Friends, as we discuss growing in character and virtue, I’ve invited my friend and colleague JoHannah Reardon to stop by. JoHannah is managing editor of Christianity Today’s ChristianBibleStudies.com. She’s also a pastor’s wife and a fiction writer. Listen in on our conversation about what it takes to grow in godly character.
I am one of the very fortunate people who gets to do something I love for a living—writing and editing at ChristianBibleStudies.com for Christianity Today. But most dear to my heart is being a wife, mother, and grandmother. I feel so blessed to have those three roles. As I’m getting older, I feel that more and more.
This month we’re talking about virtue and character. Who comes to mind as an example of God-honoring character? Why? How does that person’s example inspire you?
If we are talking about someone living, I’d have to say my sister. She has the gift of evangelism and has led so many people to Christ (including me), but she also has the gift of mercy and has nursed countless people who are ill. Since I have neither of those gifts, I am in awe of her. She’s also a tremendously faithful family member to her sisters, brother, husband, kids, and grandkids—and a bulwark to those in her church.
If we are talking about someone not living, it would be Corrie Ten Boom. God used her writings to challenge me as a young, spoiled, self-centered Christian to learn to accept all that comes from God’s hand and to be faithful even when I don’t feel like it.
How about a little word play here: What does your experience in crafting (fictional) characters reveal to you about the idea of shaping and growing our own character? What insights or connections can you see between these two concepts? Or about how God is at work in us, “writing” and “crafting” our character?
I’m so glad you asked! That’s the reason I write fiction—to show, rather than tell, what it looks like to live a Christ-centered life. I was greatly influenced as a new Christian by George MacDonald’s novels, whose characters demonstrate what it means to live in a Christ-like way. Reading one of his books (A Quiet Neighborhood) is what made me want to be a writer. I love making up stories; but more than that, I love having my characters wrestle with the kind of things I wrestle with. And as I do that, I come to terms with some of my own struggles.
For example, when one of my characters wrestles with forgiveness, I have to confront that in my own life as well. It forces me to realize I need to forgive, or accept God’s forgiveness. Or if materialism is plaguing a character, then I have to honestly face that I would prefer to have no financial worries.
But the opposite is true too. As I see my characters struggling with sin, I want so badly for them to move past that sin and find victory. As I’m watching them battle their demons, I often realize once again that it is always miserable to give into sin. Conquering it is a lot more work, but oh so worth it.
Growing in God-honoring character is a partnership of two dynamic forces in our lives: 1) the transforming work of God within us, and 2) our own intentional effort to change and grow. Can you share any examples from your life in which, upon reflection, you can see how God was at work growing and changing you?
God completely changed my nature when I became a Christian. I was self-centered when I came to Christ and didn’t really have a model for anything else. I wanted to accomplish and obtain success at almost any cost. But when I came to Christ, that was turned on its head. Suddenly, what he wanted was important. And that meant living for him and others rather than myself. Recently, a woman at my church told me I was the most selfless person she knew. I couldn’t believe it because it was so opposite of how I began the Christian life. It was a testimony of God’s work in me in spite of myself.
What about #2? When have you had to put conscious, intentional effort into changing an attitude, habit, or other character-failing in your life? What factors or practices were most helpful to you in making those changes?
Ouch—so hard to admit. It would have to be honesty. Because success was so important to me as a young person, I was quick to care more about how I was perceived than the person I actually am. This is still an ongoing battle for me. I want others to think well of me, so it’s hard to admit some of the things I struggle with. But I’m getting better at being honest—sometimes in the most painful ways. For example, I tried to bluff my way through something at work because I wanted those above me to respect me. But in the middle of my bluff, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin. I stopped and apologized, admitting I didn’t really know what I was talking about. It was humbling, but so necessary for me to nip my self-sufficiency in the bud.
What’s one key spiritual practice that has helped you grow in character?
It’s nice to be at a place in life that I can just enjoy my relationship with God, but that is possible now because of all the hard work I put into transformation as a young person. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of immersing yourself in the Scriptures and letting them transform the way you see yourself and God. Nothing can replace that, and there are no shortcuts to letting him develop godly character in you. Although this is pure discipline, it results in pure freedom.
We’re still sinners and we still struggle — we always will! But this isn’t a journey of defeat and wallowing in fatalism. We journey on a road of hope! What encouragement could you offer to my readers about the journey of growth in godly character?
It is a day-by-day process, and we need to look at the long haul. I’m encouraged when I look over the years to see the changes God has made in me. I get discouraged if I just look at last week. And when I blow it, I try to remember that’s part of the learning process and that each day is new.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, JoHannah. I feel so encouraged and inspired by your words. Friends, learn more about JoHannah and her book on her web site, www.JoHannahReardon.com.