Lecture 3: Character Ladder (Part 2)
The Christian life is not about you changing who you used to be into who you ought to be. It’s about maturing into who God says you are. You are designed by God to make a difference in a world that is trapped in sin. Your character is formed in relationship. Your influence is dependent on whether you are able to learn to receive from God power and authority or whether you try to get it on your own. Suffering for the benefit of others is the only way to move into God’s destiny for you Rungs four and five on the Character Ladder move you through Godly suffering and into the dreams and destiny that God has prepared for you.
1. The Rung of Suffering
As we continue to progress up the character letter, we have talked about the relationship between humility, submission and obedience. Now I would like to talk about the rung of suffering. But I want to do this in the context of the process itself producing a maturity in us so we can understand the significance of the suffering. We all suffer for a variety of reasons, rooted in the sins of humanity, diseases accordingly; we suffer for the sins in our own lives. We suffer for the sins of others against us. All of that suffering is a very important subject, but not necessarily the one I want to focus on today. Today, I want to talk about the suffering that is unique to the Christian, but what I have just described above is experienced by everyone, all people including the Christian. In 1st Peter 2:20 says for what credit is it if when you sin and you are beaten for it; you endure it, but when you do good and suffer for it, you endure; this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this, you have been called; for Christ also suffered for you and leaving you with an example so that you may follow in his steps. I will read a little more then come back and share some thoughts on this kind of suffering. Verse 13 of chapter 3 says now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ, the Lord as holy, always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet, do it with gentleness and respect having a good conscience so that when you are slandered; those who avow your good behavior in Christ, they may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. In one last portion in 1st Peter 4:12, brother be loved; don’t be surprised that the fiery trial that comes upon you to test you as if something strange is happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory in Christ rests upon you.
a. Loss of God’s Process in Your Life
This is fairly strong language. Significantly in our culture in America, people avoid suffering mostly. And in the process, we lose the essence of God’s process to our destiny and exaltation he has for the humble. I want to talk about it in this sense; I, as a Christian having the unique role, so to speak, in the purposes of God on this earth while I am still here and while his Holy Spirit is still here. Like our Lord Jesus, we, who are doing good, suffer for the good that we do, just like Jesus did. And most of us are in Christian cultures and environments and homes and churches where the avoidance of anything that feels like suffering or conflict is like a life goal. We probably need a better understanding of the Scriptures. I want to talk about the mature here which are those who suffer for the benefit of others so that those others can grow in their faith, in fact they are able to grow up. You see, the Christian life is not about me changing who I used to be into who I ought to be. It is about me maturing out of and into who God says I am. And in do that, you and I are designed of God today to make a difference in this world that we know Biblically is trapped in sin, under the power and authority of Satan. And for many Christians, there is an avoidance theology in regards to this. If I don’t go into those hard places, I won’t suffer. Well, let’s talk about that. I mentioned the work of maturity. In our work with leaders, we are discovering that it is often the immaturity of the inter-leader which is the source of their greatest conflicts. You see, immature leaders are living with an incredible amount of unresolved life issues. When a leader is living with unresolved issues, that leader isn’t growing up; they are immature. They live in the avoidance of conflict. They can preach a message but their life is in denial of the message they preach.
