Hearts and Character

This is a blog post that I have been thinking about for a few days, but it follows on from a post I wrote a few years ago:  How to make yourself a powerful instrument  – in the hands of the devil.

It is not really that I have anything additional to add to this thinking.  It was an illustration that occurred to me, which I have very basically drawn up above. As I have said repeatedly, I have found myself on the receiving end of poor character from Christians, even from various supposed “pastors”, countless times. Till today on my relationships blog I hammer endlessly on Christlike  character as the most important characteristic for my future husband – after knowing Christ – it’s all kinda tied up together. And recently it was brought home to me just how insistent I have to be on superlative character for any kind of close interaction with anyone, or for anyone I submit to in leadership – like, for instance…a husband.  Or a pastor.  Or a cell-group leader.  And I really do mean utterly superlative. My issue thus far is that I have never been sufficiently insistent which is why I have repeatedly encountered unexciting things. I literally have to insist on someone who is striving after perfection.  Sorry if that sounds a little self-righteous.  I am utterly fed-up.

Part of the problem is that Christians expect God to do the work.  I imagine that they expect to just sit there and wait for God to magically pour forth fantastic character on their heads. And in the meantime while they are waiting for the magic to happen, they go out and it will be their existing poor character that will be expressed to the people that they interact with.

Please have a look at the image above.  This is a simple representation of what someone’s heart might look like except that there might be lots and lots and lots of different aspects of character in addition to the ones depicted; for instance, humility, telling yourself the truth etc.
Now please observe the arrows on the image.  They represent the difference between where someone “scores” on that particular characteristic, and 100% in their particular capacity in that characteristic.  Now here it is:  each coloured barchart block represents what someone has “attained” in each of those characteristics. However each arrow represents what is yet to be attained regarding love, patience, integrity etc and in practical terms, each arrow represents the part of your capacity for love that has not been given over to God and the potential for the devil to come in and use you in that particular characteristic.  Now because we are all unique in our relationships with God and with what we have attained with God, each person’s barchart will vary from the next person’s.  But this is sincerely how it looks like, and it really is this simple. Some people might think that adding to one characteristic like “humility” might immediately detract from another characteristic like “wisdom”.  However that is not true.  If these are Christlike characteristics then they do not detract from one another.  Rather the aim is to achieve 100% in each one.  The closer we will get to 100% in each of these characteristics then the closer we will get to being like Jesus.

As Christians we should be striving after 100% in everything regarding Christlike character. And here is the thing:  it is up to us as Christians to strive after this.  It is up to us to acknowledge where we are, bring our hearts to God, perhaps draw a rudimentary bar chart of our various characteristics, and say “God, this is where I am at.  Please help me get to 100%.  Please teach me how to do whatever it takes to attain phenomenal love, patience, kindness, forgiveness etc.” Or they could take the Bible, see the standards of character that are expressed there, and ask God for help in getting to those standards. Or they could bring their hearts before the Holy Spirit, and ask the Holy Spirit to instruct them in what they need to work on.  Ideally all of the above!

But as I say many Christians apparently do not realise that the responsibility for their character lies directly with them, and that they need to take the initiative to pursue Christlike character aggressively. God has already given us everything that we need.  We need to apply it.  So many many Christians go around with their extremely poor character, and they also have extremely high potential for the devil to use them; whether that is in demonstrating very poor integrity, or lying flagrantly, or acting with hatefulness or extreme malice.  Either they don’t know, or they don’t care that it is the devil behind this behaviour. And I have experienced all these things from supposed Christians.  Man, it is so much fun! Sincerely the fun never, ever ends! So in short the extent to which you have not given your heart to God in a certain area is the extent to which the devil can and will come in to use you.  You might not understand why you have an instant dislike to me, but I can tell you straight away. I sincerely stand for Christ. This is why the devil wants to pull me down.  He will use whatever instrument is available to him in whichever environment.  And if you have made yourself readily available to him in having a heart that has not worked hard enough to get rid of malice, then he will happily use you to pull down me, or any other person who is standing strongly for Christ.  Simple! And because you refuse to tell yourself the truth about the motivations of your heart you cannot even acknowledge it even as it is happening in real time but you will somehow try to foist the blame onto me and make it out that it is my fault. Man, I could so name names at this point!

Here’s another thing:  it honestly does not matter what people call themselves, or what title they may have attained with other people. It does not matter whether you call yourself a Christian – or not, or a pastor – or not. What makes a tangible difference, in real terms to the people that surround you, is the sincerity with which you aggressively pursue Christ, and tell yourself the truth about all the weird inclinations and motivations that are occurring in your heart, and deal with things appropriately.  And please, please believe me when I tell you this:  when you meet someone who is truly pursuing Christlikeness with all their effort and God-given empowerment, they are an absolute delight to be around.  Imagine, someone who tells the truth, and is not secretly wishing to pull you down, or see you fail, but is full of sincere encouragement. Someone who is full of kindness, and genuinely wants you to attain the very best you can. Is this the kind of friendship that you would turn down?!  This is the kind of friend – and wife! – that I am striving to be.

