Developing a Plan for Moral Defense
In last week’s blog, I wrote about the 5 Indications Your Character is Adrift. I’d like to continue the conversation this week and offer four reflections on deepening our character and developing a plan for moral defense. One reason, among many, as to why this is so significant is because of the well-publicized recent moral failures of highly visible pastors. Although not a new phenomenon, it should trouble us in every generation. Why does this continue to happen? Why do pastors and church leaders, who should embody and model exemplary character, experience a bankruptcy of morality?
A better question we should ask ourselves is, What can we learn from these debacles in order not to repeat them in our own lives?
I had a professor in seminary, Dr. Fred Norris, who was asked in class one time, “What would you do if a woman tried to seduce you?” And he said . . . well, I can’t repeat exactly what he said, as Dr. Norris often had quite colorful expressions that stayed in the classroom. But my loose paraphrase of what he said was, “I would run away as fast as my skinny legs could carry me, because I know the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
What I appreciated about Dr. Norris’ response was that he acknowledged how he was not above the lure of temptation. None of us is. Once we think, that could never happen to me, we’re letting down our guard and failing to recognize that, yes, it could happen to me. And it could happen to you.
So, what do we do to make sure our character doesn’t drift out to sea? Let me give us four reflections on deepening our character and developing a plan for moral defense.
1. Take responsibility. No one can deepen your character and develop a plan for you. You have to want it. You have to own it. You have to commit to it. Character development doesn’t happen behind some monastery walls but in the day-to-day grind of real life. If you don’t have an everyday strategy, you will never win the battle for your soul. Rely on the Scripture “for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
2. Don’t go it alone. If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you have heard me say this repeatedly. Don’t fly solo. Don’t think that you’re the exception, and you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make it on your own. You can’t. It’s as simple as that. Have two-three people who are spiritually mature, whom you trust, and check in with them on a weekly (or daily basis). “Encourage one another, all the more, as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
3. Incorporate your plan into your daily schedule. Be intentional. Don’t leave this to chance. Your character is far too important. You’ve probably heard it said, “Character is not forged in crisis but only revealed in it.” My mentor, Alan Ahlgrim, always says, “Soul work is hard work.” We do spiritual training through prayer, Scripture reading and memorization, disciplining our hearts and minds so that when (not if) temptation comes, we have readied our shield of faith and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:16-17).
4. Don’t give up. If you fail, fail forward. Learn from your mistakes and make mid-course corrections to strengthen your resolve not to be a repeat character offender. Rely on the strength and power of the Holy Spirit within you. Character doesn’t develop overnight. It is the culmination of small, everyday choices, attitudes, and behaviors consistently repeated over time. We either gradually slide into moral lapse or climb into moral triumph, one step at a time. “Do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.” Your inputs determine your outputs. Let’s make sure we’re consuming the spiritual and emotional nourishment we need, accompanied by a good character exercise plan, to become the people God desires us to be.