Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Developing good character

Today’s verse:

A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)

I remembered from past Bible study that patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so it is something that believers should demonstrate. Just as with everything else, though, patience needs practice… or so I thought. Then I started pondering how it could be that a believer could constantly struggle with patience over years, and I realized that perhaps something more is needed than practice. I came across this verse, and I came to a new understanding of how it is that believers can develop certain character traits that God desires of them. It is through wisdom that we become more like God, and as we become more like God, we start to display godly attributes.

My impression had always been that if we are lacking in a certain spiritual fruit (or godly characteristic), that we simply need to pray for it, and God will graciously bestow it to us… just like that. However, upon reflection, it appears that perhaps we need to go through a process of trusting in God—having a relationship with him and understanding his will—before we can truly develop godly character. I did a word search to see if I could find if there was something preceding wisdom, just like wisdom precedes patience. I found that Job and David both tell us where wisdom comes from:

And [God] said to man, 'The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'
Job 28:28 (NIV)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
Psalm 111:10 (NIV)

So it all comes down to fearing God. What does that mean? I’m pretty sure it means that we need to treat God with proper reverence and respect, not taking him for granted. I think that Christians (or anyone who believes in God) too often forget that God is a powerful, awesome Creator of the Universe who knows everything there is to know and sees everything that goes on under the sun. That’s pretty amazing. Yet, we often forget that he even exists, let alone is watching everything we do and aware of every thought that crosses our mind. The leaders and prophets mentioned in the Bible fell flat on their faces when in the presence of God. What does that mean for us? Are we experiencing the presence of God, or has his presence been shielded by other things in our lives that take priority? I am somewhat disturbed at what the true answer could be for this question.

Anyway, getting back to the topic, I think that there is a relationship here that I didn’t quite see before:The cycle is self-fueling: the deeper our relationship with God, the more we understand his character and realize the amount of reverence and respect that is due him, which causes us to fear him more, which brings about wisdom in us. Godly character is a natural product of this cycle. Can we ask for God’s help anywhere in this process? Yes, we can, but I think we need to know what to ask for in order to see substantial change in our lives. James gives us a clue as to what to ask for in the cycle:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5 (NIV)

Notice that James assures us that God will give us wisdom if we ask for it. He assures us! That means, if we ask God for wisdom—believing that he will do as he promised—then we will get wisdom! Wisdom then fuels the cycle, drawing us into a deeper relationship with God, resulting in us developing a more godly character. There is a process involved in developing character! God will help us, yes, but we have to persevere through the cycle to see the results.
God has given us the ability to choose for ourselves what to pursue—how wonderful if we were to choose to pursue a relationship with him! God is listening and waiting for us to acknowledge him. If he is so powerful, then why does he have to wait? Couldn’t he just force everyone to bow before him and worship him? Yes, he could… but he won’t force us to worship him because he wants us to seek a relationship with him. Building a meaningful relationship is not a one-sided endeavor! However, if we do choose to seek after him, he will grant us wisdom to find him! He yearns for our companionship, yet he patiently waits. How amazing is the compassion of our God.

In conclusion, I will note that we can make one final adjustment to the cycle leading to godly character:

God is the source of our wisdom. If we ask it of him, he will graciously give it to us. Once we attain wisdom, we will have a desire to deepen our relationship with God, which will in turn cause us to recognize his vast majesty. Our reverent fear of the Creator of All in turn seeds wisdom. Our character will develop in the process. Thus, if we want to develop a godly character (for example, if we want to become more patient), then we must do three things:
(1) we must ask God to grant us wisdom,
(2) we must seek to develop our relationship with God, and
(3) we must give God the respect he deserves.
I believe that this is the way in which God intended for us to develop character. The closer we are to God, the more we will reflect his nature. This is the lesson I have learned through this study.

Oh Lord, please grant me your wisdom so that I may seek you in the midst of worldly distractions. You have blessed us with so many things, Lord—please grant me the wisdom to seek you first, not to make idols out of money, possessions, my spouse, or my self-image. Thank you for your patience with me. Please give me wisdom so that my heart may desire an intimate relationship with you. Your wisdom is what I need to develop my character so that I may accurately reflect the radiance of your holiness and love to those who don’t know you. You are greater than all of creation, you are beyond our comprehension, and you alone deserve worship and praise. Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your son Jesus to live among us—then be betrayed by us to death—so that he could conquer death and sin once and for all! I love you, Lord. Amen.

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