Too often, Christians focus on gifts — natural and supernatural — and overlook character. But it does not take into account the basic principle of the Christian life: gifts and abilities - no matter how beautiful they are - are either limited or perfected Christian character. In this regard, John Blattner, in his book Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit, describes character as a multiplying factor:
He (character) multiplies the effectiveness of our gifts, for both good and evil. If you give a spiritual gift to a person of ordinary character - let's put it one point - he is more likely to use it appropriately. The same gift in the hands of a person with a stronger and better formed character - say, five points - will be five times more effective.
Of course, this principle can work in other ways as well. You may remember from your math class at school that any number multiplied by zero equals zero. Even impressive and flamboyant talent is wasted if the character of the person who uses it is weak. In this case, of course, we get "negative numbers". This reflects the detrimental influence of a talented individual who uses his gifts for distorted purposes.
I believe this phenomenon is widespread among Christians. In fact, it was a big stumbling block for me to get into the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the main reasons I used to refrain from speaking in tongues in the past was that many of the people I met who spoke them did not like me!
Gifts of character as body ornaments. Fine jewelry - jewelry, smart clothes, etc. - look good on a beautiful body. But when the body is unkempt and already unattractive, there is almost nothing you can do to fix it - even decorating it with jewelry, perfume, dressing up in beautiful clothes - it still does not look the way it should.
It is the same with spiritual gifts. They need to be a decoration for a well-formed character, which is the basis for their correct use. Thus, we must seek first the fruits of the Spirit and then the gifts of the Spirit.
An important feature of the fruit is that it grows through a developmental process that culminates in maturity. The fruit does not ripen in one day; it goes through a developmental process that combines both internal factors (its genetic structure) and external factors (water, soil, temperature) to reach maturity.
It's the same for Christians. We also go through a character-building process during which the fruits of the Spirit ripen in us. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have a “genetic makeup” that reflects God's nature. But repentance for sins alone is not enough for Christian maturity. Therefore, we must be willing to patiently submit to the discipleship process and actively contribute to it, realizing that there are no shortcuts to maturity.
We are often impatient with this process and look for ways to shorten it. I often meet people who are trying to reach maturity through "magic" or "form."
Undoubtedly, such people want something real. They seek happiness and fulfillment in the Christian life. But they have not yet learned how to equate self-realization and the completion of the growth process.
Some of them want to be waved over with the "magic wand of prayer", as if by the laying on of hands and uttering a certain combination of words, we can turn them into spiritual super saints who can solve big problems in one fell swoop.
Others are looking for forms: a certain set of spiritual disciplines, suitable methods and techniques that will transfer them to spiritual maturity.
Undoubtedly, both prayer and form play a role in the growth process. But none of this is perfect in itself. Many people experience great release and momentum as a result of prayer, but we cannot simply "beg" full and perfect Christian maturity.
Likewise, with the help of spiritual disciplines and methods, we can make significant progress. Although to some extent they can be deceiving. Often times, a new technique or approach will seem incredibly effective - for a period of time. But over time, the impression of novelty wears off and it remains effective only if we continue to use it over a long period of time. Anyone who has ever been on a diet is familiar with this phenomenon: the first few days, weight is lost quickly and relatively effortlessly. Then we reach the horizontal section of the curve, and progress towards the intended goal slows down.
I saw how this principle worked in my life. About a year ago, my wife and I felt the Lord was calling us to pray more regularly and actively intercede for the churches with which we were associated. The first few months were wonderful. We got up early every morning and met God. We did it actively. That was exciting. I began to think that perhaps I am one of the best prayer books in the whole Body of Christ.
It has become like hard work lately. I can't get up on time. I cannot fully wake up from sleep after getting up. Sometimes it seems as if something inside of me is screaming: “This is stupid! God probably hasn't woken up yet! Why am I pulling myself out of bed this way? " Sometimes in the morning I feel like all I do is sit in a chair and sip coffee. If I relied on form to develop my spiritual life, I would have long been disillusioned with it.
But I knew I had to continue my morning prayers. Why? Because God told me to do it! Obedience has its reward.
We need to recognize the fact that there is no shortcut. Growth in character is a process that does not take place in one day and at a time.
What are the main elements of the character formation process? In what elements of spiritual life can we cooperate with the Holy Spirit?