Character is a term that most people think they understand. (I mistakenly thought I could accurately define character until recently.)Take a poll in your neighborhood and most will answer that, yes, they have character. But ask them what character is and you may be rewarded with a puzzled, blank stare. If you have a hard time defining character, you are not a dummy (despite what those books say), you are merely like 90% of the rest of us who take moral terms for granted without knowing what the heck they really mean. (I tended to embrangle character with integrity and old-fashioned charm.)
According to Elmer Towns, a specialist in church growth, character is defined as habitually doing the right thing in the right way. (An example of developing character would be keeping on track with your prayer time, despite staying up until 4 A.M. finishing a proposal for a client.) It is consistently choosing the morally right choice despite your circumstances and feelings.
You are not born with character. It is developed through the hard work of self-discipline. Being a good person does not provide you with character. Instead, character development results in habits that make you do good, and is essential for spiritual development.
Food for Thought
Mr. Towns challenges us to ponder what came first, great character or great dreams? Does the person with character seek great dreams to live for God, or does the person with great dreams seek character to live for God? Almost always, the answer is that character must come first. The natural things (character development) always precede the supernatural (spiritual development) because until a man receives revelation from God, spiritual matters are foolishness to him. (I Corinthians 2:14)
So, how is character developed? Character development occurs through perseverance, hard work, and self-discipline.
- Live outside yourself. Those with great dreams for God will develop character because they are forced to live by standards outside themselves. They will not live a selfish life, seeking only self-satisfying pursuits.
- Put forth a conscious effort to create a habit of making the right choices. Make a decision and a commitment to develop character daily.
- Use your principals to guide your every decision in life. (No more no-brainer decisions.)
- Change your attitude.
Attitude is Everything
Your personality is formed by your attitudes and grows out of your character. Contrary to popular belief, you are not born with your attitude. (You are, however, born with a temperament.) You choose your attitude in every situation. Mr. Towns reminds us we cannot determine our circumstances or control our fate, but when we have the right attitude, we get the best out of the conditions handed to us and are able to rise above our circumstances.
Emotions Vs. Character: How are You Living?
There are two basic motivators for behavior choice, emotions and character. Many people live emotionally based, often without even realizing what influenced their actions. Consider these statements about emotional living.
- You can’t determine your physical emotional response, but when you have the faith attitude, you can rise above your feelings. You cannot stop feelings, but you can keep your feelings from stopping you.
- God chooses what we will go through; you choose how you will go through it.
Learning to live according to your character takes deliberate action on your part. It requires increased mental energy, concentration, and frequent self-examination.
“Every time you make a choice, you are turning the control part of you into something a little different from what you were before. And taking your life as a whole, with all its innumerable choices, you are slowly turning the control thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish one.” – C. S. Lewis
Three Reasons Why Character Matters
Character is an important and desirable quality for three main reasons.
- People with Character will have long lasting friendships, successful marriages, satisfying vocations, and an inner happiness.
- Character development is the essential precursor to spiritual development.
- A person with character is able to carry out a decision long after the emotion is gone that first motivated the choice.
Do you display character in your business practices? Do you model character for your spouse and children? (Mr. Towns points out that character is no longer taught to children in public schools.) Take a few moments to pray and earnestly examine your level of character development.
Emotional living is widespread today, but God calls us to live separately from the norms of society. I pray that you will have the courage to work toward personal character development by actively seeking to make right choices every day.