What Will They Say at Your Funeral?

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Do you want to be known as a patient person, a faithful and kind person? Do you want to enjoy a kind of peace that is like a deepflowing, cool river? Do you sense that it is long past time to get some real self-control in your life? These are all wonderful qualities, the stuff of real character. But they are not achieved by performing occasional heroic acts. At your funeral your son or daughter is not likely to say, “Yes, I remember that one day when Mom was patient, that day when we broke two windows playing baseball. It was such a wonderful day! Too bad she was the picture of impatience every other day.” None of us wants to be known as a person who is kind once every other month.

We should all know that it’s not good enough if people think we are loving and good because of the image we project and the public posture we take, when in reality we are empty inside. We may fool some of the people some of the time, but that is not an accomplishment of character. In an age when image is everything and some have even come to think that image is the only reality, we are more desperately in need of character than ever before.

The American revolutionary John Adams sometimes seems eclipsed by his brilliant contemporary Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s face is carved in a sixty-foot section of granite on Mount Rushmore, after all, not Adams’. But how remarkable was the character of Adams, a man for whom being second president of the United States was just one more vocation in a string of vocations serving the public, just one step in the journey of a lifetime. He sacrificed the comforts of home for months and years on end to live in Philadelphia and frame a new nation and to sojourn as an ambassador in the very alien country of the French.

Adams longed to make a truly important contribution to society, but he was not allured by the vanities of public attention. He endured ostracism. He persevered in debating — word by word — the important documents of the revolution. Months of work were not too much to make sure the work was done precisely. Any accolades and gains in reputation had to be the natural outworking of honorable work. And at the end of a long life, Adams was able to reflect more on God and was filled with awe and appreciation even as the loved ones in his life passed away.

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Character traits develop over long periods of time and through sustained commitment. Is that bad news or good news? I think it’s tremendous news. Don’t be disheartened that you can’t just decide to wake up tomorrow morning and have a completely reformed character. Instead, be encouraged that the building of character can begin at any moment. Anything worth building takes many faithful steps. And the moment the steps begin, character begins to take shape. For instance, the genesis of real peace for many people begins when they take the step to really admit to God the things they think they need to hide from him — as if anyone could. One step, but what a giant leap!

Be even more encouraged that God is there to put his unlimited energy into the formation of our character. Here is how he does it. Jesus, as the Son of God, is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation [literally, “character”] of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). In other words, just as a die is used to stamp a coin and every tiny engraved detail on the die is exactly reproduced on the coin, so it is with Jesus and God the Father. Jesus is the perfect pattern of God’s own character. He is the same character, the exact stamp of God’s character, whether he is visible or invisible.

And this Jesus is the Word of God — God’s whispers and God’s shouts, his consolation and his confrontation. God has spoken to us, and everyday he is still speaking to us, clearly, consistently, repetitively, faithfully, fully, patiently, lovingly. In the life of Jesus the stamp of God’s character was impressed on the world. Jesus is the perfect God and Jesus is the perfect man. Every time we talk to Jesus we expose our claylike nature to his impress — when we see Christ with us in our homes, offices, park, or malls; when we realize that Jesus is there with us even when we are getting lured into an argument or are tempted to open a lewd magazine; and certainly when we think of Christ in the sanctuary as we sing his praise and in the quiet rooms where we pray. In every place and in every way Christ is there for one purpose: to transform our impressionable minds and hearts into the shape that God will call once again “very good!”

It may be true that we learn something about our character when no one else can see us. But there is another way to look at it: when no on else can see us, only God sees us. And it takes a huge step of humility, faith, and courage to say, “Okay God, what do you see?”

Adapted from Patterns by Mel Lawrenz. Copyright © 2003 by Mel Lawrenz, Published by Zondervan. Used with Permission.

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