Ways to Grow in Character
by Raimer Rojas
As we seek to follow God wholeheartedly and be used by Him to impact lives, we must intentionally seek to grow in these areas: We must grow in...
1. Intimacy with God
Intimacy is about spending time with God without using it just to prepare for ministry or without just being limited to a specific time and place. We must cultivate a posture that becomes more and more in tune with the Presence of God in our lives at all times, and in every place at which we find ourselves.
- "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5 ESV)
- "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NIV)
2. Love and Value for the Word of God
We must truly demonstrate this love and value we proclaim we have for the Word of God by actually reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, praying the Scriptures, and acting in obedience to it. Anything less is lip-service. It's the Scriptures that contain God's revelation to mankind, His plan, and His wisdom. To truly love God is to truly love His Word. If you want to be a person who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit, you must know and love His Word. Only then can you be grounded in His truth to come to know Him better, and not be swept away by waves of twisted lies from the enemy.
- "We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency, and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior." - John Stott
- "We need to encourage... believers to feed on God's Word - it is nourishment for the soul." - Billy Graham
- "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
3. Getting in Touch with the Heart of God
We must sow into a heart of compassion, which comes through practice/action and with understanding from really listening, especially through loving the more challenging cases - “the least, the lost, and the last." These can challenge us to align with God’s heart for how He sees people and wants to minister to them.
- “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” - Matthew 9:36 NIV
4. Recognizing and Embracing God’s Timing
We must learn to have eyes and ears for His timing, outside of the pull of our own desires, concerns, and our longing for expediency - for things to move quickly. We must understand there is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and must have our spiritual antennas receptive to what God is doing.
- "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
5. Being Led by the Spirit and not Just by Biblical Principles
We must grow in sensitivity to His Spirit, stepping out in obedience into what we hear, to grow in our understanding, often through trial and error, in how God is personally speaking to each of us. Nothing can take you deeper into His ways than growing in sensing the leadings of His Spirit and with obedience through faith, as we step into His will. Earthly wisdom and experience, even a solid grasp of Biblical knowledge and Biblical principles cannot take you fully there. Specifics to the situation and God’s timings come from His Spirit, and will not be found in Scripture. Don't get me wrong, Biblical principles will point and keep you on God's road but they, in itself, are unable to lead you into specifics of God's will. You have to grow in hearing God for yourself, to be lead by His Spirit.
- "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." (Galatians 5:16-17 NIV)
- "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." (Galatians 5:25-26 NIV)
6. Setting Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries for self-care, to spend time with and care for family and close ones, and for helping and serving people (without being manipulated into their own expectations and plans) will keep you from burn-out, and from stepping out of God’s will. Without the ability to set healthy boundaries you will be prime target for the enemy. Jesus often walked away from the masses when He sensed their manipulating expectations and pressure, and also when He just needed to spend time with the Father by Himself. He made no excuses for this. "Personal boundaries help to limit our selfish inclination to control or manipulate others. Likewise, boundaries protect us from those who have no self-control and who wish to control us. A person with clear, healthy boundaries communicates to others what is and is not permissible, saying, in effect, “This is my jurisdiction, and you have no right to interfere.” (quotes from Got Questions?)
- "Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (John 2:23-25 NIV)
- "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, 'This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!' Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself." (John 6:14-15)
- "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)
- "You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4 ESV)
7. Learning the Balance Between Being vs. Doing
Doing generally deals with tangible things like activities and accomplishments. This performance orientation can be easily measurable. Being, on the other hand, has to do with character. These are intangible things that have to do with who we become on the inside (who we are). These can't be easily measured, but are the fruit that come forth over time. Kenneth Boa says it best, "The world defines who we are by what we do, but the Word centers on who we are in Christ and tells us to express that new identity in what we do. Being and doing are interrelated, but the Biblical order is critical: What we do should flow out of who we are, not the other way around. Otherwise our worth and identity are determined by achievements and accomplishments, and when we stop performing we cease to be valuable."
- DOING - "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him... Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:17,23)
- BEING - "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15) - “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit." (Luke 6:43) - "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45)
- See also the story, Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha
8. Learning to Trust in God’s Sovereignty and Providence as He Works in Our Lives and in the Lives of Others
God is sovereign, He is in control of everything over His creation (Positionally > Who He is. It is an attribute of God, pertaining to His authority to rule and control), and in His Providence He sustains the world, where all things are ordered and regulated by God towards His purpose (Action > What He does. It is the outworkings of that sovereignty). Because He is so and does so, we must give up the need to always be in control of things. When we try to control things by our own means and limited understanding we easily end up trying to manipulate situations and people to get the results we so desire. We may even end up working against what God is doing, without knowing it.
