We all know some characters, some are good and some are bad. But what does it mean to have good character, and what does character actually mean? One definition of character is the inward motivation to do what is right according to the highest standards of behavior in every situation. Character consists of the consistent and distinctive qualities engrained into an individual’s life, which determine how a person responds, regardless of the circumstances.
The situations that can cause us to be discouraged, angry or sad are actually designed or allowed by God to help us realize our need for Him and His power in our lives. It is only by the power of God that we will be able to achieve the kind of character that God calls us to have.
There is a process by which we can gain this type of character. It first begins with having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and then being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we can skip over that step and think that I can simply become a good person on my own. However, when the trials and problems of life come up it is much more difficult to deal with those things on our own. When we have God with us and in us it gives us a different perspective on how to respond and think about each situation we are in.
As we respond to trials this is the process we should go through:
If we can respond to life’s trials in this way, we will experience the power of God’s character living in us and shining through us. So no matter what the circumstance or situation our character is always either helping us or hurting us. Our character should be growing and changing as we pursue our relationship with God. The closer we get to Him and the more we allow Him to be in every area of our lives the more we can reflect the character of Jesus Christ to others.
The power for developing character does no come from our own willpower or intellect. It comes from the Holy Spirit of God. Allowing Him to indwell our spirit and fill our soul and control our bodies. The result of having God in our hearts is the fruit of the spirit, which is “love, joy, longsuffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” Galatians 5-22-23
My life Mission Statement is “Growing in Faith, Character and Leadership.” I know that my character is based on my relationship with God and the degree to which I trust Him. God has promised to transform me into the man He created me to be if I stand back and allow Him to do the work. My part is to be obedient and to do what He tells me to do, even if I don’t fully understand it. Character is really about how well we love other people. If we are growing in our character, our love of God and people is growing and therefore our perspective of how we view the world in which we live.
Last week I sat down with Dwight Mason the Lead Pastor at NewPointe Community Church to talk about why we launched a Church Campus in Canton Ohio. We also talked about what we are trying to do to reach the community and how people can get involved. Check it out – [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoHmXeZzeF4[/youtube]
There are many famous leaders in the Bible such as Moses, David, Peter and Paul. Yet there are many others that are not as famous that were vital to the work of God happening. One such leader was Epaphroditus. Do you know his story? He played an important yet obscure role in the ministry of Paul and the Philippians. No books were written about Epaphroditus, he never wrote any books or made any speeches that we are aware of. What he did do was run from Philippi to Rome to join Paul who was in prison and minister to his needs. He also carried Paul’s letter to the Philippians back home with him. This is how Paul describes him in Chapter 2 verses 25-30:
There are many people that work everyday in obscure ways that play a big part in the story God is writing. Leadership is not about position but influence with what we have been given. We are all called to love people, take risks for God, work hard and serve others. If we can do that consistently over time, the impact for God’s Kingdom can be great. Epaphroditus humbled himself to serve Paul. Paul in turn recognizes the contribution he made to his ministry. Our mindset as followers of Christ should be to humble ourselves and serve the people around us. It may go unnoticed by people, but it will not go unnoticed by God.
Unforgiveness is like cancer, it eats away at our insides and causes all kinds of pain and suffering. We live in a world that is not perfect. People let us down, hurt us, disappoint us and sometimes even intentionally cause physical or emotional damage to our lives. When these things happen to us we always have a choice in how we handle those situations. It really depends on where our heart is at, as to how we handle these difficult times in our lives. If our heart or emotional state is healthy and focused on our relationship with God, we tend to handle these situations better. When we are in communication with God and have the Holy Spirit in us, we can respond in a healthy way. However if we are not in a good place emotionally and are not focused on God it is very easy to respond in unhealthy ways, which leads to a downward spiral.
About 8 months ago I went through an exercise on forgiveness that I had helped many other people go through. I decided I should do it myself since I am asking others to do it. What happened was a surprise to me and has become a defining moment in my spiritual journey. So here is what happened.
I found some time to be completely alone and uninterrupted and started by connecting with God through prayer. I asked God to open my mind and my heart to whatever He wanted to do in me. I asked God to bring to my mind all the people that have hurt me in any way. Once I had spent some time in prayer and had mentally & emotionally prepared myself, I got out a piece of paper and started writing down the names that came to my mind. I had done this with other people and some people would only have a few names and others would fill a couple of pages. The key is that you write down all the names God brings to you in that moment, even if you think you have already forgiven them and even if it seems like it was insignificant.
So I start writing down names, expecting to only have a few because I am a forgiving kind of guy. To my surprise I nearly filled a full sheet of paper. The next thing I did was to write beside each name what that person did to me and how it made me feel. This was the hard part, bringing up all those old thoughts and emotions. It was tempting to skip through this, but I took my time with each name and took myself back to those times I felt hurt, frustrated and angry. I could feel some of those same emotions as I thought about what had happened.
One of the biggest surprises on my list was an Amish boy I went to Elementary school with. He was a year older than me and I don’t remember much about him other than we got into a fight in the boys restroom one day at school. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I do remember how I felt. With a bunch of my friends watching this Amish boy pinned me to the bathroom floor and laughed at me. As I squirmed and tried to free myself I heard others laughing as well. I remember him standing on my ankles and pinning my wrists with his hands. I had not thought about that incident for a very long time, but it was still there in my mind and in my heart. I remember everyone else leaving the bathroom after the fight and I was alone in there. I felt humiliated, angry and weak. As I walked out of the bathroom I remember breaking a small mirror on the wall.
That memory was buried deep inside me and God brought it out. It helped me to see how that had created some fears inside of me that had stayed with me all these years.
Once I finished writing out each emotion and circumstance I started to pray through each person. I simply prayed that I choose to forgive the person by name and what they did to me and how it made me feel. I asked God to heal the damaged emotions and help me to release this person and the negative emotions attached to that person. I thanked God for helping me forgive as He forgave me.
When I finished the last name, I actually felt lighter. Almost like I had lost some weight. I felt free and energized. I spent some time just meditating on God’s goodness, love, acceptance and forgiveness. What an amazing experience!
I don’t know who God will bring to your mind if you do this exercise, but I do know that there is great freedom and joy when we forgive from the heart. I hope you will take some time to work through this exercise. It might be a good idea to do this once a year to make sure you have not taken back what was given to God. It is almost like a yearly forgiveness checkup. Sometimes it helps to have someone do this exercise with you. I encourage you to find a trustworthy person and ask them to pray for you while you do this exercise.
One last thing, when you finish the exercise destroy the paper with the names on it. That symbolizes that it is finished and the people and emotions no longer are controlling you or attached to you in a negative way. Forgiveness if the most powerful tool we have to live a healthy, joyful, peaceful life.