b. Loss of Objectivity in a Crisis
Immature leaders lose something significantly critical to leadership; they lose their objectivity in a crisis. They become the issue in a crisis. Some of you have lived as such leaders. Some of you tragically are such leaders now. You can’t quite seem to figure it out; it is immaturity. It means that I do not trust who God says I am and I am masking my reality in the name of knowing this book and what it teaches. But people live in the influence of your immaturity. I mentioned to you about a parenting class book that we are working on. Part of it is to help parents understand that a great detriment to the nurturing of a child is the immaturity of the parent. Many conflicts in the home with teenagers are not because the kid is being a teenager; it is because the parent doesn’t have the maturity to handle the kid as a teenager. You can apply this to all kinds of walks of life where leaders are immature. Well, you ask, what does that have to do with suffering? It has to do with the basic understanding that those who are mature are able to take risks for the benefit of others. Paul, throughout the New Testament, in the letters that he wrote, talks about the risks that he took for the benefit of others. He was mature; in fact he said that I may know him in the fellowship of his suffering. It is the result of my humbling before God, choosing to love, teaching truth and to provide guidance for others. And like Jesus, he promises us this, the world will not love us for what we are doing. They hated him and he said that the world will hate us also. So what have we done? A majority of Christians have created a way of defending themselves against the world’s influence because they have lost confidence that in fact, God wants them to be the influence for the benefit of the world. I’m sitting here, saying to you and I’m listening to a lot of a lot of voices today as I talk about leadership. I realize how few people are willing to really sit with others and ask a very critical question. If you are a leader, I want you to sit with your family and those you influence and ask how you are affecting them. If my influence on your life is good or is my influence on your life something that you can’t tell because of the way I’m hurting you?
c. Loss of Benefit to God’s Kingdom
The mature can ask that question and in asking it, they can receive the answer with integrity about what they are affecting. I was recently in Asia teaching some leaders and we got to this point in the teaching, talking about maturity and the effect we have on others. They paused in their questions to say to me, but this doesn’t feel comfortable to us. In our culture, we don’t ever get to ask somebody how they are affecting us. We don’t want to shame them. I understand that and I accept that as a possible cultural reality, but I would rather have us to look at it as a Biblical reality. So, being a Biblical reality, I want to have us think about it this way, instead; do I now understand that my character is at risk when I choose not to trust? Do I understand that my character is at risk when I choose to not let you influence me? Do I understand that my character is at risk when I choose not act upon your influence as obedience? What do I mean with my character being at risk? It means that I’m not going to grow up; I’m going to be immature and in that immaturity I will not be able to influence others for the benefit of the kingdom. Well, how will I know that I’m maturing? Because I would be willing to take risks for their benefit even though for me, it might be suffering. But, who lives like that? Jesus lived like that and Paul lived like that and other Christians throughout history. So, one more time, the avoidance of suffering is not a Biblical solution for our maturity. A willingness of someone who stands in the gap for the benefit of others is in fact God’s intention for our lives. So be careful how you weigh suffering; never measure it by the things that are lost, because you suffer. You know the verse, seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you.
Measure suffering by the benefit of others because of your decision, trust God with who you are for their sake and the promises. You may suffer and if you do, trust God with the consequence of that suffering. Don’t play the second game; I’m will to endure because I know that I am going to end up with the blessing of God. Well, maybe down on this earth, someday, for sure, but maybe not on this earth. This is hard teachings, but it is critical teaching to those who are going to be effective. I want to sum this all up so far on the ladder by saying; nothing is more critical for you as a leader and nothing is more critical for me as a leader. The most significant influence of my life comes out of who I am; never out of what I do.
2. The Rung of Destiny
We are now at the top of the character ladder. We have written the word destiny; it is also this principle of exhortation. God exalts the humble. The humble are the ones who trust God and God puts us into a unique place; this unique place is designed by God for us. I have no idea what anyone else’s destiny is and I don’t even try to project that. I have noticed that lots of people seem to be satisfied with a life that to me appears to be so much less than what could have been if only they had chosen to trust God with their destiny. I’m one of those people that soon after becoming a Christian; I had this sense of destiny. I couldn’t put words to it, neither could I put meaning to it, but I had this deep sense that God some day and somehow and in some way was going to give me the opportunity to be used by him for somethings that really mattered. In fact, when I became a Christian, my older brother Al lead me to Christ and I remember even in that prayer of salvation, I was seventeen and I don’t want to sound arrogant here, but I had gone to high school and realized that the few kids I knew who were Christians seemed to be so out of touch with reality. I remembered, even in my salvation prayer, I remember praying, I’m inviting the God of the universe into my life. I just know that it has to make a difference; I trust you Jesus that you are God. I remember those words and I remember a kind of awareness in my person that God was going to do something in my life. When I was in Bible College, the secretary to the president called me into her office one day. I went in wondering what I had done wrong. She said to me, Bill, I just have this sense about you that God wants to do something in your life. So I’m going to make a commitment to you; I’m going to pray every day for you for the remainder of my life. So, this dear lady prayed for this man for forty years, every day. I don’t pray for myself every day. It had a profound effect on my life’s choices because I knew that she was praying for me.
a. What are God’s Dreams for You?