- "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
9. Endurance and Stamina for the Mission and Call on Your Life
You will need endurance and stamina for the purposes God calls you into, so we can’t wait till we are fully in leadership to start growing in these qualities. It starts now. We can embrace the challenges we face in life as powerful means to grow in endurance. We must take our commitments seriously, especially to ministry in the church and service/outreach outside the church. As we are faithful to carry our our duties over time with diligence and a thankful spirit, we will grow in stamina. If you want to run a marathon you have to train for a marathon and not a 1-mile run. This focus will lead to greater impact and a change in your diet, the length and and regularity of practice times, and the laying down of other fun things you do to make time for the serious things you long to accomplish. Likewise, we must do the same in preparation to fight for the dreams and call we sense God has for us.
- Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)
- "...but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
- Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT)
10. Cultivating a Learner’s Posture, as a Lifetime Lifestyle
We cultivate a learner's posture through humility and self-reflection, and through seeking input and feedback from others, especially from those who have demonstrated an obedient, faithful life to what God calls us to be and do.
- "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NLT)
11. Loving Others by Practicing it through Action
As we love and sow into people’s lives over time we will enlarge our paradigm for the way people are. Each experience will challenge our preset biases, prejudices, and limited understandings, and will force us to change in order to enlarge our hearts.
- "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:15-18 NIV)
- "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV)
12. Learning to Carry the Burdens of Others
We tend to be good at taking care of ourselves by getting others to bear our burdens, but we must grow in caring for others, helping to bear their burdens, and fighting for their healing, restoration, both through prayer and through tangible action.
- "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2 NIV)
- "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
- "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else." (1 Thessalonians 5:15 NIV)
- "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other." (1 Thessalonians 4:9 NIV)
13. Developing a Servant's Heart by Stepping into Commitments that Carry Responsibility in the Body of Christ
We must prove ourselves trustworthy, faithful servants of God and of His church, the Body of Christ, over time. I am not talking about general goodwill feelings about the church universal (that is a start), but about a true commitment to a local body of believers. This is not just about attending a church service, but about being involved, sowing into the church and its people. Christ died for the church, keeps loving on the church and will come back for the church (see Ephesians 5:22-30). How are you doing in loving the Body of Christ, serving in it, and adding to its growth and maturity?
- "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48b & Like 16:10NIV)
- "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'" (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
- "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:11-14 NIV)
14. Obedience is Better than Doing Good Things for God
There is a way in which we can fool ourselves into thinking we are impressing God with our good works. We have preset ideas of what God likes and we carry those out. By doing "good things" for God we are in a sense gaining independence from God. If we do good things for Him, we may be unconsciously thinking He will be indebted to us; He will owe us something. We can "demand our goodies from God, but we retain our right to do what we want with our lives... This is the attitude of sacrifice that [King] Saul personified." (Ben Sternke) But in His Word, God has made it clear that doing those things and not really staying connected to Him to hear what He is truly asking of us, is just not pleasing to Him. He is a person to relate to and grow in intimacy with. And He has made it clear that obedience is key. "Obedience... is the response of someone who is in a relationship of trust with God. We trust God, we depend on Him, we are interactive with Him, but He takes the lead." (Ben Sternke)
- "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)
- "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)
- Samuel replied [to King Saul]: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
- “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’" (Jeremiah 7:21-26)
- "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:6-8)
- “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone." (Luke 11:42)
- A woman once said to me [her pastor], upon realizing the gospel for the first time, "I know why I want my morality to save me. If I’m saved by my good works, then like a taxpayer, I have rights. I’ve paid into the system and God owes me a good and decent life. And there is a limit to what the Father can ask of me. But if I’m saved by sheer grace, then my life belongs entirely to the Father, he owes me nothing and there is no limit to what he can ask of me.” (Tim Keller)
- "The life of sacrifice is a life of demanding my rights and living as I wish. The life of obedience, though, is a response to God’s gracious invitation and is lived as an upward spiral of dependence and intimacy. This is why Jesus didn’t say, 'If you love me, sacrifice for me.' Instead he said, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.' This kind of obedience (as a response to divine love) always leads to intimacy and dependence. This is why obedience is better than sacrifice." (Ben Sternke)
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:21-23)
- So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing..." (John 5:19-20a NLT)