Character and Perseverance

Fred Smith gives us clear examples of character at work.

By Fred Smith

Character is built through perseverance. We are promised in Romans 5 that we move from a position of grace through tribulation and character to hope. Character is so much more important than personality. It is actually more important than intelligence, for it determines how we use both personality and intelligence. It is the seat of our values; it is the custodian of our will. Historically we have seen that most major failures are character failures and not ones of personality or intelligence.

Today sometimes we popularly use the word "class" as a substitute for character. People often spoke of Tom Landry as "classy." They were recognizing the caliber of his character. Ken Venturi, talking about Jack Nicklaus was prompted to say, "Physical skills may diminish, but class never does." Nicklaus is a gentleman - it is an expression of his character.

During a losing season with the Dallas Mavericks, Norm Sonju, then general manager, said that this was the era of "the northside of the tree." He was talking about boat manufacturers who advertise that they make their hulls from lumber that comes from the northside of the tree that has withstood the battering of storms. My mentor Maxey Jarman used to refer to business down turns as "times that take the fat off of our soul."

In exercise, the heartbeat has to get above 150 per minute, to be effective. I'm convinced to have character development we have to generate a high degree of pressure. The heat purifies our character as it does metal. My friend Ed Drake gave me something that means a great deal to him: "pounding plays havoc with clay but tempers steel."

Character gives us the strength to stand under the most difficult challenges. Solzhenitsyn upon hearing that the Archbishop of Canterbury had said about communism, "better be red than dead," replied, "better be dead than a scoundrel."

Character tells where we will stand on issues and for how long and at what price. Oswald Chambers warns that if we can't take the small test we will inevitably fail the large one. Many fool themselves into thinking that they fail the small, but will triumph in the big test…. It won't happen. Character is determined by who we are becoming through our choices, our experiences, and our accomplishments.

The good news is that character can grow, and it grows more in trouble than in prosperity. It is common knowledge that no person or society can long endure continuous prosperity.

As we rightly experience our valleys we learn the place of prayer, the power of scripture, and the presence of the spirit. In Isaiah we read "I will give you the treasures of darkness." God is an artist who paints both in light and dark colors.

Without the bad times we cannot fully appreciate the good times. Malcolm Muggeridge expressed this conviction: "everything I have learned in my seventy-five years, everything that truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not happiness. If affliction were eliminated, it would not make life delectable but banal and trivial." The cross proved the character of Christ.