The development of godly character is a desired end for all people who claim to follow Jesus. However, over the years I have learned the hard lesson that the process of character development involves pain, temptation, suffering and hard choices. I have come to expect God to allow circumstances to enter my life that will refine the parts of my character not matching up to His design.
One of my character flaws is a defensive spirit. Whenever personally attacked or questioned, my gut instinct is to fight back to defend myself. In contrast, as I examine Jesus' life, I note He invested much energy in the defense of others, but during the most critical attack on His life and character, Jesus was silent. When I place my confidence in what others think of me, which leads to reacting defensively, I fail to follow Christ's example. So it seems that I have been given many difficult opportunities to develop this character trait that needs much work.
In a delightful book, Happiness, written in 1927, William Lyon Phelps develops the idea that character or virtue is an internal quality evidenced externally through the challenges of life. Dr. Phelps suggests that a politician who resists a $500 bribe but hesitates when the bribe is $1,000,000 immediately demonstrates the ugly reality of his character because he ". . . .knows nothing about virtue. Why? Because virtue (for this person) is dependent not on any interior standard but on the size of the temptation. If the temptation is slight, he can resist; if alluring his soul is in danger. Such virtue is like being brave when there is no danger, generous when you have nothing to give, cheerful when all is well, polite when you are courteously treated." Rather, true character is cultivated and demonstrated in the challenges life — such as loving others when unlovely people surround us.
The apostle Paul understood the painful process of character development when he wrote,
". . . but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope." (Romans 5:3, 4 NIV)
If we are to develop godly character evidenced in the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), we can expect circumstances that test those qualities.
So this week, instead of fretting or being upset when unlovely people surround us, chaos and confusion exist or we are forced to wait, remember the advice of the Apostle James. . . "consider it all joy" and begin to practice godly character by following Jesus' example!
Sharing the journey with you,