Character Building sounds so onerous. Tiring. Can’t someone just tell me I’m good enough and leave it at that? Yes. That is just what God says. Better than that: God says we are “blessed”. “Holy” in the Lord’s sight; “Loved with an everlasting love”. Etc. etc.
This is the milieu in which we are born, the air that we gasp, it’s all infused with Love itself. Generous, gracious and good. Character building is the constructing the internal reservoir to contain a portion of that divine character. John Ortberg describes character as “the ability to be inhabited by the divine.” That sounds good to me.
Yesterday’s sermon (5/6/12) started a conversation about the necessity of our inside character being strong enough to stand up to the weight of our gifts and talents. That was one of the problems with Samson (Judges 13-16). The guy didn’t have the internal framework to support the overwhelming talents and gifts God had given him.
Here’s some thoughts on character building:
- Determine to say NO to something you want on a regular basis. What constitutes “regular”? You can figure that out. The point is to begin strengthening your NO muscle. This is the power behind Lenten resolutions. They create a time bound commitment to say NO to something you want. But don’t wait for Lent to come around. Start today. No wine tonight with dinner? No reading the newspaper while your kids are trying to talk with you? No gossipping at the office? And don’t even think of the Nancy Reagan campaign…
- Say YES to one thing you are not inclined to do. Have a hard time setting aside 15 minutes to pray? Then just say YES to that today. Is the one friend particularly trying your patience? Then she’s your YES today. Having a hard time being generous with giving a financial contribution to your church? Please, for the love of Jesus, say YES to that. You get the idea.
- Begin and end the day with a simple prayer of gratitude. Thomas Aquinas said the two most important prayers are “Thank you” and “Help me”. Start your prayer life there.
- Remember that none of these practices are to ingratiate yourself to God, or in a desperate attention to get God’s attention any more than you already have it. As Annie Dillard says in one of my favorite books, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothings, asks nothing, and demands nothing…It is a life WITH God which demands these things.
Character building is about living life with God. Amen to that.