Archive for January, 2011

Achieving a virtuous character

January 13, 2011

After looking at all the virtues enumerated in my previous posts, I really want to achieve them.  However, I find it is a lot like making New Years Resolutions.  I fall back into old habits and I forget my desired new ways of thinking and living.  Its a lot like trying to lose weight.  What I want to do I do not do.  What I do not want to do I do all too easily.  It reminds me of the apostle Paul talking about his own struggles in Roman’s  chapter 7.  The answer is God’s help.  If I am a Christian, I have repented of selfishing living and of not loving God as He deserves to be loved.  I have accepted the forgiveness God promises me when I turn to Him and accept Jesus Christ as my savior from sin and as the Lord (boss) of my life.  When that happens, God’s spirit comes to live in me.  It is God’s spirit who changes me over time and makes me more able to be what pleases Him, more virtuous, and having a more worthy character.  I simply cannot do this as a self help program.  That is why the virtues I posted about yesterday are called “Fruits of the Holy Spirit.”  But, thanks be to God, He is working harder than I am, and will be faithful to complete the good work He has begun in me.

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Self-Control as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

Self-control is pretty obvious.  It means subordinating one’s instincts to a greater goal.  The “Message” bible says its being “able to marshall and direct our energies wisely.”  We only have so much energy in a day and so much time.  How will we spend these?  Will we waste them on trivia, or self-indulgence, or work on worthy goals we’re pursuing.  Will we live life intentionally, or just sort of muddle through, doing whatever pleases us at the moment?  To learn the virtue of self-control, I need to pray about God’s priorities and then make those my own priority.  I need to quit squandering my energies and hours on trying to please myself or please people or even in trying to pile up a lot of religious points that aren’t what God has called me to do.  It seems what Jesus found so frustrating in the Pharisees was their tendency to invent new check off lists for God instead of listening to what God in their midst was actually saying to them.  Self-control is ultimately about idolatry.  Who is God?  Me?  People?  Things?  or the God who will tell us what He wants when we are listening with a wholehearted desire to please Him.

Gentleness as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

Gentleness is giving up the need to have my own way.  I can best do this through silence and non-interference in other’s decision making.  I can quietly let others do what pleases them even if I don’t especially enjoy it.  It means letting the other person have his way.  Of course, this doesn’t extend to issues of right and wrong, people’s character or similar moral matters.  Gentleness can also mean to refrain from giving advice, trying to have an answer for everything or needing to always express my own opinion.

Faithfulness as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

At first glance, faithfulness might look a lot like patience because of the “sticking to it” quality both have.  But it is a little different.  The “Message” bible defines faithfulness as being loyal.  This is loyalty to my convictions, to my commitments and to the people I love.  It has something to do with integrity in that it means I will not compromise my convictions no matter the cost.  It has something to do with honor in that I will not put aside my commitments no matter the cost.  My word is my word.  It also has to do with loyalty to people in that I will stand with my friends even when it is not easy or popular to do so.  Ultimately it means I will stand for God and what I believe He wants even when it costs everything to do so.  This is not a virtue that has an emotional reward in the same sense that joy and peace have, but there is a quiet strength in knowing with God’s help I did not cave in through weakness to something I believe in my own heart to be wrong.

Goodness as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

Goodness seems like such a vague word it could mean anything not bad or evil.  However, as a virtue, the “Message” bible defines it as a “conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people”.  How can I become convinced of this, especially in this dog eat dog world with so much violence and aggression?  I can do this by becoming more aware of the Presence of God everywhere and in every situation.  I can remember God has an influence on every person.  God caused even wicked kings to be favorable to the people who loved Him.  God still does these things.  God hasn’t changed.  The virtue of goodness is one of those virtues whose practice is an act of worship.  I acknowledge God’s sovereignty everywhere and with everyone, and I acknowledge that it is good.

