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Character: Built in the little things

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Everyone has character. It might be good. It might be bad. But you have it. And character, or personal integrity, is developed on a daily basis. With every thought you think, with every deed you do, you are either building it up or tearing it down.


It comes down to this. If you cheat during practice, you will cheat in the game. If you cheat in your head, you will cheat on the test. You will cheat in business. You will cheat on your mate. Character is simply a long habit continued.


It has been said, “Sow a thought, and you reap an act; sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”


The Bible tells the story of four men who had character: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel the prophet. These four young men were Hebrew teenagers who had been carried away to captivity in Babylon and brought to the king’s palace. Their world, as they knew it, changed overnight. They were taken away from family and friends and placed into an environment that was hostile to their faith. Their world turned upside down. Everything was immersed in idolatry and false beliefs.


The king thought that if he could remove them from family and remove them from friends, he could conform them into his image. But the king had not considered this: You can’t change what a person is on the inside. These four young men had character. They took a stand, even in the little things.


For them, this meant they wouldn’t eat the food at the king’s table. We can only guess the reason, but I think it probably was because it was unclean under Mosaic Law to a large degree, and because it was dedicated to false gods. In their minds that was a compromise.


The Bible tells us that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Daniel 1:8 NIV).


This wasn’t just about food; this was about climbing the ladder of success. To even be in the palace meant that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in a position of potential power. If they played their cards right, they eventually would be serving the king himself. Therefore, to eat the king’s food and to drink his wine was the way to climb the corporate ladder in Babylon. It was like being asked to lunch by the boss or the CEO, who has taken a special interest in you.


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These four teens made a stand in a small area. It seemed insignificant. It didn’t seem like a big deal. But small things become big things. Character is built in the little things and then demonstrated and revealed in the bigger things.


Understand, they faced the intimidating King Nebuchadnezzar. To incur his wrath could mean the loss of their lives. Nebuchadnezzar was a cruel and powerful man. After he had captured the Israelites and brought them into captivity, he had the king of Israel’s sons brought before their father. Nebuchadnezzar killed them so the last thing the king saw were his own sons being killed before him. Then Nebuchadnezzar gouged out the king’s eyes. He was a wicked man.


Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could have alienated King Nebuchadnezzar and gotten him angry. They could have had their own eyes gouged out. But they made their stand. Even though they were in the king’s palace, away from family and friends, the Lord was still with them to help them through.


The official in charge of them said, in effect, “If I don’t give you this food, you guys are going to look emaciated and underfed. The king will take it out on me.”


They said to him, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Daniel 1:12–13 NIV).


He went along with it, and sure enough, not only did God sustain them, but they looked healthier than the others who were eating at the king’s table. They passed the test.


This was really about their spiritual life, which to them was more important than anything else. The foundation for that kind of character and the strength to stand up for God, even at the risk of death, was a foundation that had been laid early in their lives.


If you’re building a house, the most important time is when you lay the foundation. It is a lot more fun to choose your flooring or carpeting and to decorate your home, but that stuff is secondary. If your foundation has not been laid properly, then you will have problems. The foundation matters.


In the same way, we will spend a lot of time on peripheral issues that don’t matter, and we won’t spend enough time on the foundation on which we have built our lives. That foundation is primarily laid in the days of your youth. In your youth, decisions are made, like your career choice or the person you marry, that will affect you for the rest of your life.


If, as a young person, you developed the discipline of regular Bible study, of consistent prayer, of involvement in your church, then as you get older, you will be only more set in your ways. That is a good thing. But if you have been sloppy, if you haven’t taken the time to develop your character and be a man or a woman of integrity, then that, too, will be amplified with the passing of time.


But it is not too late to change those patterns. It is not too late to change your direction. The stand you make today will determine what kind of stand you will make tomorrow. And the day after.


As Dwight L. Moody said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.” In other words, concentrate on being a good man, a good woman, a person who does the right thing.


Character is not made in a crisis; it is only exhibited. It may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.



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