God’s goal for us is never just our healing which in itself is profound; not just our safety or receiving multiple benefits. His goal is for us to fit into the dreams he has for our lives, our destiny. Can you imagine that reality? God dreams for you; he has plans for you. Remember my story about this young leader who had sold his business and was now imagining what he was going to do for God. I told him to pray about hearing what God wanted to do through him. I also said that our lives pass through certain transitions; they just do and in our transitions it is a really good time for deep evaluations. I want to say this in three simple areas: in every transition, I would say to a leader, measure carefully who you are today. If you are married, have the wife and/or husband and three of your closest friends who know you the best to sit with you and help you understand who you are today. Secondly, I say to these leaders, like this thirty year old; I ask them what their passion was. What is the real passion of your life, of your heart? Do you have a sense of calling in your life? Is there a sense of destiny in your spirit? Do you really want to have an influence for God’s kingdom in this world? What is it, write it down and share it with others, your closest friends, and see if they agree. I was doing this with a leader who had his daughter with him; she was in her late twenties and she was part of the group which is had gathered. He went through the process of declaring who he was and there was a real consensus. Then he started reading what he thought his passion was and his daughter interrupted him. She said, ‘dad, why are you saying this? It is not who you are.’ She was really saying that this wasn’t his passion. She said, ‘Dad that just sounds like a job description.’ She then started listing points in his passion. He stopped, frozen and replied, ‘yeah, you are right. I didn’t think I had permission to really talk about the deep passion of my heart.’
b. What is the Passion of God in Your Heart?
When we are clear about who we are and what our passion is, then the next portion of our lives can be lived in our destiny and influence. If I don’t know what the first two are, I will not be able to find a third. A key point, if I am not sure about who I am, if I’m not sure about the passion God has put into my heart, then there is a good chance that as a Christian I will become a victim to circumstances and the opportunities in them. Let me say that again, if I am not sure and I haven’t really pondered what the great passion of my heart is, I will become a victim to the opportunities and circumstances around me. Every significant transition needs to be made, not out of the opportunities and circumstances but out of the conviction of the heart in those circumstances. That will clarify our destiny. Without that, we will be victims. This is an interesting thought; Satan came to tempt Jesus and one of temptations he said to Jesus, ‘I will grant you every kingdom of the world because they are mine to grant.’And Jesus said, ‘thou shall worship the Lord your God.’ How many Christian leaders have been seduced by opportunity at the expense of their destiny?
So this whole process in the character ladder is a process of experiencing grace. Grace is experienced in relationships. Character is formed in relationships; my character is formed in relationships, not formed in isolation. It is because it is in grace that we learn to trust and wait upon God. It is in grace that we begin to mature out of who he says we are and it is in grace that we begin to be willing to make choices for the benefit of others that we will grow up and begin to experience and influence way beyond anything we could have dreamed of. We know it but I also love to say it, God is an incredible steward of his assets. He loves to put us into places where we have an influence for him in the kingdom. In the American culture, the church has never had less influence on our culture than we have today, ever. Part of that reality is that we are trapped in the body of Christ in trying to do something in the world by being like the world. What a nonsensical puzzle. Our influence, mine and yours, is dependent on whether I am able to learn to receive from God power and authority or whether I pursue that. The world has a lot of principles and tools as opportunities in which we can pursue power, but our jobs is to lift our hands up and say God, what is it that you would have me to do? My destiny in my opinion is directly tied to my maturity. My maturity is directly tied to my understanding of the reality of the nurturing of my character to these principles that we have been sharing.