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Quotations I love: Action plus character

Lynne Baab • Thursday January 14 2021

Quotations I love: Action plus character

For this opening post in a new series, I want to juxtapose two quotations that seem to me to be relevant for our time. I’ll note that this isn’t totally a new series. Back in 2015, I wrote posts about 16 quotations I love. I’ll put links to a few of them at the end of this post.

Here are the two quotations I invite you to ponder this week. Notice the similar dates of the two men:

“I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
—Frederick  Douglas (1818-1895), on escaping slavery

“Whatever we are ... married or single, in a full house or alone, charged with many affairs or dwelling in quietness, we have our daily round of work, our duties of affection, obedience, love, mercy, industry, and the like; and that which makes one ... to differ from another is not so much what things he does, as his manner of doing them.”
—Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892), English cardinal and archbishop

Frederick Douglas is writing about the need to act on what we think to be right. Henry Manning emphasizes character, the kind of people we are in any situation. If these two men had known each other, would Manning have told Douglas not to try to escape, but to try to live as a person of character within slavery? Would Douglas have told Manning that character makes no difference when action is needed?

I hope the answer to both questions is a resounding no. As Christians, our challenge is discernment. Is this the time for action? Is this the time to live honorably in a difficult situation? What does Christian character look like in this setting? Learning to hear God’s voice of guidance is essential. And then we face the challenge of obeying what we hear from God. Sometimes obedience is harder than hearing.

The Holy Spirit plays a key role in hearing God’s voice and then following God’s guidance. The book of Acts is full of supernatural moments of God’s guidance. (Two of my favorites are Acts 13:1-3 and 16:6-10.) The Apostle Paul, who experienced some of that guidance described in Acts, often describes the ways the Holy Spirit strengthens us for action and enables us to live with character. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

All of this plays out within human histories and personalities. We all have patterns in the way we respond to life’s challenges. We have lessons from childhood deeply etched in our hearts and minds. In my family, not rocking the boat was a huge value. My parents came by it from their own families, but then my father was a diplomat for several years, including stints in Bulgaria and Turkey before I was born. Diplomacy is all about appearing to be calm and confident, and not rocking the boat. I was left with the idea that action should always be considered very deeply.

In addition to our personal histories that shape our approach to life, we were all given personalities by God. My faithful readers may know my first book (still in print) is about how to use Myers-Briggs type in congregations, and I’ve written many articles about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (here’s one of them). Later I got interested in the Enneagram. You may have other ways of describing personality that are helpful to you. However we describe our personalities, some of us are wired for action first, and some of us are wired to sit back and change ourselves before we try to change our situations.

In the light of the extremely tumultuous events of the past week, both politically and related to covid, I thought you might enjoy pondering those two quotations from well over a century ago. God calls us to action at the right time. God calls us to live as people of character at all times. And God guides us and empowers us to do both.

(Next week: another quotation I love. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

Here are some previous posts about quotations I love:

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