Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who I really am comes out under pressure


I tend to procrastinate and daydream when uncertain about my ability to manage. This has been a long habit, but now my procrastination is giving me more problems than the tasks that I am avoiding. Because of this, I’ve been praying . . . 
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)

God answers this prayer in ways I do not expect. This morning’s devotional reading challenges me with these statements . . . 

When people have nothing to try them, they are in great danger of deceiving themselves.
When under painful circumstances, what spirit do you manifest?
If misunderstood and misrepresented or treated disrespectfully, how do you bear it?
If life is challenging, do you manifest an unChristlike spirit? Or do you respond according to the Spirit of Christ that is in you?

The reading goes on to talk about character and how it is revealed when a person is under fire. Of course, I’m thinking about my procrastination and what that says about me. A few quotes from online sources gave me even more to think about, particularly this one: “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do” (John Holt). Ouch.

Jesus never twiddled His thumbs or balked before any challenge. He prayed (which I sometimes fail to do.) He also said, “Not my will but Thine be done” and left His concerns at His Father’s feet. He “set His face like flint” and advanced into it, even if “it” was painful and would look like failure. The Bible never describes Him as totally undaunted, for He did sweat blood, but He never retreated or procrastinated.

Helen Keller was two years old when she became ill, then blind, deaf and mute. If anyone had reason to curl up in procrastination, she did. But with fortitude and courage, she became an influential educator and humanitarian. She said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Character never comes out of retreating, but retreating does reveal character. Ouch again.

Joan Didion wrote a book called, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” It told stories of people from all walks of life whom she met and interviewed. She concluded that “character is the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life” and “the source from which self-respect springs.”

This is connected to another definition of character by H. Jackson Brown Jr. who said, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” How can anyone have secret character flaws and respect themselves? Yet this is the big human problem; all of us have those flaws, secret or otherwise. They are called sin and the guilt and self-loathing that comes from sin is only truly removed by the one who said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32) 

Jesus Christ and the changes He brought to my life have done wonders for my self-respect, but He isn’t done with me yet. There is this issue of the way I deal with challenges, not all of them but often enough that He is answering my prayer about searching my heart and bringing this to my attention. Jesus is not a procrastinator, and if I am going to be like Him, I must let Him transform me.

And He must do it. I read one more quote about character that is a warning about how to develop character. It isn’t precisely pointing to Christ, but it does hint at one thing I must avoid . . .  self-effort. 

Woodrow Wilson said, “If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.” 

In sarcasm, Jeremiah put it like this: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23)

Building character is God’s job, and precisely the reason why the psalmist asked the Lord to lead him. He could not be like Christ, under pressure or otherwise, by himself. Neither can I.

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