What are the things that test your character the most? What makes you angry? What brings you to your needs? What causes emotions to arise that normally stay hidden deep within the mind? When we consider those situations in life that push us to the limit and test our patience the most, it becomes clear that we have a long way to go before arriving at total self-control. However, the fact that failures and frustrations come along should not deter us from growth – rather, there are lessons to be learned (that can only be learned the hard way):
· Marriage is something that must be perfected and practiced as we go. As much as we might think we are ready for it, there are just some speed bumps that can only be dealt with when encountered.
· The untested soul is weak. We have to remember that every miserable happens that we might become stronger.
· Good comes to those who have a positive outlook. If we believe that life is not worth living, it never will be. If we remain upright and pure, even the times of trial can turn out for good (Romans 8:28).
· Parenting must be learned on the job.
· Financial troubles teach us how to manage money – unfortunately, many young people must learn this the hard way before they realize how important a budget is!
· Criticism, though sometimes harsh and unwarranted, helps us grow.
· Failure teaches us patience. If we are not willing to take a few hits and get back on the horse, we will live with regrets and disappointments until the day we die.
What I would like to do in this lesson is look at four tests of character that we frequently encounter. Our goal should be to focus our minds on our own spiritual problems. Do not worry about others – even when another might be at fault in causing a test of character, what we make of the situation is what will either endear us to God or disappoint Him. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Probably the most difficult test of character is failure. “You know, I’ve long been of the opinion that people who get discouraged are the easiest prey for the devil. How do you react to failure?” (Thompson, 178). When I am tempted to give up because of failure, I need to keep in mind that many people have failed in times past by the standards of the world. Many of the prophets never accomplished anything in this world, yet they continued preaching (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). As discouraging as it may be to fail at converting someone, do not forget that it is quality, not necessarily quantity, that God wants. And also, even though I might think I am failing, I must not judge a situation too quickly. With patience, time, and faith in God, many of our worst fears and greatest downfalls actually turn out to be victories. We need to be patient and let situations resolve themselves before judging our success.
Then again, even success can lead to failure. If I am not careful, I might look at the successes in my life and become proud and self-sufficient. In the end, the success becomes a failure for me spiritually.
Commands Contrary To Our Ideas
“How do you react to a command of God that does not agree with your idea? Now, if you immediately say there are no commands of God that do not agree with my ideas, think again. There is at least a possibility that you may come upon a few” (Book, Chapter, and Verse…, Thompson, 170). The Bible is filled with examples of people who encountered commands from God that did not immediately suit them, or please them:
· The command to Naaman, for example, displeased him greatly. When asked to dip in the river seven times (2 Kings 5:10-11), he spurned the command until his servant convinced him otherwise.
· Abraham certainly must not have liked the command to slay his son and offer him as a sacrifice (Hebrews 11:17-19).
· There was a great deal of frustration and backlash from Jewish Christians who were faced with the command to accept uncircumcised Gentiles as spiritual brethren (Acts 10:28, 11:17-18).
· The rich young ruler was grieved when Christ told him to sell all his possessions and follow Him (Mark 10:21-22).
It is not God who has to do the changing when are desires do not harmonize with His will. The Lord will not be the one compromising – we must give up, sacrifice, reject our will, and render ourselves as willing slaves. “I know that we must learn that if there is ever a commandment that the Lord gives, contrary to our thinking, if we ever get the benefit of that commandment that the Lord gave, we are going to have to harmonize our will to His, to change our thinking to be in harmony with His commandment” (Thompson, 171). The unfortunate truth is that most people do not see God this way. For many, the commands of God are secondary to their own desires. “God’s laws do not suit me and my preferences,” some might say. But even for those who believe they have no qualms with God’s laws, there may come a time when it gets more difficult.
· Culture may change in such a way that Christians become the minority. We are, in fact, the minority on most moral matters. While everybody else in the world might give in to sin and temptation, we are expected to stand tall as shining lights on a hill (Matthew 5:13-16). Already, most moral issues are battered from all sides by the world.
· As we grow older, it might be harder to accept some of God’s ideas on judgment, heaven, and hell. The more we see unbelieving friends and family die, the more we are tempted to reason within ourselves that God will not actually condemn unbelievers – or, at least, unbelievers who we like.
· If you think that the command to be unselfish in marriage is not difficult, then you are a perfect spouse. Good job. But when difficult times hit, even some of the best husbands and wives find subjection very distasteful (Ephesians 5:22-33, Titus 2:3-5).
· We are commanded to be unified and harmonious with other Christians (John 13:34-35), and to be subjected to our elders (Hebrews 13:17). While these commands are not hard for those who are not tested, they become much more difficult when the church is struggling.
It should not shock us, therefore, when our opinions, prejudices, vices, and desires do not match up perfectly with God’s commands, laws, and holy standards. The challenge comes when we respond to these situations. How will your character fair when you have to obey something that you disagree with?
