Is character manifested in heroic actions?
We might think it is, but what led up to the big choices was shaped by little choices made earlier. Character is won or lost in the little things.
A classic statement shows the progression:
Sow a thought, reap an act.
Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Our thoughts lead to actions. Accumulated actions become entrenched habits, forming either virtues or vices. The sum total of virtues or vices is our character. Certainly, our character influences our destiny.
To borrow from an old saying (in my own variation):
For want of a thought, an act is lost.
For want of an act, a habit is lost.
For want of a habit, a character is lost.
For want of a character, a destiny is lost.
I was an instructor for Prison Fellowship for a number of years, traveling to numerous prisons throughout the country to give seminars. Often I would be inside a prison for twelve hours at a time. During breaks and meals, I had the opportunity to hear inmates’ stories.
One inmate had been a pharmacist. He once sold a drug without a prescription to someone who asked him for it. Over time, that first sale led to numerous sales and a pattern of drug dealing. He told me that when he first sold a drug illegally, he never imagined he would end up in prison.
A number of inmates told me that going to prison was the best thing that could have happened to them because it stopped a destructive pattern that was leading them down the wrong road. Now they had chosen a different direction.
Jesus, in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), says to the man to whom he had given five talents (and returned ten):
Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much, enter into the joy of your master.
Later in the parable, the master says:
For to everyone who has more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Faithfulness in doing little things will lead to being entrusted with more responsibility – both in business and in the kingdom.
One employer I know always asked the same question to potential hires regardless of what job they were being considered for: “If I asked you to stand at the copier all day and make copies, are you willing to do it?”
Their response factored heavily into his decision to hire them or not. It seems this employer understood the principle Jesus teaches in Luke 16:10:
He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much, and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.
The battle for character at work starts in the little thoughts you think and the little actions you take. Faithfulness is paying attention to beginnings.
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