Search This Blog

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Strength of Character

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom. 5:3-4)

We can rejoice in tribulation? Well, don’t count on me jumping up and down with ecstatic joyful glee the next time tribulation comes barreling down! It is not usually my first response to tough times – hard stuff that makes it a little less than delightful to be living through. Most of us would admit to the same struggle accepting those hard circumstances and walking with a positive attitude through them. Why? We are HUMAN! We respond to those hard times in a HUMAN manner – as we are directed by our nature.

Paul describes a sequence of related events and their ultimate outcomes – problems and trials are good for us, he says. I kind of think of mom’s admonition to eat all my brussel sprouts when I was a kid, because they “were good for me”. I guess they may have had some nutritional value, but I just could not get past their bitter taste! That is how it is with us sometimes when we are facing hard stuff – we struggle with it because we can’t get past the “bitter” taste. Paul invites us to embrace them because he has learned that there is a reward on the other side of them (he found the value in them).

He says they help us to learn to be patient, give us strength of character, and help us to trust God more. Character is what makes up and distinguishes us as individuals. There is a combination of traits – both mental and ethical – that mark us as unique individuals. For many of us, we view character as what gives a person their reputation – good or bad. Paul has come to realize that when we do right because it is right, we develop stronger character. It is living according to the standard outlined in Scripture that moves us toward strong character – it builds into our lives a process we call accountability.

Accountable people understand the limits. Those limits, outlined in the Word, work to define our behavior. Character is produced – defining what we are and what we are made of. Perseverance is something we do – character is something we are. As we respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are allowing our character to be shaped by a standard that is reliable, trustworthy, and uncompromising. Character takes effort – it takes a plan. There are times when we just go on and on complaining about the way things are in our lives – all the while avoiding the work of setting about to change them. It is kind of like avoiding those brussel sprouts for as long as you can, hopeful that mom will give in and let you off the hook!

I believe Dwight Moody once said, “Character is what a man is in the dark.” It is living accountable lives – being willing to share our activities, conduct, and fulfillment of assigned responsibilities openly (without the need of hiding them). When it comes to our character and spiritual development, we are prone to resist accountability. We’d rather hide the “brussel sprouts” of our lives in the napkin!

Temptations carry emotional stress – because there is an internal struggle in dealing with them and there is guilt when we give into them. Accountability is about encouragement – not criticism. When we are accountable for our actions – we are embracing the encouragement and the necessary exhortation to choose wisely, continuing on the right path. There are times when discipline is necessary – life cannot all be free-flowing, without boundaries, and just the way we like it. In other words, we cannot have corn every night – we sometimes need brussel sprouts! Both serve a purpose and help us to grow strong.

Keep in mind that discipline is a process by which we come to share God’s holiness – we are conformed to the image of Christ. We have an identity in Christ – because we have given our lives to him – but we need to have our behavior conform to that identity. Discipline actually serves to “bend” our hearts toward him – so that hard circumstance (tribulation) is designed to produce holiness. God’s method is always training – and retraining as is warranted by our response to the initial training. We may get brussel sprouts pretty frequently until we learn to get the “value” out of them!

I guess this is the spot where we need to look at how we should respond to God’s discipline (or training) in our lives. First, we have to take it seriously – we do this by seeing the responses we display in our lives the way God sees them. If the responses have been filled with anger, bitterness, mistrust, etc., then we need to see those responses as they are – sinful. We also need to take God’s training courageously! It takes some courage to endure chastening and to learn from it. It definitely takes courage to face it and not run from it!

Paul wants us to embrace the idea that God is doing what is best for us – producing strength of character in the end. We may not like the means he employs to produce that strength of character, but he knows exactly what will work for us. We need to trust his plan, even when we don’t actually think it is what we need. When all is done, we will see that it was worth whatever pain we experienced in the midst of the tribulation. Remember, God is not swayed by our resistance any more than my mom was not swayed by my painful response to eating brussel sprouts!

Expect tribulation – respond to it with submission. Yield to it and don’t lose heart. It is because of a love so great that God has for us as his kids that he affords us the opportunities to go through the hard stuff. When we take time to quiet ourselves down, looking deeply into our character, we will see exactly what God sees – both the good stuff and the bad. Since the bad stuff (sin) doesn’t “fit” who we are (in Christ), it must be dealt with. I can remember “pushing the limits” with mom over some meal choices – refusing to eat what was put in front of me. It was not a pretty picture! I came to realize that the food was much more palatable when it was warm, freshly prepared, and when there was other stuff still on my plate to eat it with!

Don’t “push the limits” with God – he has a plan – we need to embrace it. Decide today to embrace the tribulation, yielding to the discipline that may be produced through it, and come out strong on the other side! Don’t ever forget God’s love for you! It is that very love that brings the “brussel sprout” moments!