Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
– Romans 5:1-5
“The final stage in the life of faith is the attainment of character, and we encounter many changes in the process. We feel the presence of God around us when we pray, yet we are only momentarily changed. We tend to keep going back to our everyday ways and the glory vanishes. A life of faith is not a life of one glorious mountaintop experience after another, like soaring on eagles’ wings, but is a life of day-in and day-out consistency; a life of walking without fainting (see Isaiah 40:31). It is not even a question of the holiness of sanctification, but of something which comes much farther down the road. It is a faith that has been tried and proved and has withstood the test. Abraham is not a type or an example of the holiness of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith – a faith, tested and true, built on the true God. ‘Abraham believed God…’ (Romans 4:3)”
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
I think more than anything, I would love to live up to Chambers’ description. I have withstood many challenges and tests, but I have failed my share. My clay feet keep getting too upset with the situation, and I do not have a good poker face.
Maybe God has made great strides in chipping away my rough edges, but I tend to see the spots that He missed, the spots I tend to gravitate toward when times get tough, rather than taking the ‘high road.’
Thinking of mountaintop experiences, our church went on a church retreat, back thirty years ago. At the end of the retreat, the preacher wanted a time for everyone to share. Each person talked of how the weekend had been a mountaintop experience for them. The microphone finally came to me. I was the chairman of the board of deacons that year and had worked extremely hard to ensure that the retreat was a success. I had to admit that I had learned a lot about the studied Scripture and about the other people at the retreat, but I was exhausted. If I had vacation to spare, I would have taken off that Monday to rest. The mountaintop feeling was just not there, but I may have grown closer to God that weekend. As Chambers says, it is not all mountaintop experiences. As you get older, it is not even about those mountaintop experiences. It is about how God sustains us. It is about how I feel His presence when I write.
But oh, how I hate the everyday ways that we must face in our lives. For I have felt the glory vanishing and my emotions and feeling of well-being crash into the wall. I love soaring on eagles’ wings, but I do not like being reminded that I am more like the turkeys on the farm of my youth.
Maybe this description is not your experience. I see a few people at church, very, very few. These people seem to always have a smile, always have kind words, and always shine God’s glory. Have they never experienced the valleys of life? Do they smile as they walk through those valleys? Are they reciting Psalm 23 as they walk, confident that God will keep that smile plastered to their faces?
As for me, when the mule kicks me up the side of my head, I have a knot as big as a grapefruit. No matter how you try to say, “It’s all good” others are saying, “It hurts to look at you.”
If you don’t like my metaphors, there is an alternate definition of the word “character” that I am more familiar with. When times are tough, I tend to use humor, and inappropriate humor at times.
When our home in Corinth, MS was flooded (the first of three times in a six-month span – we moved before the fourth), I walked into the yard where I found my next-door neighbor. The water was up to our knees. An idiot teen-ager tried to drive really fast down our street to speed over the rushing waters, the only way out of the neighborhood. We tried to stop him. Honest! He got half way across the flood waters in his antique, priceless muscle-car before he started floating downstream. As he jumped out and swam for shore, I paraphrased a line from the first Ghostbusters movie, “Nice driving, Tex!” The rain was pouring, and the floodwaters were tumbling. The youngster never heard a word. My neighbor, a retiree that kept a well-manicured lawn and a spotless house – now under water, was laughing at all my quips as we tried to unclog the culvert and rescue neighbors from the fast rushing waters. I think he laughed at my jokes just to keep from crying.
Yes, I am a character who is struggling to develop character.
But God isn’t done with me yet, either.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.