We have to  keep striving. Here’s yet another thing. Just because we attain a certain level in a certain characteristic does not mean that we can ever sit back and rest on our laurels; rather we have to keep striving, we have to keep pushing to maintain our standards all the time. This is because the devil is constantly trying to come in to pull us down from the amazing heights we have attained in Christlikeness. This is where all those crazy thoughts come in. And it happens All. The. Time. The devil never, ever rests. And we are going to keep facing this until we finally get to heaven.  This is why it is so possible that someone could be standing really strongly for Christ one day, and then a few years later, you hear about them, and they don’t even identify with Christ any more. We have to be vigilant, and we have to be aware of the big fight that we face and we have to arm ourselves accordingly.

And this is why I am so insanely careful about getting married. This is why I declare so often that “I would rather be single”.  Candidly, I neither need nor want a man who is going to be constantly used by the devil to constantly attack me.  Rather I have to insist for my own peace of mind on someone who is literally striving after God with literally everything he has, literally a thousand percent of his energy. And I also have to do everything I possibly can to make sure that I marry someone who will not only be striving hard now but will still be striving hard in ten years time.

Man, I cannot stand to hear people make excuses.  You own a Bible?  Then deal with it!  No excuses! “Well Tosin, you know I’m not perfect!”  No but you should be sincerely aspiring after it!  “Well Tosin, you’re not perfect!”  No, but to be perfectly candid I am sincerely striving.  I aim to give you the absolute utmost of my character, as I aim to give everyone.

Oh man, I got to the end of this post and I even nearly forgot to make this point:  sometimes striving after power and position and leadership and recognition in the church can itself be an expression of poor character – this is true in the church and I’m sure it is true everywhere.  Wanting to be the boss, wanting to be in charge, wanting to be the one to call the shots and tell everyone else what to do. And, of course, making sure that everyone knows that you’re the boss! And in the church, as anywhere else, many people want to attain position without actually being genuinely qualified.  This is why you will often find people who have somehow managed to wrangle themselves into some kind of leadership position in the church, without having the adequate Christlike character to back up or justify that position.  So sometimes, so very many times, it is actually more likely if someone is a pastor, or in some kind of leadership, that their character would be appalling, than if they were not in that leadership position.  And then on meeting them, they would be all about asserting their position and the fact that “they are the boss”, without actually expressing a corresponding level of Christlikeness, because in truth there is no Christlikeness to express. Once again, I could so name names! And this is what, in my experience, the overwhelming majority of the Church looks like. This is one reason why it so strongly annoys me when people pour forth platitudes like “there’s no such thing as a perfect church!”, meaning that you should essentially put up with whatever claims to be a church that happens to be on your doorstep. This is also how people will often say “there is no such thing as a perfect man!” No, but unless the church is utterly outstanding and/or the man is utterly outstanding, I am having absolutely nothing to do with either of them!

Here is a list of further characteristics, and what attainment in each characteristic might look like. And these are real issues that we encounter on an everyday basis.

Characteristic Name What 100% attainment
might look like 
What 50% attainment
might look like 
How the devil could
use someone at 50% attainment
Racism (yes baby, let’s go there!)  Treating everyone exactly the same, as if everyone had exactly the same inherent value, not acting as if someone’s skills, talents or attributes might in any way be defined or limited by their ethnicity or skin colour. THIS IS WHAT JESUS IS LIKE! Yes to the seeming amazement of many supposed Christians, Jesus is not racist! The Bible is not racist. God is not racist. The more like Jesus you are, then the less racist you will be! Perhaps acting like people from other ethnicities are “allowed” to become Christians, but simultaneously also acting as if your ethnicity (or skin colour) somehow has a monopoly on God, or that God looks like someone from your ethnicity. Unless you are ethnically Jewish, then that is simply not true. Acting as if people from some ethnicities are inherently worth less than people from other ethnicities, or are inherently less capable. Acting as if people from some ethnicities can simply not understand God or the Bible and consequently cannot explain Christian understanding because of the supposed intellectual inferiority of their ethnicity. Even though God, the Bible, Jesus are all completely anti-racist, this kind of thinking is so rampant among supposed Christians it is breathtaking Perhaps by oh-so-subtly throwing ugly insinuations at people from other ethnicities who visit your church. Acting like people are inferior because they do not belong to your ethnicity. Magically acting like you cannot hear what people from other ethnicities have to say, or acting as if their contributions are automatically insignificant. But mysteriously still bending over backwards to fill your churches with these supposedly inferior ethnicities, and being more than happy to take their money/their hours of volunteering
Sexism – yep another big one!  Once again, Jesus is not sexist. To me 100% attainment in this looks like recognising that women as well as men are called to be powerful in Christ and in the work of Christ. Allowing a woman to express her talents in a way that is not restricted by her gender; not restricting women to serving or hospitality or childcare roles in the church. Which also means allowing some men to take on these “traditionally female” roles too. Nurturing the talents of women who step forward in leadership, rather than trying to quash them  Perhaps allowing women to be visible in the church. Perhaps even allowing some to be prominent in leadership. And yet, having this as the exception rather than the rule. Somehow seeming to shunt women into roles that are typically, traditionally “female”, rather than accurate expressions of their God-given talents and gifts. Once again this happens in churches all the time Using gender as an excuse to restrict the progress of a woman, especially one who is quite manifestly more spiritually committed, more experienced and more abundant in spiritual gifts than you are.  And yet, as above, being more than happy to use the efforts of these women for free to promote your own dreams and goals, sometimes without acknowledging their input
 Sexual Purity

