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Character Counts

Brian Regan does a brilliant comedy piece about a dinner party where the main character is a loud-mouth braggart he calls the ME MONSTER. He has to be the center of attention, one-up every story, and have all eyes on him. Meanwhile, there’s a guy on the other side of the room. He minds his own business, quietly eats his meal, and when the ME MONSTER takes a long enough pause in boasting, the other man looks up from his plate, and quietly mentions an accomplishment, and goes back to his meal. The accomplishment is so monumental, every school child learns about it in their history lessons. This shuts the ME MONSTER up. I don’t want to give away the punch line, but the scene is hilarious, common, and personally convicting. Here’s the link.

Let’s get this out of the way early: We all want to be number one. This feeds the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We want what we can’t have, but we want what we want, and, if we don’t let God shape our character, we’ll start to think we’re entitled. If, when God by His Spirit convicts us, we ignore Him, we’ll start to manipulate circumstances and start taking what we should never have.

When sensing God’s call to ministry, there’s no doubt you’re thankful for what God has done in your life when He saved you. You have compassion for people’s souls, and you love – and are skilled at – sharing God’s Word. But there’s a darker side of us that hopes ministry is the key to living at a higher standard of living than everyone else. This can be especially true once you’ve tasted living as an American on the mission field. You’re put on a pedestal. People are more gracious, respectful, and polite than you’ve ever experienced. This is what you discover as you grow in ministry and God increases your influence.

But you are no different than anyone else. 1 Corinthians 10 says we are all tempted the same. We have common temptations. We crave common sins that contain the powerful potential shape our thinking and behavior. If left unchecked, sin takes on a life of its own and drives us toward what we think we deserve rather than what pleases God.

Every mission or ministry leader has hidden character deficiencies. Some we have self-awareness about, while others are yet to surface. God puts people’s character to the test to expose what lurks beneath the surface. He exposes it. He names it. And then He provides an environment for a godly response. God’s purpose for this kind of character testing is to show us areas of weakness in our own personality. There are two ways we can act:

  1. With patience, calling on God’s grace.
  2. Indulgence, postponing the access of God’s grace to a yet to be determined future date.

Both actions are habit forming.

Eli and Samuel

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to Eli and Samuel. Eli had been in ministry for a long time when Samuel begins to serve him in the tabernacle as a small boy.

Eli

God allowed Eli to continue to minister publicly for years even though he allowed his corrupt sons to abuse their priestly role to feed their own sensual appetites and greed. They took advantage, profited from, and exploited people who were seriously trying to worship and obey God. These men, as priests of the Most High God had a role to play: represent God to men on earth and represent the needs of men to God in Heaven. The priest is a bridge between God and man. But Eli’s sons, instead of being a bridge, made themselves toll-takers. And Eli, as senior priest and family patriarch, never disciplined his sons. Even worse: he never removed them from the roles. They disqualified themselves while Eli sat on his hands.

This turns people off from living for God. While the Lord is patient, He does not tolerate sin the way men do. Character counts.

Samuel

Samuel is regarded as the last and greatest of the judges and the first of the prophets (Acts 13:20 and 3:24). He was born into a generation that was straying from God. Eli, who held the highest spiritual position, had grown physically and spiritually dull, and the light of the tabernacle was fading (1 Samuel 2:27-36 and 3:1-3).

God had plans for Samuel; He was grooming him – beginning from childhood – to be the leader of Israel’s spiritual and secular affairs. Though he was young and surrounded by corruption, Samuel worshipped God and kept himself from sin. Just like any one of us, he could have fallen into sin following the example of Eli’s sons, but he chose not to. He took the training Eli gave him (to Eli’s credit) very seriously. Samuel was introduced early to the God who wants to work in and through our lives to reach men, and Samuel, in public ministry, observed every bit of what was expected of a Man of God. He performed priestly duties while serving unflinching as a prophet. He didn’t seek the approval of men – not even kings. He did and said what God showed him to do and say both privately and publicly – no matter how controversial or publicly unpalatable. He spoke God’s words to kings, even when the message dishonored the king.

Samuel’s strength of character changed the spiritual climate. God worked through Samuel and he was able to speak into the lives of men with true faith and show them how big God’s plans for Israel were. Young David was impacted tremendously by the faithful character of Samuel, and, in a generation, new light shone fresh in Israel.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, “God’s power and human power are not only not the same thing; often the second has to be knocked out of the way altogether for the first to shine through as God desires and intends.”

When character is put to the test what or who do we model? The world? Or Jesus? Whichever one it is, it’s habit forming.

Accountability

The late Howard Hendrix said that every Christian needs to have three people in their lives at all times: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

  • You need a mentor, someone you can learn from; someone to remind you that you have a ways to grow.
  • You need a brother that knows you inside and out; someone you can trust and count on to tell you like it is.
  • You need to have someone you are mentoring, teaching, setting an example for.

All three of the above provide a mechanism of accountability while providing a track for growth and development of character. This reminds you that you are not self-made; God is the One building your ministry and guiding your mission.

photo by Andre Mouton

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