’t listen well. (If it was hard to listen to Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, imagine how hard it was for him to listen to mere mortals who didn’t know/understand all that he was gifted with.)
Tony actually does a decent job of mentoring/parenting Peter. He got harsh with him when needed: “This is where you zip it. The adult is talking.” He took away Peter’s suit when Peter continued to disregard his caution (and cause problems by trying to go it alone). He told him that “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” He understood that there is something gained with perspective that Peter’s talents couldn’t make up for and didn’t apologize for it. He believed in Peter, but also didn’t have to have Peter’s approval. He had a long-term perspective on Peter’s growth. …But I’m digressing from the point of this article.
Where the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie was all about a humble Peter who had no confidence learning to embrace his power and worth, learning that he had something to offer to the world, this Spider-Man is pretty much the opposite. It’s an eager, confident Peter learning to humble himself and be patient. He had to learn the value in school and normalcy, to set aside greatness for meekness.
There are so many things I could say about this topic and its value for all times, but especially this generation. But let me simply point to a few scriptures. As we’ve already discussed, the Bible says not to despise small beginnings. It also says that we should do anything we do with all our heart, for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23). It doesn’t say we should only do great things with all our heart, and the rest is inconsequential. Character is built in how we handle the small things. It’s who we are when no one is looking. The boring things in life, like high school algebra, like submitting to authority, like chores and even scrubbing toilets (Brother Lawrence, anyone?)…those are actually the places where heroes are developed. They aren’t a waste of time, they are critical.
Let me just mention a few key things you learn in the trenches of the mundane. Compassion. You learn what real life is like for the average person. This is critical for someone who wants to help others. Someone who wants to “help” others without compassion is a condescending narcissist with a hero complex. (This is what 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, is saying to us – even if you have all the power of men and of angels but have not love, you have nothing.) You learn humility and patience, which kind of work together. It takes humility to be patient. You learn to listen to other people’s perspectives and wisdom. And you are forced to see that the world can get along without you (aka humility) when you patiently wait and take a back seat while others are saving the day. You also learn wisdom – a key trait for a hero. Someone with strength and talent without wisdom is a wrecking ball. They are like a well-intentioned puppy—they may mean well, but they make a mess in their eagerness. (Peter demonstrates this several times.)
I want to point you to a Biblical character who kind of lived Peter’s life—David. He was young and powerful. He had a great “Avengers” moment when he killed Goliath and saved the entire army. He was confident. Not only did he know his own abilities, but he also was chosen to be King, by God. Can you imagine what it was like for him to humble himself and go back to every-day life? Playing the harp, tending sheep, working for the jerk King who was destroying the nation (and who wanted to kill you) knowing you could do a better job, and even had God’s blessing to do it?! David’s humility and patience are astounding. Not only does he willingly return to the mundane and wait to become King, he protects King Saul in the meanwhile (1 Samuel 24-26). He trusted in God’s plan for his life and didn’t try to rush things. He was willing to go back to school for a while and learn a few more things in the mundane trenches, so to speak. And when the time was right, God did fulfill His promises. David did become King, and was a much better king for being willing to wait on the processes of maturity to work their magic in his life.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1 Peter 5:6-11
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This is pretty much the story arch of every great story in the Bible. It’s definitely the summary of David’s story. He humbled himself under God’s hand, choosing not to exalt himself but instead to wait for God to do so in His perfect timing. While he waited, he suffered, but took all those struggles to God (just read the Psalms!). He was watchful that his enemies (spiritual and physical enemies) didn’t take him out. And in the end, God Himself (I love how personal and intimate and tender that phrase is, “God Himself”) who had called David to the glory of being King, restored him, confirmed the promises over his life, and then took him beyond restoration as he strengthened and established David as King. Amazing.
Peter’s time as an Avenger was sure to come. David’s time as King was sure to come. Your time and mine are also sure to come…but the road to get there isn’t one of self-promotion, confidence and pride. It isn’t one of rebellion and being “way beyond” school, hard work, and mundane life. We don’t get to go around those things, we go through them. They are the means to our end. We get to our time, our glory, our purpose through humility. Through patience. Through waiting on GOD to restore us, confirm the things He’s promised us, strengthen and establish us. If we get ahead of the Lord’s timing, if we try to do those things for ourselves, we will find (as Peter did with Tony Stark when he took away Peter’s suit) that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34). A pastor friend of mine, Tommy Nelson, used to say, “It’s better to be a noun than a verb: It’s better to be humble than humbled.” Peter Parker and the young King-to-be David, they are great examples of this truth. Let them inspire us to be patient and humble as we wait on God to bring us to our time.
Questions for Discussion:
- How hard would it be for you to be in Peter’s shoes, having just fought with the Avengers to save the world and then having to go back to being a normal teenager?
- What kinds of things did Peter still need to learn?
- Tony said if Peter was nothing with his suit, then he shouldn’t have it. What is your “suit”, the thing you feel makes you something? How might it help you to lose your “suit” for a while, too?
- What do Peter and David (in the Bible) have in common?
- How do you respond when someone in your life speaks out like Tony did and tells you that you aren’t ready and puts you in Training Wheels Protocol mode?
- In what areas of your life do you maybe need to apply I Peter 5:6-11? What areas are you waiting on God to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish?