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Character Training: How a Person Changes

It’s time to start getting practical.

If you’ve followed along with me the past few weeks, then you’ve been given a lot of information, which (hopefully) has caused you to do a little bit of thinking. Which is great.

But the sad truth is that none of this information is going to affect your life in the slightest until you decide to take hold of it and put it into practice.

In the words of the greatest teacher who ever walked the earth…

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” -Matthew 7:24

I’m not implying that what I’ve written is at all comparable to the words of Jesus. But the overall concept that he lays out applies to all areas of human growth:

You want to be in the NBA? You must get on the basketball court and practice.

You want to become a Michelin Star chef? You must get in the kitchen and practice. You want to become a blackbelt in karate? You must stand in front of that wooden board and practice.

Most of us intuitively understand that this is how we grow and change.

This is how God has brilliantly designed human beings to develop. And part of the brilliance behind it is that it is left completely up to the human will. We don’t have to grow, mature, or develop into something if we don’t want to. If we don’t want to become a chef, we don’t have to. But on the negative side, if we want to be a blackbelt, but are not willing to take the steps necessary to become one, then as much as we “want” to, we never will.

And Jesus is letting us know that, contrary to popular thought, our “spiritual” life, our life with God, functions no differently.

We don’t need to be told that in a sport like basketball, ample practice is non-negotiable (You’re not going to become LeBron James by watching hours of his highlights).

And yet, when it comes to our “spiritual” lives, we assume we can grow passively. We seek to absorb as many books, podcasts, sermons and (yes, even…) blogs that we can in order to spiritually mature and develop.

Sadly, it does not work that way.

If you read the New Testament cover to cover, you will clearly see that it does not work that way.

The Apostle Paul (who wrote the majority of the New Testament) is constantly instructing new Christians to “put on the character of Christ” “clothe yourself with Christ” “Do not be anxious about anything…” “set your mind on things above”….the list goes on and on.

These are all “practice” words.

In fact, the entirety of Paul’s instruction is summed up nicely in his letter to one of his own young apprentices…

“Train yourself for a holy life. While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come.” -1 Timothy 4:7-8

Paul understands that, in the same way that physical training is the only hope for the novice to develop into a professional athlete, spiritual training (character training) is the only way the follower of Jesus develops into a better kind of person.

So, as a writer, I never want to leave you with a bunch of “theories” and “abstract concepts,” and then naively hope you’ll grow by just reading them over and over.

Again, the theories, concepts, and ideas are crucial. On their own, however, they are insufficient. And if not followed up with practice and experience, they will die on the vine.

Many of you who attend church know what I’m talking about.

How many times have we sat in church and heard an amazing, life-giving sermon from our pastors and thought “man, that was great! That preacher really brought it today!”

And yet somehow, over time, we lost most of what was preached in that “great sermon”, and most of what we’ve read in that “life-changing book.”

Now, none of this is meant to make us feel guilty, or to imply that all the information we’ve received in life was a complete waste. It wasn’t. But it’s very likely that the information didn’t reach its full potential in us if we were not offered a path to practice it and make it a part of our day-to-day life.

The human mind and body will naturally forget anything that is not consistently engaged with over a long period of time. How many of my fellow millennials can still write cursive legibly (beyond signing your name?)

But, on a positive note, if our minds and bodies DO actively engage consistently in good, right, and true stuff over a long period of time, the slow results can be otherworldly.

I have a friend whose mother was diagnosed with dementia about ten years ago (she has since passed away). As he continued to care for her in her cognitive decline, he was very open and honest on social media with her journey, posting updates and instances where she would not know who he was (heartbreaking stuff to read).

But there was one incredibly uplifting post that he shared one day. It was a video of his mom, now well into the advanced stages of her disease, sitting at the piano.

In her younger days, his mom played and sang on the worship team at her local church. Apparently one of her favorite hymns to perform on Sunday was “What a friend we have in Jesus.” This was also a song she would sing to my friend many a night before bed when he was little.

In the beginning of the video, his mom is simply sitting at the piano motionless. We then see my friend’s hand extending towards the keys as he begins to pluck the first few notes of the melody line of that beloved hymn. He then starts to sing “Whaaaaat a frieeeend we have in Jeeeeeeesus….” while plucking simultaneously.

And what happened next truly brought tears to my eyes.

We notice that the old hymn is starting to make its way back into his mother’s mind. You see the rusty wheels once again start turning. And, as if she never left the worship team, she places her hands on those keys, and begins to play. She then joins him in song as well. A mother and son now lost in a duet.

Now, is that a miracle of God? Maybe.

What we do know is that, despite all the erosion that her brain had gone through, that song was still in her. It was assumed to be lost, and yet it still resided somewhere deep in her mind, and then came out in her body.

Why? Because she cared so deeply about that song that she took the time and effort in her younger years to fix her mind on it repeatedly to plant it into her mind and body and make sure it stayed there. She was a beautiful example of how the Psalmist describes a person who lives rightly over a long span of time:

The righteous will spring up like a palm tree.     They will grow strong like a cedar of Lebanon.

They will bear fruit even when old and gray;     they will remain lush and fresh 15 in order to proclaim:         “The Lord is righteous.         He’s my rock. -Psalm 92:12, 14

This is what happens when we intentionally and routinely practice getting the “good stuff” into us and taking the time and effort to make sure it remains in us. As Paul would say, this is what happens when we “fix our minds on things above” (Col. 3:1)

So the more miraculous thing, in my opinion, is not what God orchestrated in that moment, but the way He has designed us with the capacity to fill our minds with good, beautiful, life-giving things so that, with the appropriate ongoing engagement with those things, we can and will summon them from our bodies when the moment calls for it. With God’s grace sustaining us, we can become a good tree, who then produces good fruit.

So, to help us put into practice what’s been said so far, you’ll notice me dropping the occasional “Character Training” here and there after a writing or series of writings. You are free to engage with these as much or as little as you please. Just know that I will always strive to provide you with opportunities to go beyond consuming the information that I’m transferring to you. My desire is to give you the choice to experience real, lasting change…if that’s what you want.

My next post plans to do just that.

Stay tuned.


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~ Andrew

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