How do you react to criticism? This test of your character goes along way toward determining who you are, what you will learn in life, and how people will perceive you. Christians are called to a life of constant self-improvement. “Leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…” (Hebrews 6:1). “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” Without the desire to make ourselves stronger, smarter, more faithful, and more mature, we would never become the fully-equipped people that we are supposed to be! “Each of the above-quoted scriptures call for a conscious effort of self-improvement. Only by becoming a better person can I meet with God’s approval. Few things remain static, including the development of character. So I must pull myself up through purposeful and conscious efforts or aimlessly allow myself to be pulled down by the cares and forces surrounding me. I have a daily problem, but it is also my daily opportunity to enrich my character and ennoble my life” (The Christian’s Everyday Problems, Brownlow, 118).
Often, the daily opportunities for spiritual development come in the form of criticism from other people – whether we are the ones criticizing or are accepting the correction. It is beneficial, therefore, that we spend some time understanding the concept of criticism, and how we can improve ourselves at both ends of the critical exchange. Why is criticism important, though? Is it not the way of the world that we all ignore the problems of other people and mind our own business? “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…” (2 Timothy 4:2). Without constructive, scriptural criticism, there is no doubt that falsehood will creep into our lives and destroy the work of the Lord. Paul exhorts Timothy to “preach the word” because a time will come, and indeed has already come, that many will fall away and choose to live undisciplined, “un-criticized” lives. If we do not work diligently at teaching and reproving each other, sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), we may find ourselves deep in sin and at the threshold of condemnation.
There is also the idea that you may be criticized for something that you are doing right. How you respond to unrighteous criticism may be even more significant than how you respond to criticism when you are obviously the one wrong. Do you just give up and get frustrated when others confound the good work you are trying to do?
· Consider that Jesus was criticized for being too friendly to sinners (Matthew 11:19)
· John the Baptist was criticized for not being friendly enough (Matthew 11:18).
· Nehemiah was criticized incredibly when he worked at rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:1-6).
· Christians in the first century were heavily criticized and called trouble makers by people of the world (Acts 17:6, 1 Peter 2:12).
· Even when we feel that criticism is unwarranted, we have to remember that God is criticized too. And if God is criticized, then how much more should His servants suffer the same undue punishment (John 15:18-19)?
· And let us be careful not to get cynical or bitter. Are we guilty of criticizing God, too?
The advantage of criticism is that makes us stronger. “When somebody criticizes you in your religious life, are you big enough to accept it? Are you big enough to go ahead and do the thing that you to be right?” (Thompson, 175) Criticism gives us a chance to examine ourselves and wonder if there is an element of truth to the rebuke. It helps us recognize the fact that the world is bothered by us, and even preoccupied. Criticism gives us a chance to prove our critics wrong. And always remember that criticism is, much of the time, just the world’s response when it has no answer for the wisdom of God (Acts 17:18). Criticism helps me draw closer to God (2 Corinthians 12:10). And it puts things in to perspective – do we really care more about what the world thinks of us than what God thinks?
“How do you react when you don’t get your way? That’s a pretty good test, too” (Thompson, 176). Sometimes we do not get to do the things the way want, but does that mean it is okay to complain to God, reject His commands, or go on our own path, anyway – regardless of what God says? There are times when we have to realize that we are not God (big surprise to some people), and that there are things in this universe that we will never understand. We must learn to trust God in all things, and reject the attitude of petty, whiny self-absorption. Even good people in this world do not always get what they want. Do righteous Christians always have the best jobs, nicest homes, newest cars, healthiest children, etc? Of course not – so what makes me so different? Truly, there is not much of a leg to stand on when I complain about not getting what I want to God. Remember that Moses did not get to go to the Promised Land, Jonathan and Josiah died in battle in the prime of life, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, the child conceived from David and Bathsheba’s first child was not spared, even after intense prayer – all of these men, though righteous, could not convince God to change particular situations in their lives. So when we are tempted to become bitter, we need to ask ourselves if we are better people then the great men of the Bible?
· Even God does not get His way. Though god can do what He wills, He does not force us to be righteous. In that sense, on a daily basis, people in this world do not give God what He wants most – obedience (2 Peter 3:9).
· Next time we want to pout about how we did not get our way today, ask, “Did God get His way today?”
· In the end, the most important thing has gone our way: God sent Jesus to die for me, the sinner (Romans 5:8-9).
· When we do not get our way in marriage, in a business meeting, or in any other area of life, we need to remember that such a decision typically will not stop us from being good Christians.
· In fact, the blessing in disguise is that we get the opportunity to see how someone else’s way works. Often, we get stuck in the rut of “my way” and forget that new ideas, fresh thoughts, or innovative approaches to problems might be more efficient or effective than the way we have always dealt with them. Not getting your way can open your eyes to the possibilities of a better way!