Kindness as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

Kindness is the development of compassion in the heart.  Compassion is being able to genuinely listen to other’s stories and be able to see things from their perspective.  Sympathy is getting in touch with what I would feel if I were in another’s situation.  Compassion is getting in touch with what the other person is thinking and feeling in their own situation.  Its totally self-less, all about the other.  Not only must I be able to understand and feel with others, I must be willing to put myself out to relieve someone if it is in my ability to do so.  Again, while I can’t do everything, I can do something.  I must think about what I CAN do instead of focusing on what I can’t do and using that as an excuse to do nothing.  Feeling and acting with Kindness always ends up enriching me as well.  As a proverb says, “The fragrance remains on the hand that gives a rose.”

Patience as a Virtue

January 13, 2011

For the purposes defining patience as a virtue, I will use the “Message” bible.  It defines patience as a willingness to stick with things (and I will add people).  Where we often think of patience as the willingness to be gentle in traffic or trying situations, to be a virtue, it must be much more than that.  Patience is the attitude of doing whatever it takes to solve a relationship problem or to finish a job.  Patience keeps one going through the trying times of a marriage or other relationship.  Patience keeps one faithful to their calling when difficulties arise.  Patience keeps one true to their commitments when it would be so tempting to walk away.  I don’t have to look for opportunities to practice patience.  I’ll recognize them in every temptation to withdraw from a situation or a person instead of working things out.  The reward of patience is seen in such things as retirement from a career or the special joys of a long marriage or old friendship.  There is also a reward in the development of this virtue.  As it says in the “Living” bible  ” For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.” (James 1:4)

Peace as a Virtue

January 12, 2011

A lot of us don’t think of peace as a virtue, but rather as something we would like to attain for our own blessing.  However, peace, like joy is a way to worship God.  How is that possible?  Whenever I am worried or troubled about something its an uncomfortable situation, and I may try and try to solve the issue myself.  Or, I may take that trouble to God and ask Him to care for it and to care for me.  Many of us do that, but then we take it right back and continue to worry about it.  Letting God handle our worries requires Faith, and Faith pleases God.  Suppose our child brought us a broken toy to fix after they went to bed.  Suppose then, as we fixed the toy we well knew how to fix, that child got up every half hour to make sure we were doing what we promised?  That is what we do when we take our worries to God and then keep on worrying.  Instead, as an act of faith and worship in our God who can do all things and does all things well, we leave our worries with Him and go to sleep.  In the end, our own health and happiness are nourished tremendously.

Joy as a Virtue

January 12, 2011

If I am to pursue joy as a virtue, I must learn to genuinely appreciate all of life.  That would be almost synonymous with developing a habit of thankfulness.  In fact,in the “Living” bible it says “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others.  Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.”  (Philippians 4:8)   Thinking this way tends to create happiness.  Thoughts create emotions, so thankful, appreciative thoughts create a sense of satisfaction and gladness.  Thankfulness also draws our attention toward God and in that way is a form of worship.  All these things cultivate the virtue of joy, and as a by-product immunize against depression.  Joy would almost be a selfish virtue since it does me so much good, until I remember it is also a way of worship.

Love as a Virtue

January 12, 2011

In English, love has many meanings from romantic love to love for a favorite food, and all sorts of “loves” in between.  However, love can be a virtue.  If I want to strive for the virtue of love, I would define it as affection for others.  If I have affection for others, then I see the good in them first.  I can sort the wheat from the chaff and cherish the wheat.  To do that, I must put myself out for others.  Some wit once said “I love humanity, its human beings I can’t stand”.  We can have some noble sentiments regarding being a “lover of humanity”, yet despise certain people, especially the ones who get in our way or offend our sensibilities. 

To love people, I must go out of my way to get to know them.  A good person may be polite.  A virtuous person knows the name of the office maid and goes out of his way to speak to her and get to know her as an individual.  I need to be genuinely interested in the people I see around me on a regular basis, and go out of my way to meet my neighbors.  I need to remember names and use them.  I need to politely inquire after people as I get to know them.  I can pray for them and encourage them.  Yes, there are a lot of people whose paths I cross, and I may not be able to befriend all of them.  However, as with all good things, I need to look at what I CAN do and not use what I can’t do as an excuse not to do anything.