You’ve probably heard it said that 90% of an iceberg is below the surface of the water. Character is the same way. It may not always be seen, but it reveals itself when you bump into it. Unfortunately, some leaders have very little below the surface because they’re enamored by doing more than being. Ruth Barton captured it best when she said, “We set young leaders up for a fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before they consider the kind of person they should be.” So how do you develop character that will sustain your life and leadership for the long haul? What does it take to build your life below the surface? Let me suggest that character is formed in LORDSHIP and HARDSHIP.
Lordship asks the question, “Who owns you?” In our Americanized version of Christianity we too often look at Christ as nothing more than an addition to our overly complicated lives. “Addition Christianity” is nothing more than accepting God’s grace so that we can add eternal life to the mix. Jesus becomes nothing more than an add-on to our lives, like a job, school, car, sports, or television. But this type of Christianity doesn’t form Christlike character within us.
Christ wants to own your life. It only makes sense considering He’s already paid for you. And when He owns you, His character is formed in you. Why? Because you always take on the character of what owns you. That means if I want Christlike character to be formed within me, somebody besides me must own me. When Christ’s Lordship is truly at work in your life, there is no question who the owner is. That’s when “Addition Christianity” is replaced with “Ownership Christianity.
Hardship asks, “How do you perceive and respond to tough times?” As much as we hate to admit it, our character rarely grows during the good times. It’s the hardships of life that God uses to form us, mold us, and shape us. And while the tough times may not come from God, He certainly doesn’t waste them either. Hardship is a two-sided coin–it reveals our character and refines our character…if we let it.
I think Joni Eareckson Tada, who at the age of 17 was crippled in a diving accident, understands the value of hardship best. In an interview with Larry King, when she was asked where God was in the events of September 11, Joni responded: “After 35 years living as a quadriplegic, I learned that God permits what he hates in order to accomplish those things that he loves.” She went on to say, “Sometimes the reasons for what he allows are hidden from our sight, but what we do know is that he loves to redeem and reclaim and rescue and save those who turn to him in need. You see, I need him now more than I did the day of my accident, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”
Most of us won’t have to personally endure hardship like Joni Eareckson Tada’s accident or the horrific events of September 11th, but if you choose to walk the road of character development, you will experience hardship. Character formation isn’t easy. It requires surrender to Christ’s Lordship and suffering through hardship. But in the end, the beauty of Christ’s character is formed within us.
Question: What lessons on character formation could you add?