Jesus is an expression of 100% sexual purity.  Being like Jesus does not mean that you don’t like sex.  Rather it means that you strive to demonstrate integrity and purity in your sexual dealings.  This means not lusting after someone who is not your spouse; being completely faithful to your spouse in your mind and your heart, not seeking to use someone merely to gratify your sexual yearnings without respecting them as a human being and respecting their own wishes.  You work to empower and delight your sexual partner, rather than demean them or humiliate them

 

Perhaps being largely faithful to your spouse, but sometimes allowing your eyes, and mind, to wander. Perhaps sometimes succumbing to the temptation of pornography, which exploits the actors and actresses involved, many of whom are forced into this kind of work against their will.  Or perhaps, like me, you’re more about reading illicit erotic literature   Perhaps the devil could tempt you to flirt with someone who is not your spouse.  Perhaps, regrettably, it might go beyond flirting.  Even if no-one ever finds out, it might, irrationally, cause you to distrust your spouse.  If it does come out into the open, it might strongly impact on your family, leading to a break-up, causing strong emotional damage to your children, sometimes for generations.
If you’re single like me, then the temptation might be to flirt with someone without knowing whether he truly is available or not; sometimes “Christian” women go right ahead and even sleep not only with men that they themselves are not married to, but even men that they fully know to be already married to other women. Obviously this could cause the marriages to break up, and cause great pain and damage to everyone involved in that marriage and family – as well as yourself
Controlling your ego  Controlling your ego does not mean being a doormat. Controlling your ego does not mean failing to acknowledge who you are. For instance, if you are the tennis champion of the world, then telling people you are the tennis champion of the world is not in and of itself an expression of ego. For instance Jesus told people that He was the Son of God and that He was the only way to God – because He was, and is. Attaining 100% in controlling your ego means that you can acknowledge these things about yourself, and yet not act as if you are somehow inherently worth more than other people. Whatever we have we have we have received from God. Every skill, every talent, even the ability to press in to God – is all a free gift from God. So it is not an expression of our own merit. 50% attainment in this might look like this: on the outside maintaining a humble façade, but on the inside, within ourselves, allowing ourselves to brag about our “superiority” to other people  Perhaps no-one might ever know about your internal brags because you are so good at hiding them. However, when you can, you stand in the way of other people attaining certain positions. You might be good at thinking up plausible-sounding reasons to deceive everyone around you – even yourself to a certain extent, however at heart it will be caused by your own desire to assert superiority over other people 
Wisdom  100% attainment in wisdom will be 100% wise. Always doing the right thing for the right reasons, allowing yourself to be influenced by what is true, rather than your feelings or your ego. The Bible teaches us that wisdom is gentle and speaks gently and kindly. Wisdom looks towards the long-term gain rather than short term profits. Wisdom takes the time to painstakingly build her house (life, marriage etc) upon a rock, rather than building something quick but flimsy on sand. While in the Bible Wisdom is personified as female (Proverbs 8), Jesus is definitely the embodiment of 100% wisdom!   50% attainment in wisdom might be mostly wise, but sometimes reflecting angrily on a situation, allow yourself to be moved by a desire for a vengeance. Or some other motivation that you know to be wrong. And then you might rationalise it to yourself: “Well I know that this is not the best reason to take this course of action but – everyone else is doing it – it’s really not a big deal – it will be great for a laugh (delete as appropriate!)  The devil might tempt someone to take a big decision that flies flagrantly in the face of common sense or reason, so that everyone watching will be thinking “how could a thinking person do this?!” However, wisdom is not necessarily validated by what everyone else thinks. Sometimes the things and the decisions that God calls us to do might seem extremely irrational to everyone looking on but will be validated in the long run. As Jesus Himself says in the Bible “[but] wisdom is justified by her children.” Who on earth today would dare to claim that Jesus was anything other than extremely wise? And yet when He was actually walking the earth, many people considered Him crazy. In the long run, He and His teachings and His words have been validated countless times over. Perhaps the devil might also tempt someone in a prominent position of authority to take a careless decision that will have a huge impact on many people’s lives  

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