What does it mean to have character? Perhaps it's doing the right thing even when no-one is looking. Perhaps it's choosing the option that not many people would choose. Maybe it's picking yourself up from the ground, sweaty and dirt-smeared, and stumbling on to complete what you set out to do.
I've been prompted to think about this while listening to a series by Andy Stanley (Character Under Construction), which was recommended to me.
One of the pitfalls of preaching (as reported to me by those who practice the art) is reaching the culmination of your message and your listeners being left with the words "Just try harder." It's a message that's been employed by pharisees and all sorts of religious types over the centuries. It feeds guilt and creates enslavement to the law.
But isn't that what we need to pursue to have character? Be a better person. Try to be good. Do the right thing. Often that's how we pray - 'God help me to be a better me...'. I have prayed, 'God help me be more patient', through gritted teeth (which somehow ruins my 'patient' face).
I struggle with the idea that faith is about 'just try harder'. I don't think it works. Being a better me is puny and half-baked when compared with the inspiring call to be renewed in the image of Jesus.
A pastor I know, keeps reminding me that we will only really follow God and be Christ-like when we truly understand God's love for us. Guilt can't transform our hearts. But deep infiltration with sacrificial, inviting, cleansing love changes us forever.
Character grows when we are soaked in God's love.
How does it work? John talks about the branches abiding in the vine and fruit resulting (John 15). Romans talks about our minds being renewed and this leading to transformation (Romans 12).
When I know I am graciously and abundantly loved, I can see the world how God sees it. Sometimes its only momentary glances, but in those instants I have the eyes that really see. The basis of true wisdom. When I have God's vision of the world, of people around me, it becomes possible to act with grace. To see beyond myself and my needs. To see sacrifice as possible. To see purpose in serving and submitting. Then I can allow Jesus to love through me.
'Better-me' love is pale and wan compared with Jesus-shaped love.
Stanley teaches a simple prayer as part of his series of sermons. I admit I have made it a little more to my liking :).
renew me with your love,
so I can have the wisdom to know what's right,
and the courage to do what's right.
And I have started praying it.