“In the parable, the foolish virgins are represented as begging for oil, and failing to receive it at their request. This is symbolic of those who have not prepared themselves by developing a character to stand in a time of crisis. It is as if they should go to their neighbors and say, Give me your character, or I shall be lost. Those that are wise could not impart their oil to the flickering lamps of the foolish virgins. Character is not transferable. It is not to be bought or sold; it is acquired. The Lord has given to every individual an opportunity to obtain a righteous character through the hours of probation; but he has not provided a way by which one human agent may impart to another the character which he has developed by going through hard experiences, by learning lessons from the great Teacher, so that he can manifest patience under trial, and exercise faith so that he can remove mountains of impossibility.” E.G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, Jan.16,1896
Hm, character building…Some places call it character education; it’s the same thing – an effort to do exactly what Mrs. White said could not be done – impart character to another person. Some schools where I have worked try very, very hard to get the concepts of good character into the heads and hearts of their students. They put up posters; they have a character trait of the month; they have the students make posters of things that represent a particular character trait. It may work for a few students, but I haven’t seen very much success.
The biggest part of the problem, in my opinion, is that you can’t teach character without being willing/able to use the best example: Jesus.
Here are the principles of good character as listed by one character education organization:
Your character is defined by what you do, not what you say or believe. (Really? I thought what we believed it completely defined our characters.)Every choice you make helps define the kind of person you are choosing to be.
Good character requires doing the right thing, even when it is costly or risky.
You don't have to take the worst behavior of others as a standard for yourself. You can choose to be better than that.
What you do matters, and one person can make a big difference.
The payoff for having good character is that it makes you a better person and it makes the world a better place.http://www.goodcharacter.com/
I mean, those are nice and all, but compare those principles with these:
“Goodness, meekness, gentleness, patience, and love are the attributes of Christ's character. If you have the spirit of Christ, your character will be molded after His character.” E.G. White, That I May Know Him (1964), page 94.
Which list would you rather live by? Absolutely! But, but how do we get there? How do we get the spirit of Christ so our characters can be molded after His?
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2Corinthians 4:8-11
Pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down…I’m thinking that doesn’t sound like any fun at all.
I guess I have a decision to make. Do I want to be “a better person” or do I want to be like Jesus, even if it means I have to go through all that pressing, confusion, striking down and persecution stuff. OK, I lied, it’s not really much of a decision at all…I want to be like Jesus, and Paul tells me in Romans 5:3-4 how I get there. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
That’s pretty specific, isn’t it? Suffering produces character. But what is suffering? Doug Goins wrote an article/sermon called “Seeing Suffering from God’s Point of View” in which he talks about the “diversity of our suffering” and he includes job troubles, health issues, marriage difficulties, a death of a loved one, a rebellious child, unrequited love, and those are upsetting and uncomfortable situations. But are they “suffering”? Well, maybe it’s an issue of perspective. If we were coming from a third world country, we’d probably say that most of those things don’t qualify as suffering, but I’m not sure it matters.
What matters is, what is it going to take to get us to quit thinking about ourselves and look to God. C.S. Lewis said in his book, The Problem of Pain, page 91:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Do we trust God enough to let Him do whatever it takes to mold us into someone He can use? Am I willing to experience the pain of “the refiner’s fire” if it means I will be more like Jesus because of it? Do I believe it when Jesus says that He will never leave me or push me farther than I can go? Do I really, really believe that His grace is sufficient for me?
I read a story, this week about a lady names Helen Hayworth Lemmel. Does that name mean anything to you? It didn’t to me, but listen:
Helen was born into a wealthy family in England. She was a well-known songwriter. She married an English nobleman. Things looked pretty rosy for her. But then she became blind, and her husband divorced her because he didn’t want to be married to a blind person. Well, eventually she ended up in Seattle, Washington, destitute, living in a room in a home where her rent was paid by the county. But when people asked her how she was, she always answered, “I am fine in the things that count.” Helen experienced suffering, but she never let go of God’s hand. And she wrote one of my all time favorite hymns:
O soul, are you weary and troubled?No light in the darkness you see?There’s a light for a look at the Savior,And life more abundant and free!RefrainTurn your eyes upon Jesus,Look full in His wonderful face,And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,In the light of His glory and grace.Through death into life everlastingHe passed, and we follow Him there;Over us sin no more hath dominion—For more than conquerors we are!RefrainHis Word shall not fail you—He promised;Believe Him, and all will be well:Then go to a world that is dying,His perfect salvation to tell!Refrain
I’ve got one last poem to share; its author is anonymous, and you’ve probably read it before.
I asked for strength, and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.I asked for wisdom, and God gave me problems to solve.I asked for prosperity, and God gave me brawn and brain to work.I asked for courage, and God gave me dangers to overcome.I asked for patience, and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.I asked for love, and God gave me troubled people to help.I asked for favors, and God gave me opportunities.I received nothing I wanted; I received everything I needed.My prayer has been answered.